Editorial: On the idea of Progress
Ideas can be powerful. The idea of perpetual material progress has captivated human beings, especially during the last two centuries. Yet, the notion that it is natural for human beings to seek constant progress or growth – material or otherwise – is a relatively new one. For many millions of years, humankind has evolved without being enchanted by the idea of outer progress. Many thousands of communities, even today, do not care for progress. It is not that they did not progress – in the sense they may have made themselves new tools or discovered new ways to live or to express themselves – but progress was not their main objective in life, they were not compulsive about progress.
Material Progress became a big idea after the Industrial Revolution, when great strides in technology made more materialistic growth possible. Within these two centuries the idea of progress or growth or development as the greatest driving force for nations snowballed into a frenzy of mining and extraction from the earth, producing and transporting stuff and marketing them to encourage relentless consumption.
Today, the notion of material progress at the individual level, and development at the macro level, is nothing short of a religion. Religion is usually defined as a set of beliefs and practices one is committed to. The idea of unlimited growth or progress, neo-liberal globalization as the vehicle to deliver growth and money as the measure of it, are all part of a set of beliefs that are defended as strongly as many people would defend their religion.
Another meaning for religion in the dictionary includes something that supports reverence to a god, or provides a sense of the sacred. It is said that there have been over 4000 religions in the world; they existed in a dynamic relationship with the socio cultural mileu provided by various civilisations. Our modern civilization and economic system is possibly the only exception – which professes a secular belief system and does not explicitly value the sacred. Possibly by default then, we see that material progress has become a sacred cow – endorsed by individuals, modern communities and governments.
Most religions also provided an inner anchoring through a moral code and ideas of well-being (although there were ones that believed in cannibalism or violence which may be difficult for us to digest). In this respect, the modern religion of material progress and development falls terribly short. Not only is there no real concern for the well being of all, we have found that in its short history, the well being of most of the human population as well as the ecosystem of the earth have been compromised, sometimes beyond repair.
How do we change tracks? In this issue of Bhoomi, we share the work of several thinkers and activists on transitioning to an economics of happiness, including hard-hitting facts as well as hope and positivity.
Some of the articles in the issue. (Click on title to view the article)
- Intelligent Growth
- Gross National Happiness
- Globalisation versus Community
- A New Paradigm
- Communities, Conservation and Development