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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The world does not progress, it merely changes

The world does not progress, it merely changes. Do you agree this view?

At first hearing, this seems a strange, almost an absurd saying. What! No progress? Why, compare the world today with what it was in antiquity, in the middle Ages, or even only two hundred years ago. There is no comparison. Have we not now inventions and conveniences that were never dreamt of two centuries ago? What about our railway and steam-driven machinery, our steamships and submarines, our aeroplanes, our electric light and power, our telegraph, telephone, radio and broadcasting, our aseptic surgery and advanced medical science, our other scientific discoveries and inventions, and hundreds of other signs of progress? Two hundred years ago these things were unknown. Had not the world progressed far beyond the wildest dreams possible to our ancestors?

No doubt all this, and more, is true. But this does not disprove this saying. The world has certainly progressed in knowledge; but has it progressed in wisdom? We know far more than our forefathers did; but do we use greater knowledge to any wiser ends? That is to be doubted. As Tenyson said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

Look at the world as it is today. It is a hundred years since Tennyson dreamt of “The Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World”. It is still only a dream. Mankind has not had the wisdom to learn the elementary lesson of cooperation on a world scale. Mankind is still divided up into warring tribes, like their barbarian ancestors. The spirit of a narrow nationalism still divides men, and makes anything like a common economic and political system impossible.

Modern nations are still on much the same low level as their barbarian predecessors in their relations with one another. Fearing and distrusting one another, they lock up a huge amount of their productive wealth in armaments, to their own impoverishment. They stand armed to the teeth, ready to destroy one another and their common civilization with the devilish weapons which their science has placed in their hands. There is change, certainly. In old days, men killed each other with bows and arrows, swords and spears; now they do it with high explosive bombs and poison gas. But the spirit of envy, greed, hate and pride is just the same. Only change, no progress. As one statesman said recently, we live in a world qualifying for bedlam.

Progress is defined as “advancement towards a higher and better state”. Has our boasted advance in knowledge made the world either wiser or morally better than it was centuries ago?