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Humanity’s progress: where will it lead?

Last week, this blog touched on a topic that fascinated me and kicked off a myriad of other lingering thoughts that I’d like to put to paper(/screen). After having questioned which was/is the smartest generation to have lived on the planet, I’d like to think a bit further. If we’re not growing smarter, where are we, as humans, heading and what are our goals? Where is humanity’s progress heading?
This is actually a surprisingly simple question, yet incredibly difficult to answer. Consider the multitude of different perspectives. We are all influenced by dreams, experiences, dogmas and many other factors. Some people espouse to live an ideal life according to their beliefs. These beliefs can be based on and affected by morals, money, power and many other things. And with billions of differing opinions, it’s quite hard to find one congruous answer to this question. Instead I’ll try to find an answer that will show where humanity’s progress is leading us to. And perhaps more importantly where it is not currently leading us to.

Humanity's progress?

Photo from WSWS/Surviving Progress (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/02/prog-f03.html)

There is no question that we are currently on a constant trajectory. You can read the newspaper daily and discover a new idea being championed that will supposedly revolutionise one part of our lives. There is progress happening, whether it’s positive though is a different question.

Leaning on to last week’s post, I don’t think we’ll ever have a society where everyone is ‘smart’. I see society more as a bell curve where a certain percentage is above average and others are below average. That doesn’t mean that below average people may be of no use to progress. In fact I think the exact opposite.

As we develop new technologies, ways of thinking etc, we also develop the skills that are required for these new advances. This UK-based charity argues that there is a huge skill gap missing in the UK’s current population that is needed to power the digital growth engine. Articles such as this one frustrate me. They argue that there are desirable and less desirable skills to have. In this case being digitally equipped is being painted as an advantage.
The skills that Britain desperately needs (according to the article) to prosper in this era are digital. In contrast, I believe there is value and benefit found in many different professions that may not be classified as ‘modern’. The article fails to highlight many other skills that society needs. Skill development in general needs to be encouraged.

Diversity is key

What good are hundreds of programmers if they can’t direct themselves or there’s no one left to direct them towards building something worthwhile. A society needs artists and writers as well as engineers and scientists.  Writers such as Jules Verne inspired generations of scientists and engineers by imagining a possible future for us. “The Earth to the Moon” was said to have been the inspiration for Astronomer Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble telescope was named).
Seeing value in creative professions and scientists is easily, but society also needs the likes of carers for example.  I read an article a while back (which I unfortunately cannot find anymore) arguing that people who have retired should be involved in the upbringing of the youngest generations. A lot can be gained from this proposal on both sides. Seniors will be able to rejuvenate rediscover themselves by being around kids and kids will be exposed to some of the wisdom and experience of the eldest generation. Both sides could gain a lot in this type of exchange. Carers could supervise the whole process and make sure that one side is not being overzealous.

The only professions or skills which I think are holding humanity back are the ones which are rent-seeking. There are rent-seekers in many business and government institutions which inhibit positive growth and progress for the sake of protecting entrenched interests (usually around power and profit). By definition, there is very little wealth creation for the broader society involved in these activities and they stand in the way of having an efficient society. This article (albeit long) highlights many rent-seeking behaviours. The one example that sticks out for me, is the fact that Southern Water (a utility company) does not want to release data concerning a river’s floodplain because it could impact house prices. House prices should be a means to determine a value of a house given various different factors. By withholding information that could potentially cause prices in the affected area to drop, they are encouraging further building as well as very likely endangering lives for when the next flood comes around.

What I mean by having an efficient society is that everyone provides a specific purpose in aiding progress. One can imagine it via a battle ship and its crew.  On such a vessel, everyone is serving a purpose. There is no dead weight. The cooks, cleaners, gunmen, engineers, officers etc all have one purpose in mind: To complete the mission and keep the vessel and its inhabitants unharmed. I would imagine global society along similar lines. The vessel being the planet and the ecosystem upon which we depend, while the mission is to take care of the planet and advance our standard of living whilst keeping the crew of the vessel happy.

Currently the vessel is on the verge of being wrecked and it’s pretty clear that it’s the crews’ fault. Humanity’s progress is bringing us very close to a very uncertain future because of groups of people working towards the different goals. In order to direct a course towards a better future, we need to tackle this problem at a foundational level.

Bringing it back to the article about the skills gap in the UK. Why is there this skills gap? And by whose notion is there a skills gap? Is there a skills gap because we need to progress in order to become happier and more sustainable? Or is it because we are measuring a country’s economy versus another country’s economy? Of course it’s the latter and this type of thinking is causing separate sections of the vessel to compete against each other.

Humanity’s progress is very much within our own hands. We can determine which direction we want to take. But we can only do this if we work together, take care of the vessel and make sure we take care of each other in the process. How this may be done is a topic for another blogpost.

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  1. WoWee!! Tapping a huge question there!!
    Some very valid points madeon your part – I think!!

    What you write about the retired generation taking care of the youngest generation – that is the way family life used to be: families/generations remained together and the grandparents/relations were around to be with the youth. The elders generally had the time to spend with the children, whilst the parents were taking care of the chores/work. There was a great learning exchange and love between those generations and it freed the parents up, with little worry or financial drain. Of course, not all situations were this ideal, but we have lost that family closeness, connection through “progress”.

    Which brings me to a TEDTalk video also dealing with “connection”: today, we are extremely connected electronically but face-to-face connection is deteriorating. The Talk is about addiction but, for me, it thoroughly supports your complaint concerning the UK based charity’s claim that the more digitally equipped we are, the better. Definitely not necessarily so. In case of interest:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong

    And, along those lines, a controversial programme recently started in Essen, Germany!!
    http://www.derwesten.de/staedte/essen/erste-schicht-putzen-fuer-bier-id9891509.html

    I’m off to read that WSWS article!!

    In agreement,
    Mumbai