In the documentary Surviving Progress, it is pointed out that the innate human ability to ask “why” has led to advancement into the modern time. Likewise, our predisposition for “progress” stems from an unsatisfiable urge for easier and more enriching lives. To make progress is to change from one state to a better, more desirable state.
To be sure, the terms “better” and “desirable” in this context are subjective, resulting in several concepts of progress regarding our world, including economic, environmental, and cultural/intellectual. Economic progress relates to creating more wealth in the world, environmental progress relates to preserving our Earth, and cultural or intellectual progress is the collective human wealth of ideas and interactions. Economic progress is conventionally easier to observe than other forms of progress; it is easy to acknowledge extreme wealth in some areas, but most are not regularly exposed to macrocosmic destruction to the environment like deforestation, and no one can absorb all of humanity’s cultural and intellectual progress.
As a result, especially in our capitalist society, these concepts of progress conflict with economic progress being valued immensely more than the other two forms of progress. We can observe that economic progress is more valued than intellectual progress as salaries in academia are much lower than those in industry. While some would argue that knowledge is a byproduct of fast technological advancement in industry, it is important to note that these new ideas are driven by the prospect of monetary gain rather than created for the sake of creating. Even more clear how much more society values economic progress over environmental progress. Many industries, like fashion, agriculture, and technology, will harm the environment if it is better for their bottom line to do so.
Nonetheless, it is possible for these definitions of progress to be reconciled into one definition that leads to advancement in all three forms, with proper motives in mind and the willingness to make compromises. To be sure, economic progress even provides motives to allow for environmental progress; for example, like mentioned in Surviving Progress, non-renewable resources—which are often detrimental to our environment after being processed—are slowly being replaced by renewable technology using synthetic biology.
In my opinion, this new mentality towards progress, one that promotes advancement in all three forms of progress would be the ideal way for humanity to continue. While there would be tradeoffs to make, like consuming less, it would be the optimal method to ensure the thriving of humanity for future generations. With that said, this reconciled way of progress must be stimulated with a push in cultural progress, specifically shifting lifestyles to be more sustainable and compromising.