A New Definition of Social Progress

Every entity in this universe is moving–even inanimate objects vibrate on the atomic level. However, movement only has meaning or purpose when it is directed toward a goal. PROUT defines social progress as movement directed towards the goal of well-being for all, from the first expression of ethical consciousness to the establishment of universal Neohumanism.

The concept is similar to the hierarchy of human needs developed by Abraham Maslow, who founded the field of humanistic psychology. These needs range, in ascending order, from basic physiological needs, to safety, a sense of belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization. Lower needs must be met before meeting higher ones. Individuals whose physical and psychological needs are met can more easily develop altruism and their higher potentialities.

"The deepest truths of life are an eternal fountain of inspiration."

Maslow termed the state above self-actualization the transpersonal level. Activity here is purely spiritual, characterized by meditative introspection, contentment, unselfishness, feelings of harmony and oneness with the universe, and the experience of subtler states of consciousness. According to Maslow, this model enables one to distinguish “better” and “poorer” societies, the better ones gratifying all basic human needs of the population while fostering self-actualization.[1]

P.R. Sarkar often used the analogy of humanity as a family, or a group of people traveling on a pilgrimage, who stop whenever any member of their group is injured or falls sick. He quoted the American poet, Carl Sandburg:

There is only one man, and his name is all men.
There is only one woman, and her name is all women.
There is only one child, and its name is all children.[2]

Human society should facilitate the collective movement and growth of all individuals. This requires a degree of collective consciousness and social cohesion or solidarity.

Progress is commonly associated with increases in material comfort, or advances in technology. Sarkar, however, asserted that no true progress is ever really possible in the physical realm. This is because all physical things eventually decay, and whatever physical strength one builds up will eventually be lost by accident, illness or old age. Physical inventions, while making our lives easier and more comfortable, also create problems, dangers and side effects. In the past, for example, when people walked or rode animal carts, few suffered critical injuries in accidents–now tens of thousands die in automobile accidents every year.

The well-known environmentalist Paul Hawken reports that according to the National Academy of Engineering, 94 percent of all original materials processed in the United States become waste before the final product is made. Of the products that are finished, 80 percent in turn become waste within six months after manufacture.[3] In other words, from an environmental perspective, the system is less than one percent efficient. If pollution and the treatment of waste were included, this may actually be a negative number.

It is also evident that increases in knowledge, communication and mental activity are not always truly progressive and conducive to one’s deeper well-being. Whatever we learn can be forgotten. Stress, nervousness, depression and mental disease are much more common amongst educated urban populations in industrialized societies than among less educated rural people.

The speed with which human knowledge increases now is staggering. For example the number of different books published in the United States has doubled in the last 19 years. Scientific knowledge is increasing even faster, as represented by the number of journals published about oncology doubling in the last seven years, about programming (five years), stem cells (four years), global warming (three years) and nanotechnology (two years).[4] It is clearly impossible for any human being to assimilate even a tiny fraction of the world’s knowledge in any subject. It is utter foolishness to be proud of how much one knows.

However, spiritual learning — wisdom — is very different. The deepest truths of life are an eternal fountain of inspiration. Spiritual, transpersonal development is a process of expanding one’s consciousness to link with the Infinite, to reach a state of deep peace and happiness.

PROUT asserts that spiritual longing in fact motivates every human being, though individuals experience it at different times and in different ways. Whereas absolute freedom from mundane duties and bondages is not possible in the physical and mental realms as long as we live, spiritual freedom or liberation is ours if we want it.

PROUT recognizes that only those physical actions and intellectual expressions that promote progress toward the state of infinite well-being are truly progressive. For example, guaranteeing all the right to work and earn the minimum necessities of life ensures collective peace of mind. When people no longer have to worry about how they will pay the rent, or provide education and medical care for their families, they will be free to develop their higher mental and spiritual qualities.


1  Carl Sandburg, “Timesweep”, in Honey and Salt (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt, 1967).
2  Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural
Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Snowmass, CO:
Rocky Mountain Institute, 1999).
3  Thomas Fuller, “League Tables and Update”, in his blog Does Human
Knowledge Double Every 5 Years?, May 26, 2007. http://newsfan.type-
4  According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN). See “Extinction crisis shows urgent need for action to protect
biodiversity,” UNEP, 3 November 2009.

Excerpted from After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action by Dada Maheshvarananda (Puerto Rico: Innerworld Publications, 2012): www.aftercapitalism.org

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