By Ravi Logan
The Illusion of Material Progress
The path of progress may not be straight and constant, but if looked at from a broad enough historical vantage, humanity has surely moved forward in many important respects. No longer does it seem reasonable to accept the view found in many ancient societies that patterns of social life are fixed, unchanging — that there is nothing new under the sun. There have been too many dramatic transformations in human expression to accept this static view of society.
Humanity has certainly progressed. But what is the nature of this progress?
Progress can have various measures. The measure of progress most prevalent is that of material growth. Society is said to be progressing when there is an increase in gross domestic product, in per capita income, or in the variety and sophistication of products available for consumption.
The problem with taking material growth as the primary measure of progress is that advances in the material realm have both positive and negative consequences. Auto and air transport get us to our destinations with greater speed but also cause greater air pollution, noise pollution, urban congestion, accidental deaths, and alienation from nature. The Internet links us with a vast storehouse of information, yet Internet data centers now consume billions of watts of energy, much of it from hydrocarbon fueled plants that contribute to global climate change.
If technological development is not guided by proper values, the negative effects of material advancement cancel out the positive. The down side of the material progress is now so great that, in many respects, the quality of life in modern societies is in decline and a new conception of progress is demanded.
Social progress, as conceived by PROUT, involves improvement in collectively created opportunities for members of a society to expand their intellects and to realize spiritual truth.
Let us consider first expansion of intellect. Humans possess an incessant drive to liberate themselves from bondage and limitations. We seek extension of life span, new horizons to explore, deeper understanding of nature, increase opportunity for self-expression, and expanded freedom of spirit. The desire to overcome our limitations creates a powerful impetus for growth and development in different spheres of life; it impels us to seek the knowledge required to transform ourselves and our world.
Intellectual development comes readily when minds are open, but is blocked when irrational constraints on thinking are imposed. This is the characteristic effect of dogma. Dogma erects boundaries to thought. Understanding is allowed to proceed up to these boundaries, but not beyond. Medieval religious doctrine stifled acceptance of Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the solar system. Anthropocentric dogma prevents humans from recognizing the existential rights of other species. And capitalist economic beliefs inhibit acknowledgment of the immense ecological and psychological destructiveness of economic globalism.
Dogma stifles mental expansion; it is the primary obstacle in our natural quest to overcome limitations. If humanity is to progress, there must be the dissipation of dogma and an increase in rationality. For this reason, PROUT asserts that the ascendancy of rationality is an essential feature of what PROUT calls neohumanistic progress.
But increase in rationality, alone, is not sufficient to define neohumanistic progress. What is additionally required is for rationality to be combined with concern for universal welfare. In ordinary humanism, human welfare is the measure of all endeavors. But neohumanism is expanded humanism; it is not limited to a human centered vantage but is bio-centric in nature. Therefore, neohumanist progress not only seeks the welfare of humanity, but to also the well-being of other living beings.
Neohumanistic progress creates a supportive environment for the free expansion of mind. And when intellects expand to a state that is free from doubt and uncertainty, that state can be called intellectual liberation. But intellectual liberation is a relative state; it has no absolute standing. Freedom from doubt does not endure. The world is ever-changing; new questions and new problems inevitably arise for human minds to resolve.
We see this occur in scientific inquiry. When phenomena are encountered which do not fit into accepted theory, scientists are forced to formulate new paradigms of understanding. When a viable new paradigm is adopted, this is a state of intellectual liberation. But eventually, anomalous new phenomena or new research findings may be encountered, and the state of intellectual liberation is again lost until a better theory gets created.
Neohumanistic progress promotes universal welfare, and it facilitates the attainment of successive stages of intellectual liberation. Guided by an outlook of neohumanistic progress, society becomes increasingly responsive to the needs of all and can readily generate newer and better worldviews. In the process, the quest to overcome human limitations and bondages will not be impeded. As our limitations are transcended, humanity of the future will increasingly possess creative powers now only expressed by nature itself.
But however far neohumanistic progress takes humanity, it will never take us to a final destination. There will always be new horizons of intellectual expansion; there will always be further opportunities to promote universal welfare.
While the journey of human progress may be interminable for humanity as a whole, the journey of individuals is not. Through growth of spiritual awareness, individuals can become self-realized, attaining inner quiescence and holistic consciousness. For individual sentient beings, progress is the measure of their movement toward spiritual liberation.
If neohumanistic progress is the goal of society, spiritual liberation is the goal of individuals. These two fundamental objectives — the spiritual liberation of individuals and the neohumanistic progress of society — are inherently connected. The neohumanistic progress of society creates a proper environment for the spiritual progress of individuals, and the spiritual progress of individuals creates the expansive and compassionate consciousness that enables the neohumanistic progress of society.
Ravi Logan is the Director of the PROUT Institute (www.proutinstitute.org) and author of PROUT: A Solution-Oriented Paradigm of Development.