The Illusion Of Progress

Despite all our "progress", why do so many of still feel a lack of something?

We keep hearing about “progress”, but we never seem to ask what we are making progress toward. Is progress an illusion?

Our society has definitely become masters at increasing the amount of things we can measure – more and more money, more and more floor space per capita, more and more GDP, and less and less of the things that we can’t measure – how happy we are, levels of intimacy, the authenticity of our communication, aesthetic pleasure, how much beauty there is in our environment, fulfillment.

So that we come to a point where we are apparently very very rich. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how civilization is such a great success. There are fewer people in poverty than there was a generation ago, fewer people getting killed in wars, there are fewer murders, fewer people dying of diseases, fewer people dying in plane crashes and car crashes, people are smarter, average IQ level is thirty points higher than it was 50 years ago, etc. etc.

Yeah, things are just great. Everything is great in terms of things that we measure but what about the things that we do not measure, or the things that we can’t measure, or the things that are unmeasurable.

So I think that we feel a lack of something but we don’t know what it is and all of these statistics about how rich we are, how privileged we are, how fortunate we are, these things are all telling us that you shouldn’t be unhappy, you are irrational for thinking something is missing.

But then we sometimes get a glimpse of what has been sacrificed in terms of what has been sacrificed in the pursuit of more and more and more.

We could talk about the industrial food system and how food is becoming less and less flavorful. We could talk about how our electronically mediated relationships are less intimate than when we saw people’s faces everyday. We could talk about the ugliness of the modern landscape, the big box stores, and the strip malls, and the auto dealerships, and the self storage units compared to the architecture that was quite normal a couple hundred years ago…

Something is missing. Something is not captured by our measurements.

And that leaves us hungry for this missing thing. That hunger is good for business. Because it drives the acquisition of whatever is already available which is more and more of the stuff we already have and no matter how much I get, I am still hungry. I still want something. For some people it turns into an addiction to literal stuff. What they really are is lonely. Because real existence is a function of relationship. The more relationships that you are in, the more you are held by community, the more present you are in the world. So, generally speaking, the robbery of the qualitative – beauty, intimacy, fulfillment, joy meaning, has primed us to be good consumers. And then we blame the symptom – blame the greed, blame the selfishness, blame the addiction – as if you weren’t actually hungry. Yeah, you’re hungry, just not for stuff, not hungry for the things that are offered, hungry for something else.

The good life is not lost forever though. We are recovering our memory of it and therefore no longer accepting the substitutes, and we feel grateful to those who have remembered the truth this whole time.

The loss of the immeasurable has caused deep wounds in us creating insatiable appetites for the closest substitutes…

We are hungry for adventure.

Society offers us video games.

We are hungry for authenticity.

Society offers us “reality TV.”

We are hungry for connection.

Society offers us shopping.

We are hungry for intimacy.

Society offers us pornography.

We are hungry to express our greatness.

Society offers us sports heroes.

We are hungry to feel excited by our work.

Society offers us coffee.

We are hungry to feel like we belong.

Society offers us drugs and alcohol.

We are hungry for meaning.

Society offers us jobs.

We are hungry to feel secure in the world.

Society offers us money.

To heal ourselves and our world, we must begin to understand both what we have lost and what we are really hungry for.

What is immeasureable to you?


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