Friday, June 19, 2009

The Myth of Progress

We have been misled by a crushing weight of misinformation about our own history, in order to cajole and force us into accepting the modern world, or what I call The Climate Crisis Lifestyle. We have been steadily indoctrinated to believe that there is (and was) no good alternative to "progress" as it has been defined in the modern world, meaning ever-greater hierarchy, pollution, mind-numbing work, and destruction of communal ways of living.

In the weeks ahead I will examine the myths that I believe are most central to keeping us locked into this dangerous channel. Today I will begin with:

MYTH # 1

"Tribal people throughout human history have mostly lived hard lives of hunger, disease, cold, and other severe discomforts, and to cap it all off their lives were short. Industrialism and technology have saved us from this horror, making our lives more leisurely, more comfortable, more meaningful, and longer."


Human beings are animals. Do you see any animal, living in its wild state, that spends most of its life starving, suffering pain, and working itself into unbearable exhaustion and boredom? Of course not -- for the most part animals do not live in this way, and there are certainly no entire species who live in bad conditions through the bulk of their lives. So why should we believe that wild humans did?

And the fact is that there is plenty of historical evidence to indicate that most tribal people, prior to being conquered by non-tribal invaders, worked far fewer days per year than we do, worked shorter hours than we do on those days that they did work, and devoted far more of their lives to leisure, festivals, crafts, and games. They suffered much less than we do from violence, loneliness, insecurity, and work-related illnesses and deaths.

My goal is not to idealize the human being in his and her natural, wild lifestyle. Tribal life included injustices, hierarchies, and violence (and perhaps even some boredom). But these ills were present at minute levels compared to what we endure in the current world with our supposed "progress." True human progress (which moved forward through most of the history of our species) actually stopped at precisely the point at which industrial and technological "progress" began, an ironic twist that I will be writing more about in the months to come.

A truly "wild" human being (who would never have survived alone, and so was always part of a group, tribe, or clan that worked partly or entirely cooperatively) was as magnificent, intelligent, skillful, and beautiful as any wild animal that we enjoy watching or learning about today, and he and she should be celebrated and revered by all of us. Those of us who long for the wild are actually longing for a far more interesting, leisurely, and accompanied life than the modern world allows us, our natural way of life that was taken from us long, long ago.

Can we find our way back to some version of that nature-based, wild way of life? It seems that we may have no other choice. The earth may not tolerate our presence much longer unless we can rapidly learn -- re-learn, actually -- how to live in full harmony with it. So it appears that we are beginning now, whether we like it or not, a transition to a new way of life, full of perils but also full of exciting possibilities.


  1. Lundy, thanks for this debunking of so-called "progress." I'm looking forward to a massive cultural shift. It absolutely must happen. Meanwhile the vast majority of folks are utterly at the mercy of the formal economy, and often suffer terrible loneliness, not to mention all the enormous injustices in the world. The toxic Culture of Progress must end and be replaced by the Culture of Peace, Healing, and Regeneration.

  2. Do you think the fact the tribal people lived so communally that their injustice's would be seen sooner and acted on by the majority quicker? I know that happens in the animal world and being from a large family as a child I remember that also happening.

    It seems we are growing apart from our fellow man and lack the empathy I believe one has when interacting with others on a daily basis. The computer enables us to have superficial interaction online and keeps us from face to face meaningful interaction.

    Personally I have learned it truly is better to give than to receive, meaning it is better for me.


  3. Have you heard of the Bonobo's?

    I was fascinated by the fact it is a female dominate primate. Harvard Law Professor Diane Rosenfeld told me of them.

  4. What you have written here makes me think of Jung - have you perhaps read the book:

    Even though technology is a blessing, it's also a kind of curse, texting not talking, overdosing on tv and computer games, too much baffling choice via the net regarding shopping, entertainment etc.

    Balance is the key - I, for one, cannot imagine living without my computer, while living in a rural area with chronic pain and mobility problems! - we need to be among nature, take up old crafts, learn the art of proper conversation and try better to understand one another (compassion).

    Thank you for this post.