Fifth Column – Issue 20


Material progress seems like an inevitability in us humans, yet we still admire the animal world for apparently getting it so right. As an organism, like other species on the planet, some force compels a thing we see as progressive, in us we can name such process as perfectionism, development and/or evolution’s survival of the fittest. So many species appear to have evolved into their ultimate progressive entity: spiders waiting six or more hours to cast a net to catch its food; creatures without light, having no more need for eyes, I could go on. We, however, know – this is the significant separation fro an organism – how progress is going and how it might be achieved.

The legacy of consciousness to think beyond our organic condition, and envisage, speculate, imagine upon life makes humans unique.

A programme on TV explained about a two-thousand year old object, termed a ‘computer’ by those involved, which raised questions about the very issue of what progress in human terms is. Some human – later identified as Archimedes – had, two thousand years ago, begun to think about the technology we are so proud of today as a specific measure of our species progress.

The material progressiveness that has seen a large portion of us piping our detritus into the vast seas on the planet rather than staring at it under our beds in receptacles of various enchanting shapes, sizes and decorative states or in the streets.

As in the programme, when dusting and computer analysis of, ironically, the technical object in question had been fished out of the Aegean Sea, had reached their limits, X-Ray was called for to further enlighten the curious researchers of the material wonders of the piece. When Roentgen first discovered how to look into humans and, as it progressed, most other material substances, materials were required to realise his vision. This and the modern event cause us to think about how and why we progress as a species.

In the modern case, when it came to progress, one element of our species had to come to the fore, that of suspending financial considerations to afford expansion in our knowledge of ourselves through history. I can hear you thinking that money, wherever or from whomever it comes, made the idea(s) real and progress possible. I say it is probably the opposite case: if the human being who, in the face of progress in our knowledge, had considered the cost, he would have actually hindered progress and knowledge and not facilitated them.

The instance in the programme when the X-Ray faculty accepted the task to read the obscured text on the object creates a dichotomy in our progress, that illustrates how our small minded obsession with a reductive material value system is keeping us from realising progress in the very realm that defines us as the human animal on this planet. Money and its various manifestations merely qualify an exchange of what is, fundamentally, an abstract value. On the other hand, progress depends on thought and desire to know more about the human condition because, as a conscious organism, we can, and are organically compelled to. This inevitability of the human condition to materially progress, with the cognitive capacity to consider it as value and meaning, just as the programme does, should make us less smug, less complacent about the basis of progress in holistic terms, rather than only material terms. The material, organic progressive impulses are something we share with animals and other organisms on Earth, it is our distinct capacity to think that enables evaluation of our human progress. Money is one of our biggest failures. In the present, it threatens collective progress, we only need to look at our value systems in politics. If we consider the obscene and unfair distribution of monetary wealth, how much progress can we claim?

Is it not human nature to feel compassion? Materially this human character trait is misguidedly manifested in the inadequate charity institutions that have perpetual victims and gross inequity within the division of labour that sustains any provision on the basis of volunteerism and economically coerced labour at the lower end and the excessive salaries of the executives overseeing the charity exchanges. The distinction between the material charity structure and the charitableness in our nature is a manifestation of the destructiveness and retrograde influence of money in our progress.

A two thousand year old computer should make us sit up and take notice: material progress is inevitable in organisms, whereas values and meaning are negotiable and can manifest possibility and form the essence of any full understanding of progress. Discuss.

Eds axiom: “We shouldn’t be complacent about having opposable thumbs, because in the cosmos this would suggest no direction (home to ourselves).

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