What is Progress?

A lot of problems have been caused by the fact that there has not been  enough careful thinking on what constitutes human progress and it has been often just taken for granted that progress has been taking place over long periods of time, interrupted occasionally perhaps by some short-term disruptions. This leads to the curious  anomaly of periods of aggravation of serious problems getting recorded as periods of great progress.

Clearly this can be very harmful, for if periods of increasing basic problems get recorded as periods of progress, then how will there be realization and appreciation of the  urgent need for corrective steps. In its absence, the serious mistakes will just go on increasing, as has often happened in the past.

So here is an attempt to define progress in very clear terms.

Human progress is an endeavor of human efforts to improve  satisfaction of all basic human needs, also some aesthetic needs and some comforts, for now and for future in sustainable ways, keeping in view also the requirement to meet the needs of other species, protection of their habitats and overall environment, in conditions of equality, cooperation and peace among people, providing them adequate opportunities of realizing their potential of  creative and satisfactory work to meet all needs and some comforts.

There are three aspects of this definition all of which are closely inter-related to each other.

Firstly there is the obvious necessity of meeting basic needs like eating adequate nutritious food and arranging protection from weather excesses through proper clothing, furnishing and housing. Having access to education and health as per needs and reasonable aspirations is also a must, as also meeting the essential demands of those having special needs. Certain occupations may demand their own special needs. In addition it is reasonable to expect that certain aesthetic needs and the aspirations for some  small comforts must be met.

However while aspiring to meet these various needs of its members, a society has to balance this need with the needs of other people, needs of future members ( children and grandchildren of present members) and the needs of other species. Needs at  all these three levels have to be respected and cared for, which in turn implies the need for restraint. If members of a society try to increase their own consumption too much, this is likely to rapidly deplete basic resource base  creating problems for meeting needs at three other levels. So human progress does not involve satisfaction of excessive wants and desires, instead side by the side with the satisfaction of real needs it involves the wisdom and kindness to respect the needs of others as well as to avoid imposing a heavy burden on natural resources, nature and environment.

The second aspect of the definition relates to all relationships. Human  happiness and distress are related not just to the ability or inability to meet needs but also to their various relationships. These relations should be based on cooperation and peace, mutual help and understanding. This calls for constant efforts. Gender relationships are a very important part of these relationships. Relationships with various other forms of life and indeed overall with nature should be based on attitudes of understanding and protection; even while meeting various human needs the overall attitude of kindness and avoiding any cruelty and over-exploitation should be respected.

Thirdly, opportunities of realizing their potential for various creative works , skills and learning should be available to all people, with suitable education and training, and these opportunities in turn should be linked to the satisfaction of various real needs. Creative work should get adequate remuneration for the satisfaction of basic needs as well as some aesthetic needs and small comforts, and relationships at workplace should be based on mutual help and respect. At the same time all creative work does not result in remuneration in the sense commonly understood, and it should be appreciated that non-remuneration work involving care and other important responsibilities, taken up without gender bias, can be even more valuable and important than remuneration work.

Hence the various aspects of real progress are linked together closely.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.


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