On Progress

At the time I felt that this word had some meaning. Living as I was then, like any individual I was tormented by the problem of how to live a better life. I did not yet understand that in answering ‘live in conformity with progress’, I was speaking exactly like a person who is in a boat being carried along by wind and waves and who when asked the most important and vital question, ‘Where should I steer?’ avoids answering by saying, ‘We are being carried somewhere.’

Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

Progress is the zeitgeist of our time, so much so that it is synonymous with what’s good and with purpose. We work to make technology faster, smaller, lighter; every iteration has to surpass the previous in some way, and so it keeps going. We want to live longer, to travel to more locations, to live in bigger houses and to have more entertainment around us. All that may help us lead “better” lives – longer, more comfortable, more pleasant – but will it help make us better people?

We all seek to know whether we shall be rich; but no one asks whether he shall be good.

Publilius Syrus

Published June 2012

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