Progress in the Long Term

As time moves forward, an interesting thing happens: things progress. We take for credit the fact that human life seems to be advancing in a variety of different categories, rather than stay stagnant and volatile. But this raises the question: what does the endgame look like?

Francis Fukuyama spoke of the End of History, a metaphorical endpoint in social progress where humankind has become so equitable, so peaceful, that future history no longer need be written. It is a bittersweet conclusion — the only way for humanity to become at peace with itself is for life to become so routinized that there’s no longer room for conflict. 

Of course, that’s a simplification — and Fukuyama knew it. There is plenty more to keep humanity occupied than just social issues. The next biggest hurdle to cross is the economic one, and that’s a much more complicated issue. Of course, the crux of most economic conflicts is that resources are limited, and this is a fact that fundamentally cannot change. Technically we can skirt around that issue using innovation — innovation causes resource loss to be asymptotic, meaning that as innovation increases, we use fewer and fewer resources, and by virtue people become more and more resource-rich.

There are two problems with this asymptoticity, however. The first is that, since the limit is to zero, there will be some eventual state where resource count equals zero — an important thing to keep in mind for our ultra long-term point of view. The second, more pressing matter is that innovation is unequally distributed. In other words, we’re gonna hit zero on some resources a lot faster than others, just by virtue of some innovation not happening fast enough. This is a big reason why global warming has become such a hot (no pun intended) issue. 

So conflict will always exist in some capacity. But overall, progress seems to be winning most of the rounds. While I have my own problems with the book, Enlightenment Now gives a very, very detailed and rigorous breakdown of how long-term progress is destined to win.

But there’s an interesting Catch-22 here. Long-term progress only exists because we think it doesn’t. Consider this: if there was a widespread belief that we would be okay in the long-term, then we would turn lax. No one would look to solve problems in the immediate future, because we wouldn’t be worried about it. It’s only when there is adamant, strong reason to believe that progress doesn’t exist, and that it needs to be rectified, that progress happens. So while things are optimistic, remember to stick to your guns.

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