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This post is largely inspired by A Short History of Progress authored by Ronald Wright. The title of the article, The Illusion of Progress is a recurring theme well documented by Wright. (Editor ~ Rolly Montpellier – BoomerWarrior)

The Illusion of Progress

The Illusion of Progress
Source: Carol Chan

If we see clearly who we are and what we have done, we can recognize human behaviour that persists through many times and cultures. Knowing this can tell us what we are likely to do, where we are likely to go from here….the future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years. Like all creatures, humans have made their way in the world so far by trial and error; unlike other creatures, we have a presence so colossal that error is a luxury we can no longer effort. The world has grown too small to forgive us any big mistakes.

Ronald Wright
A Short History of Progress

Meaning of Progress

The illusion of progressHuman development is an evolutionary process which has led to the appearance of ‘modern humans’ about 200,000 years ago. Wright points out that we had “no inkling of this process, let alone its consequences until only the last six or seven… generations. We have done it all sleepwalking.”

Our traditional definition of progress is largely based on our accomplishments. We made it up as we went along. Sidney Pollard (historian) in 1968 defined progress as “the assumption that a pattern of change exists in the history of mankind….that consists of irreversible changes in one direction only, and that this direction is towards improvement.” To a large extent, this is true. Progress equals improvement – material things getting better and better. It is measured through the magic of consumerism and technology. 

We use brainpower and knowledge to control our environment. The human drive for new to newer and from good to better is relentless. In today’s world, progress is principally based on physical, material and technological advancements – how much wealth we have acquired and the unstoppable pursuit of new things. We live under the illusion of eternal material progress. We claim as progress what has served us well with little concern about ethical, moral and social responsibilities. 

The positive aspect of progress has given people all over the world, safe, healthy, comfortable, and interesting lives far beyond the imaginations of our ancestors. We are lured forward by wealth, prestige, power, food and sex. This has worked well for the developed world but not so well for the 80 percent of humanity living on less than $10 per day.

Our modern age is a highly evolved advanced civilization, the product of the industrial revolution, the march of science and the victory of capitalism and globalization. We see ourselves as the cleverest man ever to inhabit the planet, far more advanced that our Stone Age predecessors with their Stone Age tools, who also likely saw themselves as far superior to their Neanderthal predecessors.

The Curse of Progress

Progress has a concealed built-in explosive ready to detonate at any time – the traditional shooting yourself in the foot. Repeated success is seductive often masking a hidden trap.

“A seductive trail of successes may end in a trap” says Ronald Wright. There are those who are under the illusion that more technological progress will solve all of the social and environmental problems the world now faces. Like false hope, the illusion of progress is a curse leading us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. 

George Orwell had it right, “progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.” Historians and anthropologists have revealed a dismal picture of past civilizations ultimately destroying themselves due to systems breakdowns.

The problem is that now if our civilization goes down, the entire planet will go down with us.


Rolly Montpellier,

Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org.

Rolly is also a registered Climate Leader (Climate Reality Leadership Corps) a blogger, an activist and a Climate Change presenter.

BoomerWarrior is for the socially aware and politically conscious; for the change-makers and thought-provokers; for the light and young at heart; for anyone willing and courageous enough to move forward. 

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  1. I have watched the 401 turn into a parking lot since the mid 90’s. The traffic noise, especially at night, has increased and I live a good distance south from the highway. People are driving bigger vehicles (for safety etc.) and they are moving farther away from the city and from work. I think in this day and age that employers need to start creating subsidiary work places outside of Toronto. Creating and developing a better sense of neighbourhood communities so people can walk/bike to work, or even stay home and work on their computers.
    I work in a Day Care and I have seen, since College graduation in 1978, family priorities change. In the past children stayed home when sick and did not attend. Nowadays Parents pump their children full of masking medicines, lie to the staff and leave their sick and ailing child to spread their germs to other families (unaware of) and suffer their illness at Day Care. Sick adults would stay home because they can make these choices. Pressures from Attendance Management from work creates more stress for everyone. Where I work there is a Toddler that does a 55 hour week and only stays home when sent home with symptoms from the Day Care. Usually that is when his temperature spikes from the medicine wearing off or he has ‘three’ bouts of diarrhea….
    Interesting reading Thanks Carol

    • Thanks for your interest in my post and BoomerWarrior.

      There is no doubt that major arteries have become clogged with thousands of trucks carrying goods from far away markets to our local Walmarts and grocery stores. Also, people are still living in the suburbs often far from work as you point out. The American culture is tied to the automobile industry. Nobody walks anywhere anymore. Are we surprised that obesity has become such a rampant disease?

      Canada is becoming very Americanized and thus facing many of the same socio-political issues.

      As for corporations decentralizing their work centers, don’t hold your breath. That would cost money and affect their bottom line. Ain’t gonna happen.

      Thanks again.

    • I did enjoy creating this piece. I will follow it up with another post on a similar theme in a week or so. I’m looking at your link and see that the second paragraph has the same title as my article – The Illusion of Progress. What a coincidence. I’m going to read it through. It sounds quite interesting. Thanks

      I hope we get an opportunity to work together when you have your new site. I’m sure there is stuff on your current site you can bring over.

  2. Hello and thanks for your article. Unfortunate photo accompanying an ad on the side. I want to say – I never realized what kind of downward slide humanity is facing until I had kids. I knew the environment was in trouble but I didn’t quite understand what kind of situation we have created for our kids outside of environmental concerns. 1. There is no sense of community anymore, people don’t go to church, families lives so far away from extended family that kids aren’t getting that extra love from people who actually care. I’m sure daycare personnel work hard but they can’t replace parents and grandparents. Result is children grow up feeling disconnected from society and other people. 2. Too much emphasis on money and therefore work, moms aren’t staying home long enough. No respect for moms who decide to stay home with their kids. Result in some cases is insecure attachment. In the US for example maternity leave is only six months. Can you imagine putting a six month old in daycare? Kindergarten being pushed earlier and full-day as government encourages Moms to go back to work earlier (I.e. in Ontario) There is only proof that this is damaging to children. 3) Too much time watching t.v. and playing video games from a too early age. Result -this is actually detrimental to a child’s development (emotional and intellectual). 4. Society not accepting of kids acting like kids. Result, parents avoid taking their kids out with them, kids miss out on more opportunities to connect with the real world. 5. Kids don’t play outside around their neighbourhoods anymore. Result, not enough sunshine, gross motor play, imaginary play, face to face interaction with other kids. 5. Sorry to the grandparents out there who do help their grandkids out there, but we do have a “deadbeat grandparent” epidemic out there. Grandparents want to travel, pursue their own interests. Not spend time with their grandkids. This again leaves this generation of kids short-changed. I am sure there are grandparents who say “It’s not my job to help out with my grandkids.” Actually, you’re wrong. It is your job. From an evolutionary standpoint, that is why humans even live past reproductive age. To contribute to the next generation. Not to sit around watching t.v. in Boca Raton. I could go on. We need to turn things around for kids!!!

    • A big thank you for your considerate response to the post. I’m a grandfather and agree that grandparents have a moral responsibility to help with the grandchildren. I recall many precious times with my grandfather when he was in his retirement. He would often talk to me while we spent countless number of hours sitting on his swing. I don’t recall what kind of wisdom he imparted on me but I’m sure that in some way, he is responsible for that sense of obligation I feel towards my grandkids.

      I want to spend as much time as I humanly can at improving the legacy I will pass on to my grandchildren. They deserve to inherit a better world than we are going to leave them. I worry daily about their future.


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