I have heard many times people arguing about how modern-day life is a mistake. They go on to perpetuate that we have lost our way, made everything super complex, lost connection with nature, and pretty much we are doomed as a species.
Sure the world has problems. Lots of them. But nonetheless, progress is being made. How can anyone argue with that? But how do you define progress? One might ask rhetorically. If nothing happened we would be much better of. No technology so we couldn’t have computers so Google didn’t track us. No agriculture so we didn’t have crops so GMO’s weren’t developed. And so on…
The problem with this kind of argument is that we often think of previous generations as always better and the ones coming as definitely worse off. We want an imaginary sweet spot in the middle where we have dentistry, electricity, and hospitals but not the current mess we are dealing with. But we can’t just cherrypick whatever we want. Either you go back all the way sitting in caves having deep conversations around a fire until you died unexpectedly at a young age from a disease that could easily be prevented, or learn the proper use of an invention when there is a need for it while making valid and articulated criticism on how things can improve going forward and not backward.
First of all, progress is happening by finding a solution to a particular problem. It doesn’t ensure that all the relative problems will be solved as well and it can’t guarantee that it won’t cause any new problem because it can’t be sure if it is the best possible solution, yet. Secondly, the solution did not come out of the blue. There was a need for it and no matter how wrong or dumb it might seem it must have been better than what the current situation was. And thirdly, there is no way to know the end result. There is a huge amount of experimentation, trial and error, and frankly luck involved, that there is no better strategy than to let things play out.
Saying that we shouldn’t have been trying things out and innovating because of some bad examples is like saying that we shouldn’t have debunked myths and shouldn’t have tried to come up with better explanations about how the world works. We should have stuck to the myth of how seasons change, that stars are some sort of fixed thing on the sky and that when a tragedy hits us is because some god snaped.
Saying no to progress because you can’t handle change and possible bad outcomes that are still pending to be improved, is irrational. But what really is progress? Having a phone in my hand is not progress if my neck hurts while I’m bombarded with ads. Having access to food at any time is not progress if we are throwing half of it away.
Diminishing what progress we have made as a species so far, selecting abstract anecdotes as examples, and failing to understand how innovation works is a tremendous disservice to oneself. There is a great difference between bad use and bad invention which is another hurdle for the progress skeptic’s brain to see things with a more optimistic spin.
Another view from this kind of people is that they always or most of the time assume bad intentions when a new thing is introduced and are pretty much always reluctant to change. Being early adopters is far out of the map. These were the people who stopped buying VHS only because manufacturers stopped producing them.
Vast generalizations are one more favorite they engage with. Taking a pessimistic scenario and magnifying it tenfold, sounds like a broken record to this point. Repeating doomsday stories is one thing, but articulating the goods and bad’s in every situation is another. Not many people can do that. Generalizations are easy. They don’t need much effort since you only need to find 4 people that have a video game addiction to say ban all games and computers. It is pattern recognition and it’s not a good one.
With the stop progress catchphrase, we are to stop people from innovating and experimenting. Saying that some bad actors will take advantage of it is a valid point worth taking into account. But what other force do we have to avoid this wrongdoing, other than to let the good actors use innovation and experimentation to keep up? If this is not the case you are actually giving the ones with bad intentions a huge advantage over the ones with good intentions.
And then there is my favorite. Arguing that an invention made more harm than good while acknowledging that it did “some” good for “some” people. All this followed by the statement: But hey look at the old days. People were way happier without it.
First such statements have a hidden egoism into them. You don’t know exactly what was going on back then or at any time in history. You can have some general sense that is derived from data and numbers. These too are approximations but are by far the most reliable compared to abstract biased logic. Filling in the gaps with speculation is not helpful, but it is sure understandable since memory and foggy history facts lost in time tend to give a romantic note on events.
Mystery beautifies and mystery lost in time beautifies absolutely.
The further away you are looking at something lost in time and try to explain it the better is to listen to hardcore numbers also known as data or statistics. Or else suspend judgment. Secondly, by saying this you are looking down on people. Because we or I are misusing or can’t handle something doesn’t mean others will do the same mistakes and fall into misuses.
Progress is a slow, messy process with mistakes, ups and downs, and frequent failures along the way.
It’s a bumpy ride and we should let it play out.