Progress for Humans: One Step Forward, One Step Backward, and One Step Sideways

According to Harari science, empire and capitalism are all connected. Essentially, he says for one of those to be successful, you need the other two. You won’t have a strong empire without the exploration of science, and a capitalist market. This trio has proven to be the most successful since it’s what’s used today around most of the world. One example of scientific discovery being shaped by political and fiscal interests, is the Cook expedition to observe the Venus transit from Tahiti. This scientific operation was extremely expensive, so they decided to explore several Pacific islands including Australia and New Zealand. This led to the British settlement of these islands. Harari shows the connection by stating, “Much of the information collected by the expedition – particularly the astronomical, geographical, meteorological, and anthropological data – was of obvious political and military value” (Harari, p. 277).


Progress is a hard word to define when comparing it to humanity and its evolution to current day. Some questions are easy to answer such as, are there more people now than before; yes. When you start to ask the hard questions progress becomes very hard to define, such as, are people happier now than before; a lot of science says no. Knowing that we work more, are generally unhappy(depressed), have larger populations in poverty than ever before, and a mental health crisis leading to the highest suicide rate in human history, can we actually say we’ve made progress? I don’t think so. I believe humans have the ability to make progress happen but unfortunately, we live in a materialist, profit driven society where the size of your house or bank account are more important than your community or social relationships required to allow progress to occur.

1 thought on “Progress for Humans: One Step Forward, One Step Backward, and One Step Sideways”

  1. I agree with your conclusion that ‘progress’may not be great in the way Harari views it. It reminds me of when he was talking about the health and happiness of modern day hunter gatherers communities. He brings up that people living in such societies have to face brutal realities such as a practice of killing a young girl when a man dies to preserve the balance of resources. With this in mind however I still lean toward your understanding that having more people, more depressed people, and living in massively organized nations isn’t true progress because we haven’t seen an increased quality of life, instead we’ve seen a shift in attention towards material things in all classes. Our greatest ‘progressions’ have certainly made large group survival easier (e.g. vaccines) but has space exploration actually helped us become happier?

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