Progress is in the eye of the Beholder

The Europeans of the 16th century were smitten with this idea that the world was out there waiting to be discovered. They went on expeditions across the seas, bringing with them teams of scientists. Discoveries in the field of medicine allowed the expeditions to be more successful, and successful expeditions obtained vast reservoirs of knowledge about territories, making them easier to conquer. “As time went by, the conquest of knowledge and the conquest of territory became ever more tightly intertwined” (p 284). Capitalism enabled expeditions and funded scientific research, by way of a concept called credit. Credit is founded upon a trust in the future: that there will be return on investments. Profit from investments can be redirected into more scientific research, which will yield new technologies that make our lives easier or give us more physical control. These new technologies spur whole new industries, which create more credit, which enables more scientific research, which results in new technologies that enhance our power, and so forth. Much of our discoveries are directed by the desire to conquer; science is thus a servant of imperialism, and it is enabled by capitalism. DARPA is the epitome of the military-industrial complex today: funded by the U.S. government to develop defense technologies using research in fields such as bio-mimicry and aeronautics.

The Enlightenment period assumed that any acquisition of new knowledge was a step in the right direction. Our acknowledgement of ignorance, coupled with the notion that science could solve any and all of our problems, set us on a path of rapid discovery and innovation. The Industrial Revolution was progressive in that it made agriculture more efficient and effective, which allowed for innovation in other areas, such as transportation and energy. Of course, all this “progress” has created a host of new problems as well.  Harari says that “economic growth also requires energy and raw materials, and these are finite” (p 334), but then later claims that “clearly the world does not lack energy. All we lack is the knowledge necessary to harness and convert it to our needs” (p 339). The latter statement assumes that we are able to innovate our way out of an energy crisis. I have to assume that Harari meant to say that just raw materials are finite; otherwise, he suggests that at the point when the raw materials are exhausted, energy will no longer be a concern because “the entire system will collapse” (p 334)..?

4 thoughts on “Progress is in the eye of the Beholder”

  1. I strongly agree with your point that imperialism is the driving force behind scientific research and discoveries, and that what enables empires to fund such work is the idea of credit; the idea that the future will be more prosperous than the present and the notion that one will always get a return on their investment is a major piece of this relationship between science, empire, and capitalism. I also agree with your statement that the conquest of knowledge and territory is the reason why empires are so keen on scientific advancement and the emphasis on these has resulted in the prioritization of such endeavors. On page 334, when Harari states that “economic growth also requires energy and raw materials, and these are finite,” I do not believe that Harari intended to argue that energy itself is limited, just that in today’s economic system it is possible to exhaust our available energy resources.

  2. Imperialism seems to be the driving force because so many people strive to make as much money as they possible can, no matter the means of obtaining that money. The world seems to not do much just for the good of humanity because there is always something to gain personally out of the new inventions and ideas. Not many people invent or think of an idea that may help humans in general just for the fun of it, there are always other reasons, even if those reasons are pretty transparent. I also agree with the post and Harari on “all we lack is the knowledge” because people are now developing more efficient solar panels to absorb more energy. So, we were just lacking some knowledge and the necessary technology before deciding to use the sun for power, which will be infinite until the end of the universe. (Harari, 339).

  3. I agree. I think your thoughts on imperialism are very insightful. I like your example of DARPA. I think this is a great example of the crossover of science, empire, and capitalism. I also appreciate your point on the enlightenment. Even though “progress” is a good thing, it includes a host of new problems.

  4. I liked you take on the topic, I think it is important to at least suggest the impact that religion played, such as we discussed in class. These ideas were originally for the search for religion, and it essentially spawned the idea of science, that ended up going further and further. I lied your intro and discussion of credit funding the science and explorations of the past that created more credit and a growing industry. Good post and ideas.

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