Progress is Ironic

The advancement of science and economics beginning in the 16th century was not originally for the betterment of humanity or the pursuit of wealth. It was usually because governments and aristocrats wished to preserve their power, and funded philosophers, priests, poets, and other intellectuals with this goal in mind (Harari, 249.) Harari visualizes a cycle of science, politics, and economies, with all three feeding into each other. The spread of Protestantism in 16th century Europe is attributed to Martin Luther & the invention of the printing press. Luther would not have survived the wrath of the Catholic Church if Frederick III of Saxony hadn’t sheltered him. Kings such as Henry VIII realised that if they could be free of the Church, they would be free of Church taxes, and Henry could get new wives for a male heir.

Harari’s ideas of progress are easy to explain and connect to examples he gives.The example of nuclear research in the U.S. used to explain Harari’s linkage of capitalism, empire, and science, is progressing towards splitting and harnessing atoms. Progress can be a very good thing, such as the near elimination of hunger. It is also bad to progress too much, as progress may yield unintended (and ironic) consequences, as the world today is more in danger of dying from obesity than starvation. The splitting of the atom provides plentiful electricity to the world, but it led to the creation of world-ending weapons. Progress is good and bad, the best way to describe it is ironic.  

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