Progression in Regression

Harari notes that European conquest was different in that they “set out to distant shores in the hope of obtaining new knowledge along with new territories” (p.284) rather than believing they were already at the limit of their understanding. This is evidenced by the British expedition to Tahiti from 1768-1771—the initial purpose was to send an astronomer far into the southern hemisphere to measure the Venus transit, but as history shows, James Cook’s four-year journey had far reaching political and scientific implications. This exploration of the southwestern Pacific Ocean led to the subjugation and extermination of many native peoples and harkened the beginning of the ecological destruction that would befall these parts. Nevertheless, the expedition added territory to Britain’s already large portion of the world and offered tools that allowed them to strengthen their control over the rest of it.

The idea of progress is one that Harari makes a strong case for, and for the most part I agree with his analysis. Progress really can only be measured with hindsight, however, and even then it is somewhat subjective. Harari does address this and talks about the falseness of inevitability. “Progress” is what societies are constantly striving towards, but also something they can never achieve, for “progress” is exclusively a designation created in retrospect.

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