Progress Makes Perfect

According to Harari, science, empire, and capitalism are linked through the simple fact that the three different branches cannot happen without one or the other. Harari states that “… modern states call in their scientists to provide solutions in almost every area of national policy, from energy to health to waste disposal” (260). Without science, empires would not be able to become very powerful, and the innovation that drives most free market economies would not exist. On the other side of the coin, in the absence of a capitalist economy, or the backing of an empire, a lot of the science practiced today would not even be thinkable. Why? Because as Harari puts it, “Science is a very expensive affair”, and without private, or federal capital, most scientists would not have access to the equipment needed to cure cancer or develop an annual Influenza vaccination. One example of how scientific discovery was shaped by political and fiscal interests would be the Manhattan project. The United States needed to find a way to put an end to World War II, because President Truman couldn’t allow Japan to continue fighting against the U.S. and potentially have another Pearl Harbor on his hands, and also, for the simple fact that wars are expensive. According to Harari, if the United States had chosen to invade Japan instead of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war would have continued on. Costing the “lives of a million American soldiers” and millions of dollars more (262).

I agree that progress plays a large part in linking science, capitalism, and empire. Harari’s argument is that progress is “built on the notion that if we admit our ignorance and invest resources in research, things can improve” (310). What Harari means here is that most discoveries were made in the name of progress. Why did Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain agree to finance Columbus’s voyage to the “New World” (although Columbus thought he was going to India). They realized it could mean progress for Spain. A new route to India could mean that Spain would become the wealthiest empire in Europe, and moreover, Spain could lay claim to any new lands Columbus might find. Thus, also becoming the largest empire in the world. Therefore, I agree completely with Harari’s idea of progress linking science, empire, and capitalism.

1 thought on “Progress Makes Perfect”

  1. Hi Colleen

    Great post! Really enjoyed reading it.
    I agree with you that progress plays a part in the whole linking of science, capitalism and empire. Progress is the same as practice, the better the progress, the better the result. Progress shows that science has begun to solve one unsolvable problem after another. The example you mention also shows that the progress in this case made Spain a very wealthy country. But on the other hand, progress may not solve every ‘scientific problem’. Harari mentions in the book that men of science believe that death is just a technical problem and can be solved through the idea of progress. But is this really true? Is the idea of progress pivotal in this case?

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