“A Short History of Progress” By Ronald Wright ensures informative, easy and delightful reading for every person. Actually, the author is rather interested in the works of Paul Gauguin. He says that there were three main questions for understanding environmental dilemmas of today. Paul Gauguin tended to find out where we had come from, where we were and where we were going in the future. Ronald Wrights admits that he is interested in the future of environment. Therefore, his book is devoted to environmental issues of the past and present paying special attention to the evolution of the Earth.
The positive moment is that the book is intended for general audience as it is rather easy for reading and understanding. The author managed to state clearly the purpose and thesis of the book. The purpose is to warn people about the coming ecological catastrophe, whereas that thesis is that history constantly repeats itself. The book is a coherent, well-written and coercive study of a subject meaning that chapters flow smoothly from one another following the book’s plan.
Firstly, the author provides relevant background information about the emergence of the term “progress” noting that the term originates from the Western mindset. However, the author tends to think that a progress is simply nothing but myth which helps people and culture to go through time. The progress doesn’t suggest positive impact. Thus, progress is rather religious and ideological narrative rather than scientific one.
(Wright 2005)Wright’s book sheds light on the 20th century growth of human population, human desire to consume more goods, energy, resources and services and technology as murderous burden. The author tries to find answers what the consequences of rapid population will be, whether growth can be sustained and what future the world will bring to people. Wright argues that modern dilemmas aren’t modern at because they are “10,000 year experiment that we have participated in but seldom controlled”. (Wright 2005) Thus, Wrights writes, “each time history repeats itself, the price goes up”, and, therefore, it is required to understand the “patterns of progress and disaster that humanity has repeated since the Stone ages, can Man recognize the experiments inherent dangers and with luck and wisdom, shape its outcome”. (Wright 2005) In such a way the author wants to provide better understanding of the world patterns and to warn people about disasters to happen. The book guides through the jungles of history till present time. The writing style isn’t well-organized and elegantly crafted, though it is expansive in the content.
Apparently the book provides new and original overview of Earth’s history. (Wright 2005)Simply speaking the book describes the Earth from the Neanderthal times and he says that present time is still time, though it is getting short because of population growth. Wright argues that “the rise in population and pollution, the acceleration of technology, the concentration of wealth and power – all are runaway trains, and most are linked together..”.
(Wright 2005) The only way for modern civilization to survive is to live on the self-interest, not on the natural principles. The author notes that “none of this should surprise us after reading the flight recorders of crashed civilizations; our present behavior is typical of failed societies at the zenith of their greed and arrogance”. (Wright 2005)Wright compares contemporary civilization with dinosaurs meaning that people remain greed and arrogant and they prefer to think only about self-enrichment. People remain hostile to changes which contradict their interests and preferences. Wright describes modern society as trading system interested in specialization. Modern society is elaborate and far-reaching.
Author’s point is that society “often falls quite suddenly – the house of cards effect – because as they reach full demand on their ecologies, they become highly vulnerable to natural fluctuations”. (Wright 2005) The problems are magnified by weapons of mass construction.Actually, the author thinks that modern system should be changed. He contends that “the most compelling reason for reforming our system is that the system is in no one’s interest. It is a suicide machine”. (Wright 2005) Population enrichment and well can even worsen pollution problem.
Wealth isn’t way out of chaos as wealth raises dark sides in every human. He means that the more advantages are open before people, the “best chances for avoiding the fates of past societies is that we know about these societies”. (Wright 2005) Settled life will be disturbed by what people are going now. Thus, society needs reform, though the reform isn’t anti-capitalist or anti-American. The changes to be implemented aren’t also environmentalist.
The only thing required is that people should pay attention to long-term thinking rather than short-term one. The transitions should be made from recklessness to moderation and tolerance because transition is the last chance for people to see the right future. (Wright 2005)It is necessary to admit that the book entails many historical examples aims at showing how humans have been involved in the progress trap. Wrights admits that weapon is the first rap. He assumes that since gunpowder was invented by Chinese people, the progress in producing bangs has been significantly greater: from simple petard to explosive shell, from firecracker to cannons. Nowadays, he argues, explosive weapon has reached the state of perfection meaning that the progress is unstopped. Wright says when modern “bangs” are able to destruct the whole world and, thus, such progress has gone too far and should be constrained.
(Wright 2005)Wright claims that human progress is measured by technology and scientific achievements. Nevertheless, technology doesn’t suggest security when remembering natural disaster taken place in the southern states of America. Therefore, advanced technologies are one more progress trap for humans. In the end of the 20th century more than 2 billion people suffered from floods, terrible hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Previous twenty years are marked by 60% increase in incidences of disasters in the whole world. The author writes that the mentioned number doesn’t involve millions of people who were killed and displaced by the last tsunami.
Speaking about property damages, the year of 2004 appeared to be the costliest year for global insurers as they had to pay about $50 because of natural disasters. Therefore, technological disasters, Wright argues, lead to more natural disasters and pollution throughout the world. (Wright 2005)The author argues that it is a huge mistake to consider progress as ideology. People see their advancement and progress though transition from industrial to information era, though the reality is that people still can’t live without advances of the Stone Ages. Nowadays civilization becomes more hierarchical and tends to concentrate on material values. Therefore, economic development has to respond to “triple bottom-line” meaning it should provide equal opportunities and benefits and take care of natural environment.
The interesting moment in the book is how the author describes the rise of civilization and progress itself. Wrights provides detailed description of agriculture, agricultural productivity, arts and architecture, population growth and longevity. However, people are lured into progress traps. Therefore, the challenges of “runaway growth in human numbers, consumption, and technology” can’t be considered new and original. The main challenge is that history constantly repeats itself.
(Wright 2005)The author sums up main points arguing that all humans want to take advantage over something and to use knowledge of the past mistakes to prevent the similar ones in the future. However, people remain blind in their pursuit of material values and self-enrichment. Wright admits that such pursuits are similar to that of the Mayan’s Empire in the 9th century A.D. the same was with Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D.
though the Empire failed.Wright concludes that modern society is self-destructive because society is likely to face collapse of environmental, natural and social order. Modern world is challenged by terrorist acts, poverty, violence, natural disasters and catastrophes, malnutrition and hunger. Wright says that “hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create ever more dangerous messes”.
(Wright 2005) Today, people are facing so-called rebellion of tools because economic system tends to put obstacles to developing friendly-like lifestyles. Existing regimes and systems aren’t ecologically speaking.