Freeman

ARTICLE

Progress

MAY 01, 1969 by IPA FACTS

From IPA Facts, August-September, 1968, published by the Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne, Australia.

Nowadays we tend to equate progress with improvements in our material standards of life. As a nation we measure our success by how fast our total production is increasing, or by the number of motor cars for every 100 people.

But isn’t this a rather limited, superficial view of progress? A man is not necessarily a better man because he can afford caviar and champagne, or because he has two cars instead of one. In the end the only true measure of progress is whether we are becom­ing better as human beings.

This doesn’t mean that material prosperity is unimportant. But its true purpose is not to enable man to wallow in luxury, or to live a life of idle indulgence. It is to give him a better opportunity to cultivate his mind and spirit, to improve his understanding, to seek wisdom, to enlarge his sympathies and sense of compassion, to devel­op his character.

Man is more than a pig at a trough. He needs higher goals, a nobler purpose, than the mere sat­isfaction of his bodily appetites.

Indeed, as the material things available to him multiply, the greater can be his peril, the more urgent his need to take stock, to concern himself also with things that belong to the realm of the mind and spirit. An excessive ab­sorption with physical satisfac­tions and pleasures led to the downfall of many of the great civilizations of the past.

Material advancement can be the means to a better way of life. It can be the instrument of prog­ress. But it is no more than the instrument. "The quality" of our life is more important than "the quantity."

Real progress lies within man himself, in the cultivation of his best instincts and the suppression of his worst. Real progress is self-development in the highest sense, and that is something for which, in the final analysis, each indi­vidual is himself responsible. 

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May 1969

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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