Is this your view of sustainability versus progress?

April 9, 2023 by Joshua
in Models, Visualization

“But why did everyone work so hard except to improve our lives,” asked a woman I spoke to about my having reduced my pollution. In her view, civilization may have had its ups and downs, but overall it’s led to progress. We’re living in the best times ever. The only better times will be the future, as long as we keep progressing.

I believe she and most people view civilization like this graph:

Some of the low points include the World Wars, the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the Great Depression. High points include discovering penicillin, painting the Mona Lisa, writing the Declaration of Independence, and landing on the Moon.

Since we’re progressing as fast as we can, any deviation, including sustainability, means losing that progress. I believe this graph illustrates how people imagine sustainability would affect civilization—that is, it would move us backward:

Have you considered why cultures at the far left of the graph persist, despite “civilized” cultures including our invading, committing genocide, enslaving, raping, and murdering them? That is, cultures such as the San, Hadza, and Kogi, who live in what many of us ignorantly call Stone Age, don’t join civilization. Why not?

I only found out after learning anthropology, prompted by The Dawn of Everything and Tribe. Growing up, I learned that they were backward, ignorant, and probably stupid, though no teacher said it out loud. It was civilization’s responsibility to teach them so they could join civilization and stop living below a dollar a day. But they aren’t ignorant or stupid. Some join civilization by choice, many through their land being taken away, others at gunpoint, others through addiction from “aid” in the form of doof or cell phones, but the cultures persist because many prefer it.

They prefer their culture not out of ignorance. They see our longevity, medicine, cars, and planes and out of awareness and knowledge avoid it. I can’t speak for them, but I understand they see how much they’d have to give up freedom, equality, mutual support, connection to each other, purity of air, land, water, and food, and more. We project onto them fears of danger from nature and scarcity that simply don’t exist except in our imaginations.

Anthropology shows the graphs should look more like this one:

It’s simplified, of course. Cultures in the upper left continue today so points representing them should continue through time across the top. Not all of them have qualities of life higher than us today. My point is to show the falseness of the mainstream myth.

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1 response to “Is this your view of sustainability versus progress?

  1. Pingback: The alternative to what we call progress isn’t what you think » Joshua Spodek

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