The Eternal Engine of Progress Broke Down in 2017


Just recently the humanity had a dream of a beautiful future. Now it has instead the frightening idea of the inevitability of new technologies in the hands of barbarians. It seems that the world clock goes both back and forth simultaneously and shows a completely inconsistent time - something like minus 26 hours and 88 minutes.

The outgoing year takes the hopes away. Above all, the hope that the world will find a sustainable, progressive development, that reason and consent will prevail, that the future will be rationally managed by people.

Unfortunately, we have to admit that an era of disappointments has come. And the nature of these disappointments is that we do not understand, we do not see our own future, we do not know how to manage it. More than that, we do not know where to aspire.

Only recently, about twenty years ago there were no such doubts. The model of the desired future was relatively clear. This model reflected a fairly stable view of a significant part of humanity about the future where people should live. We are not talking about the "Atlantis" of Plato and the "Utopia" of Thomas More, but about the ideas of the world order that have spread widely, especially in the Age of Enlightenment. These ideas, these dreams became a sort of eternal engine of progress, an "eternal engine" that helped the mankind to make a dizzying leap forward, to achieve its present, tremendous power. This idea of progress and development, achievement of universal happiness and balance, freedom and prosperity, human rights helped to win, in general, the forces of good in many wars, even in such terrible World War II. The seemingly eternal engine of progress helped to resolve conflicts that, at times, seemed unsolvable, to come out of mortally dangerous situations.

It was the idea of progress that incidentally helped to avoid a nuclear war between the socialist and capitalist blocs. In any case, in words, both the US and the USSR sought an identical, common future.

In essence, capitalism and socialism quite characteristically were guided by similar goals. Both systems believed that the purpose of society was to enable a person to satisfy his material and spiritual needs. And these needs were understood very similarly. Materially it was assumed, that a person should be well-fed, dressed, live in an acceptable environment, receive high-quality medical services and so on. In general, there were no deep discrepancies between the capitalist and socialist understanding of material needs, except assessment of the level of material prosperity. More interestingly, the socialist and capitalist camps almost equally understood spiritual needs, not directly connected with the material ones. Freedom, human rights, creativity, love and so on were treated in the NATO and Warsaw bloc countries exactly in the same way. The similarity of goals actually allowed them to compete. Moreover, the subject of the dispute was not the development purposes, they were treated, I repeat, very similarly, but the methods to achieve these goals. For example, the role of private property. Both capitalists and socialists did not consider, for example, the possession of a scooter as something unacceptable. Soviet science-fiction writers drew with pleasure the future socialist society oversaturated with various technical means. Residents of the future easily moved with the help of some "rocket-planes", like the current amusements of Elon Musk, and the helicopter near a house became no more exotic than a bicycle.

Coincidence of science-fiction works created in both camps should not seem strange. This is not surprising. Socialism is as much a product of Western thought as Adam Smith's theory. I would like to stress once again that there were no big doubts about the development of mankind. It is even more interesting that these goals were considered not only achievable, but even well calculated. Both socialists and capitalists believed that they can count how much and what a person needs. Gloomy predictions of the Club of Rome or the decisions of the CPSU's congresses were a direct consequence of the idea of the existence of an intelligible and fundamentally calculated picture of the future. The amount of bread and sugar, writing paper, coal and steel, needed for a happy life of people, seemed to be counted. The question remained only how easier and faster this ideal equilibrium can be achieved.

Unfortunately, it all ended.

The eternal engine of progress, which properly worked for at least four hundred years, broke down. It let us down. It is true, as physicists said: such an engine is impossible. And there is no such time machine to bring us back, to a time when there was a general narrative of the future that allowed us to describe, discuss, argue about what tomorrow should be and how to achieve it.

Today we live not only in the absence of a common understanding, but even of a common desire for the future. And in many respects we are developing by inertia, which makes the world elites a bit cautious, although it is not clear to what extent they will remain. Apparently, there is no special confidence in them. But still…

Terrible things were expected in 2017, but they did not happen, and much expected good things came.

It is clear, for example, that the so-called ISIS suffered a crushing defeat. And not only thanks to the aircraft and soldiers of the united, but rather grumpy world against this evil. But, first of all, because the image of the future, imposed so persistently by this barbaric and postmodernist formation, disintegrated in front of everyone. And the magic of the vicious and utopian dreams of the ISIS was dispelled, like the sand of the moving dunes of the Arabian deserts. So the defeat of this terrorist formation is definitely a plus.

Nevertheless this did not stop and will not stop terror, but so far terrorists are not all-powerful, they cannot, are not ready, and, probably, do not even want to destroy the whole world to the ground. Of course, their future evolution is a question, but so far, I repeat, their successes are relative, although it is a pity for each of their victims in 2017, in other years, including the future.

So far the fierce North Korean leadership is still undecided to attack its close and distant neighbors. As well as their opponents did not go beyond the dangerous, but just only demonstrations of force. And bitcoin did not undermine the world economy, although many individuals were lucky. And, maybe, they will get more luck.

Even Robert Mugabe relatively peacefully yielded his position to his successor, who, however, swears to surpass his predecessor literally in everything.

In general, chaotically, as a man bogging down in the swamp, the world is coping with itself; even the climate change is not so conspicuous, although clearly there is reason to worry.

So the world vanity, including technological breakthroughs, is quite normal. Nothing comparable, for example, with the October coup a century ago. Although in 1917 very few people immediately realized what really happened.

Maybe we do not realize the greatness of something that we have not noticed in 2017.

But something can be accurately realized. Namely, the change in the flow of time. I already noticed above, that there is such a feeling that the model of progress, the model of the desirable future that guided the development of the world, has broken down. The seemingly eternal engine of progress broke down. But it broke down as the engine of entirely all mankind. The development as such did not stop, it accelerated. But different parts of humanity are rapidly developing in different directions, separating people into an increasing number of different, often irreconcilable parts.

In the field of technology we see unimaginable progress. It is terribly uneven, and its unevenness only increases. In many respects because of this unevenness different parts of humanity choose different tracks of social development. As a result, we see an unprecedented combination of barbarism and high technologies. The defeated ISIS is a bright illustration: everything that fell into their hands was used for the subordination of man.

Amazing communications, which, in theory, could unite the world, rather disunite it, not only and not so much on the borders of the current countries, but through some kind of new "transboundary borders". The number of open and hidden social conflicts, even within developed and fairly civilized societies, is growing. Brexit, the Catalan referendum, the endless civil war in the Middle East, the dramatic state of affairs in Africa are only some manifestations of this process. And every seemingly insignificant occasion is used to emphasize contradictions. Monuments to figures of two hundred years ago or travelers of Columbus time are an excellent occasion for cutting skulls of dissidents in our time of social networks and quantum processors.

Thomas Hobbes in his time described how with the help of states and social organization it was possible to stop the "war of all against all", to curb predatory aggressive human instincts. The present chaotic globalization puts us in an ever-confined and permeated world space. And this means that in order to prevent a global "war of all against all" on a planetary scale, we need the same planetary tools. There are no such tools, as we know. Moreover, world elites would prefer a kind of self-isolation, aloofness. This is fundamentally contrary to the logic of technological development. We do not have a general narrative for creating a development model, to restart the engine of progress.

Particularly dramatic is the fact that the absence of a general narrative leads to the lack of the very possibility of a substantive discussion about the future. It seems that the incredible talkativeness of modern people, an unthinkable number of information sources, conferences, Internet users, all sorts of discussion platforms cause a pure disguise of unwillingness to discuss anything which matters. The famous information bubbles are a perfect illustration of the fact that the overwhelming majority wants to get in converse a solace and reassurance of all their biases and prejudices, and not to discuss critically their own views.

Cognitive dissonance is another characteristic feature of the outgoing year. At one time, when the USSR and the United States competed in the arms race, there was such an anecdote. In the Far North, a submarine is emerging at the shore, maybe in Chukotka or Alaska. The captain protrudes from the cockpit, looks around and at the compass. A local aborigine sits on the shore. The captain, looking around, yells somewhere down the boat: "The course of the south-southwest! Dive! ". The boat leaves. After some time the boat of a strategic competitor emerges. The captain protrudes from the cockpit. He sees the aborigine and asks: "Was the boat there?". Yes, the Chukchi responds. “Wherever it floated”, the captain asked. “South-southwest ", the aboriginal replied. "Do not show off," the captain responds, "Show with your hand." So our discussions in many ways resemble the conversation of this anecdote. One cannot over-simplify the world. And if we want to get out somehow of the current impasse of development, we need to work out a general narrative of the world debate.

Maybe the year 2018 will be better? Maybe something meaningful happened in the past year and we will be amazed joyfully at our own blindness, inability to discern the possibilities of sustainable development for the foreseeable future. Will the machine restart?

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