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    A Short History of Progress
    Project: The Total Library
    Long ago...
    No one tore the ground with ploughshares
    or parcelled out the land
    or swept the sea with dipping oars —
    the shore was the world's end.
    Clever human nature, victim of your inventions,
    disastrously creative,
    why cordon cities with towering walls?
    Why arm for war?

    - Publius Ovidius Naso, Amores, Book 3

    This verse by Roman poet, Ovid, serves as the prelude to Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress, a book which explores the consequences of civilization and short-term thinking. Highest recommendation!

    Each time history repeats itself, so it's said, the price goes up. The twentieth century was a time of runaway growth in human population, consumption, and technology, placing a colossal load on all natural systems, especially earth, air, and water—the very elements of life. The great question of the twenty-first century is how, or whether, this can go on.

    A Short History of Progress Ronald Wright argues that our modern predicament is as old as civilization, a 10,000-year experiment we have participated in but seldom controlled. Only by understanding the patterns of triumph and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age, can we recognize the experiment’s inherent dangers, and, with luck and wisdom, shape its outcome.

    Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn't easily moved. This human inability to foresee—or watch out for—long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begins to suffer.

    - Ronald Wright, A Short History Of Progress, pages 108-109

    At CBC Radio's Massey Lectures in 2004, Wright spoke about the ideas he presents in his book. However, only the first part of the lecture is freely available online. CDs of the complete broadcast lectures can be purchased from the House of Anansi Press.

    D'Où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous?
    Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

    + +

    Ronald Wright interviewed on The Current (November 24, 02004)
    "Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half-evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise."

    * * *

    Additional recommendations: Jared Diamond, The Long Now Foundation

    Mon, Jan 7, 2008  Permanent link
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