"I strongly support advances in civilization, like the emancipation of women and homosexuals and the abolition of torture, but all that can be easily swept away again."
I took the above quote from a most interesting interview with John Gray, the author of a new book about the myth of human progress called The Silence of Animals. While I haven't yet read the book, I already agree with the general premise that over the course of it's history, humanity has not progressed.
A few years ago I was driving along with a friend of mine who is an environmental scientist. We were discussing the theory of evolution and were trying to explain how it's possible that with all of the apparent advances in humanity we still have people like these. He suggested that if we were actually progressing as species we would be moving towards general elitism and the freaks and ferals that we see on a daily basis would cease to exist. In actual fact, he stated, we were moving backwards as a species. He termed it the 'Theory of Human De-Evolution'.
Many will justly argue that humanity has come an extremely long way. They will tell you that the world is no longer as racist. Women have overcome suppression and gained equal rights. Gays are a hair's width away from having equal rights. Medicine and modern psychiatry have cured us of a massive array of mental illnesses. Science and technology have made our lives easier and arguably less stressful. We are better able to communicate. We are less violent. Men are less chauvinistic... and on and on the list goes.
Really thinking about it though, I'm not at all sure that most of the assumptions about our progress as a species are entirely accurate. Like John Gray I suspect that the majority of our progress is in fact skin deep.
It was only 70 years ago that we had a world war in which we dropped not one but two atomic bombs on populated cities - an act far more violent than any of the atrocities we see portrayed in history books and movies - and one performed by the 'most civilised of all nations'. Rape and murder on the African continent are at ridiculous levels, and the 'civilised' nations sit back and watch nonchalantly, as the ongoing bloodshed serves their political interests. Western nations profit from child labour in developing nations. Women are still trafficked like animals in suitcases only to be used as meat in whorehouses on every continent... and on and on the counter-list goes.
The real weight is in that which we do not see; that which is kept within the hearts of men and women and comes out only during times tribulation. While we think that in our more civilised societies we have eradicated ourselves of racism, behind the scenes we still discriminate, and for countless many the differences in skin colour and culture stand as a permanent divide. And while women think that they have equal rights, they are still pimped in magazines, websites, movies, and music videos like nothing more than the aforementioned pieces of meat, good for ogling at and, given the opportunity, used as objects of sex for the most self-centred of men.
We believe that we have overcome the need for a fixed moral system through our expansive media and global awareness of common issues, yet between the occasional reports of civil war, murdering dictatorships and starving masses we are quickly distracted by advertisements for shit we simply don't need. As quickly as we have compassion for the suffering of others, we just as quickly become selfish and focus on our own desires, placing them above the needs of others. In a truly sophisticated society, placing anyone's desires over anyone's needs would be strongly frowned upon. Except in ours.
Perhaps most of all, in an evolved society we would not murder our own children, break lifelong oaths of marriage, or glorify anything which runs contrary to our expansion as a species. And here's the punchline: things have become consistently worse with the rise of secularism and the gradual decline of religious practice. Think about that for a minute.
To those of you who actually believe that we have evolved as a society, I say that you are either wilfully blind, or ignorant. While we may have evolved in many respects, that progress is often little more than a perception. The reality is that we are severely regressing as a species and we show no signs of slowing down. Which sadly brings me back to Gray's final line in the opening quote:
No matter our progress, no matter our advances, it can all be swept away again. Progress, like truth, must be eternal.