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Progress: Man's Greatest Mistake

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Message Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.
Progress: Man's Greatest Mistake

In the beginning the Earth was without form, inanimate objects lay dormant, chemicals worked their magic; then the miracle of a single cell, and life began to evolve. Individual cells grouped themselves accordingly, and then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, life gave birth to awareness, a consciousness that soon began to turn inward upon itself, a self-reflective tour de force, the commencement of an ever-evolving, always-expanding, mind, one that would soon turn "the stolen fruit of the Tree of its own Knowledge" against the very breeding ground of its own birth.

Assuming that the Earth had been given to him, that this "marvelously blue-marbled island in the sky," this, as yet, "unformed glob of clay," was his to shape as he saw fit, man declared that he would take possession of the Earth, that from this time forward he would dominate the planet, that he had surely been given the supreme right to tinker with Eden, to exploit, to extract, even to gouge from its very bowels anything and everything that might serve to give him comfort, anything that might make it possible to add a few precious years to that of his life, anything that might enable him to postpone the inevitability of an appointment with death.......... and that he would do such a thing in a manner that would preserve the integrity of the planet, protect the fountainhead, the source of every breath that he would one day breathe.

First was the cerebral gift of prehension, an outer coat of brilliance, enabling man's mind to think, even to reason. Then as man began to associate with others, he would share what he had learned about the world around him; thus an accumulation of knowledge. Not that such could have been avoided, since the survival of the group depends upon the parceling of information. Then, as life would have it, knowledge began to be arranged and then even codified in such a manner that science became a reality. Accordingly, there were those who realized that science could be applied, that science could be used in such a manner as to improve the plight of man; hence the rise of technology. However, given man's propensity to enrich himself, no doubt, a natural tendency to hoard food, money, or whatever (an apparently inevitable breach of human character referred to as greed), one must wonder if there would have been any who might have been willing to share the results of an inventive mind with others while not expecting a fee in return? Thus, the advent of business (home-bound trades, the local store, partnerships, associations, companies, syndicates, cartels, and eventually the rise of transnational corporations), a nearly unquenchable desire for men to make as much money as possible in that of one lifetime which unfortunately led to a manifest disregard for the needs of "Mother Earth," a self-serving choice to allow the byproducts of personal gain to pour out onto the land, into the sea, and throughout the air, recklessly destroying the very Eden of man's birth.

Although I am sure there are many factors that have given rise to progress (developments that have enabled life to be a bit more pleasurable, those that have reduced the poverty and pains of life, along with man's natural need to create), I have come to the conclusion that the primary cause of, the fundamental catalyst for, progress is nothing more than a rather simple fear of death, a determined attempt, on the part of man, to add a few more years onto life, an indigenous effort to postpone the inevitability of one's own death. Really now, except for those who are terribly depressed or are experiencing horrible physical pain, who is it that would not like to extend the extent of one's stay on Earth before being forced to "give up the ghost?" But...... at what cost? And herein lies the problem, a bafflement for that of man; a conundrum so difficult to understand that it has become nearly impossible for man to realize that progress, the mantra for the forward movement of life, an addiction to the fruits of his own labor (cars that speed us on our way through life, asphalt highways that snake their way through the landscape, cities filled with cement parking lots, plastic gadgets, gismos, even nuclear bombs ready to put an end to life on Earth), has become a corridor, a conduit, leading the way toward the eventual destruction of life on Earth.

How utterly amazing, in attempting to distance himself from that of his own mortality, man, after all these years, has finally managed to construct "a tower for the Babel of his own destruction"......... the one sure way for him to die!

Perhaps we, as a race, have reached a time that demands that we face up to the fact that we have lost the right to "have our cake and eat it too," that we comprehend how terribly foolish we have been, that we realize that having once been allowed to roam the pharmacopoeia of valleys prepared for man, a blind devotion to the "golden calves" of our times, things made by the pride of our own hands, has placed us upon a course that is leading to ruin, the destruction of an Eden no longer fit for life!

No longer is it possible for rational man to deny that global warming (the ongoing demise of the world's glaciers, the rising of the Earth's seas, the progressive shutdown of the North Atlantic Ocean Current leading to the possibility of another ice age, the destruction of life in the sea, changing weather patterns, drought, floods, famine, starvation, the displacement of entire populations of people, and the eventual inevitability of world war) is a reality, that the intractable desire to consume more and more things has become that of our own worst enemy. Although I am convinced that there was no way for anyone to have known that our capacity to reason would have led to a world tittering on the brink of destruction, I submit that we, as rational beings, take responsibility for having chosen to have laid waste to the Earth. I suggest that we need to "tighten our belts," that we realize that we must learn to live with less, that if we, as a race, are to retain a degree of dignity we have no choice but to face the fact that no matter how much we have learned, how many discoveries we have made, how many things we have managed to assemble, it is all for naught if we end up destroying the Earth.

I ask this question: What will historians (if there are any who manage to survive) say about a race who so effectively managed to lay waste to the planet? Will they perhaps come to the conclusion that progress was a terrible mistake, that it would have been much better if man would have learned to have lived with less, learned to have lived with what God originally provided, been willing to exchange a shorter span of life for that of a no doubt pristine world........ if man would have had the wisdom to realize that life is best measured not by how long we live, but rather by how well we have learned to live?

Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.
December 6, 2006
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Professor of Psychology interested in studying the forces involved in religion, politics, and war with an empathic concern for applying the priniciples of humanity in regards to those who are different than ourselves.
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