Concerning the Progress that Humans Have Made

Have we really made great progress? Feeling rather pleased with ourselves, are we? It’s not as if a council of species gathered around a large table and declared human beings as the only ones who have made “great progress”. It is humans themselves who have declared themselves the masters of the universe.

Imagine an ant somewhere out there, looking over the vastness of its anthill and then logging on to ant-quora to ask, “Why did only ants make such great progress since their existence and no other species has managed to do so?”

You might argue that the ant really has no understanding of the scale on which human society operates. Ideas such as economics, philosophy, and cosmology will make no sense to it. I accept that objection. But my point is that human beings don’t have the ant’s frame of reference either, or the giraffes, or a bird’s, or a dolphins. The only lens through which we might look at the world is the human lens. And so wedded are we to the idea of being human that we have convinced ourselves that our way of being is superior. If it is superior, it is because we are the ones setting the standards.

What we consider to be progress may not even feature on another species’ priority list. A bird might look at all we have built and consider it less valuable than the ability to just stretch its wings and fly. An elephant might scoff at human achievements and decide that it is better off travelling freely without the need for settlements. Dolphins, when faced with human civilisation, may scratch their heads wondering why any of it is necessary.

The question about why nobody else did what we did has no meaning. Just as the question about why we did not do what birds and dolphins did has no meaning. We went one way, they went another way. There is no why. It’s just the way things happened. There are physical explanations for these paths of course, and these are available in science. But the idea of progress is a human invention and is useful only in the context of comparing human societies.