The myth of progress substitutes infinite advance toward better and better life in the material sense for the old pilgrimage, which you make by effort and grace, to become a better person. That’s the reason you need to subvert it if you can. It takes people’s minds off the important things. It becomes a kind of determinism: All we have to do is just passively go along and things will get better and better, and we’ll be happier and happier. That’s why we need honest accounting.
What is the measure of progress? It is possible to measure the progress of the last 200 or 300 years in soil erosion. We can measure it in the rate of species extinction. We can measure it in pollution, in the toxicity of the world. Those things, like power and speed, are perfectly measurable.
But we need also to raise the questions that are not quantitative. How happy are people? What do we make of all this complaining? How healthy are people? How are love and beauty faring? What do we make of all this doctoring and medication that’s going on all the time at such a great expense? That’s not to deny that this so-called progress has given us things that are worth having. A hot bath every night is a good thing. I affirm that it is good, and wish to record my gratitude. There are other good things, but real harms also have been done.”