Generational Progress

In managing society, the true test as to whether we have done a good job is measured by the extent to which the following generation are in a better place than us.

Are they financially better off?

Do they enjoy a better lifestyle?

Are they better educated?

Do they have better jobs?

Their homes, their holidays, their cars…. how do they compare?

Initially, humankind formed society to help protect itself from the savage forces of nature. By living together, by supporting one another, we could overcome the survival of the fittest regime that exists in nature.

And there’s no denying, we have been very successful. Our strategy has worked. So much so that, all too often, we take that protectionist role for granted. Society has fulfilled its task. Accordingly, our expectations have moved on. Our demands of society have changed. Society’s role has now become one adding value to our existence rather than merely seeking to secure our continued existence.

We now look to society to make our lives better, to make our lives easier, to make our lives more fulfilling.

And so, we strive for Generational Progress. Again, so far, we’ve done quite a good job of it. But are we being lulled into a false confidence? Can we be assured of continued advancement? Are we still in a position to guarantee Generational Progress?

There will always be odd years when things aren’t so good, but how often do these isolated years coalesce into a generational downturn?

Certainly, progress can never be guaranteed. There have been periods of societal regression, when society took a backwards step. Such regressive moves are usually instigated by some political change or by war. Examples would include Eastern Europe after the second world war or life under the Khmer Rouge in Communist Cambodia. These are both societies that failed to achieve Generational Progress; they failed to achieve for their people.

Similarly, a regressive move could also be actuated by some natural disaster or environmental catastrophe. On a micro level we have seen these happen; volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, nuclear disasters (Chernobyl). Local societies can be destroyed. It can take a generation to recover from such events.

It would be very easy to become complacent about progress and to assume that things will work out for the best. Perhaps we put too much faith and trust in our own ability to manage this world. After all, things have been going our way for so long now.  However, it only needs one substantive error for the whole thing to collapse.

And as our technology improves, as we increase our powers, the danger grows. That danger may arise from a single cataclysmic event or from the corrosive effect of our amassed activities. We may even find that, like running too quickly down a hill, our advances get away from us and we lose control before ultimately tumbling over.

Our technological advances may not continue to underwrite the damage we do to our environment, our health and our community.

Aware of this danger, we regularly need to assess our direction of travel. We need to be sure that society is taking us where we want to go, that the Generational Progress we achieve is the Generational Progress we want.

Generational progress is great providing it adds value to our lives. Progress is not necessarily all that it is cracked up to be. Having to travel an hour a day on a crowded train to get to work would not seem to be a great societal advance. Yet many people do this, accepting the compromise in order to attain other benefits.

Some people do refer to the old days with a nostalgic reverence, that things used to be better in the past… the way children play, the amount of traffic on the roads, the stability of employment, the levels of respect between people…. But overall, which generation compares the better? Which have seen the most progress?

Perhaps there ought to be a mathematical measure to determine Generational Progress. How would life today score in comparison with the 1980’s? The difficulty with this would be that in calculating such a figure we would have to include scores and that would involve adding values to different aspects of life. These values would be difficult to agree upon – for some, being affluent may not necessarily be a measure of progress.

Nature instils within us a desire to do our best for our children. We want our children to prosper. Hence our wish for sustained Generational Progress. We choose our leaders on the basis that their decisions will advance society. But we should never assume that progress is guaranteed; that the progress we make is the progress that is good for us.