Progress

Progress is a modern tenet.  For much of history, it was believed that people had their place in the world and should stick to it.   The hymn ‘All things Bright and Beautiful‘, sums it up neatly,

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

The slavery of feudalism and its class-focused aftermath went until the First World War and still seems to cling on by its fingernails in Britain.

Full blown slavery (or serfdom) ended as late as 1861 in Russia.

You only have to observe the popularity of programmes like `Downton Abbey’ to see there is an odd sentimental attachment to a time when everyone `knew their place.’  Perhaps, there is some security in it.  You had a job, a home and a strong supporting social network when it worked best in spite of over-arching oppression and servitude.

Child labour was endemic in the Industrial revolution

Child labour was endemic in the Industrial revolution

 

From Victorian times, however, there was a gradual shift towards our modern idea of progress. Process meant increasing wealth and self-determination leading to improvements in the lives of all members of society, even the poorest.   Today, this is sometimes known as `filter down,’ and has been shown to have little credence.  Adam Smith’s book `Wealth of Nations’ (1776) provided something of a blueprint for Britain’s then unique foray into mass industrialisation.  He expounded the idea of free trade and natural supply and demand dictating prices rather than government or trade guilds.  It seems perfectly natural to us today, that we should be able choose what we buy and we accept that prices change.  Even Smith, however, was concerned about the impact of unfettered capitalism.

As People moved en masse to cities, old social support networks were broken and slums emerged underpinning a new `middle class’ that lived on the gap between wages and raw materials prices and the cost of the finished product.  These nouveaux riches even began to emerge romantically in literature of the times, such as Elizabeth’s Gaskill’s `North and South’.  Dickens wrote of a darker side based on his own experiences.  London dweller Karl Marx believed that the inequalities in Britain would lead to revolution.  However, in Britain, support by educated campaigners like Jeremy Bentham, the battles were fought piecemeal and ordinary people gained the right to vote, to be educated and they formed unions to fight for better wages and conditions.

Progress, however, is high maintenance.  It has become such a guiding principle that companies and indeed, whole countries are very worried if they do not achieve economic `growth.’  The need to make ever increasing profit means that more and more goods are produced that duplicate each other, draining the once abundant resources.  Whilst there are now many great recycling schemes, it is difficult to imagine how every product can be restored to its natural state and replenish the supply.  Over the last two hundred years, the human race has shown imagination and innovation beyond anything our ancestors thought possible so perhaps now we can build on that and solve these problems.

 

Here is Williams Blake’s famous but bleak poem on Industrial England

The industrial landscape

The industrial landscape

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

 

 

Advertisements