The progress is endless

Methods and TraditionsProgress as a promise

Progress meant improvements, embellishments, alleviations, even redemptions, but at the same time progress was also a threat. How easy it is to get left behind, to be unable to keep up with progress. In progress it is always only a small step from a great promise to a great hurt. How did this idea of ​​progress come about? And how did it happen that this ideological concept moved more and more away from the philosophical concept of becoming, until it finally means the exact opposite in our present: the becoming of people and humanity hinders progress.

"Progress and becoming. Are two different things, or different aspects of one and the same concept? Progress is an ideology, becoming is a philosophical conception. 'Progress' depends on a certain mentality, in the constitution of which certain historically determined cultural elements come into play; 'becoming' is a philosophical term in which 'progress' can be absent. In the case of the idea of ​​progress, the possibility of a quantitative and qualitative measurement is assumed: more and better. How did the idea of ​​progress come about? Does emergence represent a fundamental cultural fact that is suitable for making an epoch? " Antonio Gramsci.

How people came to progress and how progress came to people

After being driven out of paradise - we still don't quite agree on the reasons for this - man had to work hard. And the story of murder and manslaughter began very quickly too. In any case, one thing was clear to this person at the beginning of his story: the way it is, it is not good.

It can only, no it has to get better. With a mythical goal of returning to paradise one way or another. Or with a pragmatic goal of showing yourself and heaven that you can get along well without paradise.

In any case, work, imagination, violence, and pain were put at the service of this one idea: that it gets better. It took some time to develop a binding term for it, more precisely until the time of the Stoics, around 300 BC, when people began to speak of "prokope".

What then became "progressus" or "progressio" in the Roman takeover. The Roman Empire was probably the first culture that was shaped in its innermost core by the idea of ​​progress, and that in a radical unity of technology, culture, military, economy and philosophy. And for Rome it was evidently perfectly clear that it was a historical, open and inconclusive process.

"Because nothing, when it is invented, is also completed at the same time." Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Relationship between progress and work

If you want, you can see this statement as the justification of a materialistic, but also a critical-rational idea of ​​progress. If Cicero was right, it is not just about innovation, and certainly not for its own sake, but always also about further training, possibly also about revision. And something of this will accompany us into the modern age that still seemed negligible in the Middle Ages, namely the connection between progress and work.

The Roman statesman, philosopher and rhetorician Marcus Tullius Cicero in a portrait bust. (picture alliance / dpa / Röhnert)

Progress comes from work and creates work at the same time. The sense of work lies in personal, social, perhaps even cosmic progress. And at the same time, there is no other area, perhaps apart from warfare, that yearned for progress as much as work. Progress meant and still means relieving people of the heavy burden of work in order to set them free for other, more meaningful things.

However, an agreement could never be reached on what these more significant things were, which in any case seldom had anything to do with progress, more with picnicking, lazing around and watching TV. Therefore, the actually quite philanthropic ideogram of progress held itself to be something that essentially stems from human comfort.

"No progress without laziness! Because man was too lazy to row, he invented the steamboat. Because he was too lazy to walk, he invented the car. Because he was too lazy to close his eyes in the evening, he invented." television." Manfred Hausmann.

It would be nice to have such a leisurely pace that, at the end of their efforts to make progress, if not to paradise, then at least to a kind of technical and social paradise. Not only would progress mean meeting all needs, resolving all problems, and removing all threats; he would ultimately free people from all guilt, responsibility and obligation. In the meantime we already have advanced technologies that relieve people of feeling, thinking and even speaking.

But the mere fact that one person does not grant the other, one country to the other, one class to the other, one gender to the other, speaks against the solution of all problems for everyone.

And not just convenience, but envy, hatred, greed, fear and contempt call for progress. And with them a built-in dynamic. There is no such thing as “enough” for progress. He solves a problem by creating a new one. It helps on the one hand by harming on the other. Progress cannot create without destruction, say the pessimists. And the optimists oppose this: Progress cannot destroy without also creating.

The sociologist Theodor W. Adorno (dpa / picture-alliance / Manfred Rehm)

"With the intention of progress, it is not asserted that one could compose better today than in Beethoven's time, as little as one is represented that social conditions have become better in the last century, as an age of at least relatively growing impoverishment Progress in art is not provided by individual works of art, but by their material. " Theodor W. Adorno

How progress is practiced

The fall of the Roman empire has served time and again in history and in political discourse as an example of how a progressive system can or perhaps must perish due to its own contradictions. In any case, with Rome, a unity of the idea of ​​progress went under. The Middle Ages were neither as dark as they are said to be, nor averse to progress. Only technical, intellectual, economic, political, scientific and aesthetic progress could no longer be brought into such a consistent idea. And neither worldly success nor divine grace could be expressed in the category of progress. Only with the bourgeoisisation of the world, which took several centuries to complete, did the category of progress become a driving force again.

The free citizen looks to the future. It can only be better than the present, and it is better than the past. All wishes are met, all problems are resolved. The free citizen, the free citizen - they don't just look to the future. You believe in them.

The gods actually said nothing about progress, apart from demands like those to subjugate the earth or to proselytize or destroy the unbelievers. The less the citizen could believe in God, the more he had to believe in progress.

More precisely, belief in the bourgeoisie doubles. You have to believe in God and in progress. And one has to adapt to the other, otherwise it won't work. The sociologist Max Weber discovered this unity of religion and progress as the origin of capitalism in Protestantism. But both emptied themselves into one another, became abstract, dead. Religion narrowed down to moral commandments and empty forms. Progress narrowed to the growth of technical knowledge and the growth of the economy.

The sociologist Max Weber (imago / ZUMA / Keystone)

For a long time the progressiveness of the bourgeoisie, one could say, thrived in secret. Progress was a secret weapon before it became a weapon in the 18th century. Weapon of revolution, enlightenment and education that affirmed their claim to power. But then, with the power of a new empire, under Napoleon and his own, progress first became a new form of state religion, and then, when the citizen turned back into the bourgeois, the basis of a new economy.

Industrialization was all about progress and it has stuck in our minds. For large parts of the population it meant nothing more than step backwards, sometimes in a drastic way. The new class, the proletariat, was condemned to work for progress without participating in it - except in the form of misery. In the worst days of early capitalism, progress was for some what regression was for others. And vice versa. The result was centuries of struggle between those who appropriated the fruits of progress and those who received nothing but a plague.

Different methods and traditions

Progress, it seems, is a sure-fire success in our world. Even if the majority wanted it, he could not be stopped. There must be progress even if it causes fear. Hence, modern societies are not just about progress per se, but above all about distribution. There are apparently different methods and traditions for doing this.

The hierarchical organization:

The elites organize and manage progress, use privileges and give the people a share if they want. Whole societies are divided into a progressive and a backward part, with one part knowing how to exploit the other rather mercilessly.

The solidarity organization:

All people should have a fair share in progress, in case of doubt it even has to be slowed down if too many people are not affected by it. And people should make sure that their neighbors are connected to them in common progress. Every technical progress is checked to see whether it is also a social progress. However, the state or society has to intervene here and there, and that sometimes narrows down a little on personal freedom.

The völkisch-nationalist organization:

Progress should belong to a - in case of doubt, imaginary - community that uses it for itself and denies others. The "advanced" should seal themselves off from the barbarians and have-nots who want something from progress that is not theirs. Progress is primarily understood as a military-technical one, while culture and politics are switched entirely to a regressive reversal. Such regressive progress cannot be had without violence, terror and war.

The democratic-capitalist organization:

The shares of individuals and groups in progress are freely negotiated, both in the field of politics and law, and in the field of economics. And last but not least in science, art and culture, which characterize a liberal society. As a result, those who do the most and save the most benefit most from the progress. But sometimes also the one who risks the most. Labor and capital are different forms of investing in the hope of progress. In the end, you live in what is known as a risk society, in which people believe they are in a progress laboratory that can blow up at any time.

The neoliberal organization:

Progress should be generated and accelerated through competition. The fear of not having a share in progress and the greed to nourish oneself on its fruits are enough motivation to realize more and better, even when science and morality speak against it. Progress belongs to those who fight their way forward, who can leave the others behind. Those who are against progress will be overrun. In the end it could be that the market of progress still needs everything possible, just no more people.

"In the sixties the combine of agricultural machinery manufacturers was founded in the GDR. The showpiece was the tractor with the name" Progress ". Progress was also the brand name for men's clothing in the GDR and office furniture in the FRG. In both parts of Germany there was up to in the nineties various sports clubs called progress, then the name went out of style. "

How progress lost its luster

For a historical moment one could hope that progress would be a self-controlling system, in a sequence of inventions, improvements, innovations, criticism and then again overcoming and new inventions. But that was a mistake. No self-regulating system is regulated by interests and perceptions. Progress, on the other hand, does. And these interests always contradict each other.

For the interests of government it is obvious that every form of political power, in the interests of its own preservation, subjects everything that can progress in its sphere of influence to strict regulation. Of course, progress that calls one's rule into question must be suppressed as a matter of urgency. At the same time, however, progress, both in the sense of improving living conditions and in the sense of expanding power, is also part of the legitimation of rule. In the long run, ruler, even in the democratically curbed form, can only be someone who at the same time promises progress for his subjects and prevents it.

The increase in yield is also considered progress (dpa / Julian Stratenschulte)

In the interests of the economy, progress can be described as anything that can be earned. For example, increasing the yield of and raising livestock. The expansion of trade routes. The development of new manufacturing methods. The invention of new tools. The discovery of new raw materials. Opening up new markets. The latter are no longer quite as personable, as one rarely shrinks from violence. On the other hand, any kind of progress that lies beyond the system of prices, goods, profits and debts is not in the economic interest. And of course social progress is not in the interests of the economic winners, i.e. the equal distribution of the fruits of progress, as wages, as property, but not least also in the form of education and knowledge. Accelerating economic and technical progress, but hindering political and social progress, is in the interests of an economic elite.

Almost always associated with an increase in knowledge

In the interests of science, progress is almost always associated with an increase in knowledge, just as, conversely, almost all knowledge should lead to progress. If knowledge of the world, man, time, matter, body, society and much more is viewed as a value, then progress must automatically be viewed as a positive design. Trust in a progressive science lies on the one hand in its independence from other interests, but on the other hand in its ability to self-regulate. So good science can only be progress plus ethics.

Religion and ideology claim to have a picture of the world to which people and their living conditions are only adapted. Progress is an adjustment to the ideal and not a testing of new means. Therefore every ideology, even the ideology of progress itself, is inherently hostile to progress. Because it cannot see the future as an open space of possibilities, but only as a confirmation of the existing.

The interest of society counts on the active coexistence of people who live in the same space and in the same narrative, in the same discourses are literally dependent on progress so that the precarious balancing of forces and interests can succeed. Progress is social change towards a situation in which conditions are not only different but better - for example, through the abolition of slavery or rape in marriage as a crime, that there is a statutory minimum wage or that privacy is protected , universal suffrage or freedom of the press and many other things. In contrast to a state that promises security or order, and in contrast to an individual who might be quite happy if not so much would change, society is built around the idea of ​​progress.

One could even argue that without progress there is no society at all, but perhaps only one people. While some, the market radicals, would like to reduce society to the market, others, the right-wing populists and the New Right, try to reduce progressive society to the regressive phantasm of the people. Both want to reverse the history of change and improvement for everyone. So the idea of ​​general social progress has lost its luster. It even arouses skepticism.On the other hand, there is a growing tendency, such as the increase in authoritarian resentment and right-wing populist movements, to barricade themselves ideologically, politically, morally and culturally against the unreasonable demands of progress.

At every nook and corner there are impulses that are critical and hostile to progress. And now it is taking its toll that we no longer have a uniform conception of progress, but only, as the Marxist philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci foresaw, a corresponding ideology. It consists of a three-fold equation:

Progress equals work.
Progress is history
and progress equals growth.

In order to save the idea of ​​progress, it might have to be freed from these automatic equations. Which of course is associated with a certain skepticism.

"The idea of ​​progress in civilization has revealed itself to be man's arrogance." Karl Jaspers.

And the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend pointed out a dialectic of progress that makes it impossible as the exclusive driving force of history:

"Progress in one direction does not come about without eliminating the possibility of progress in another direction."

That would mean: Progress not only demands a price - for example, the distance between humans and nature or the gods.

Or the constant creation of new problems by solving the old ones. Progress not only always produces a tendency to regression, because we always have to drag along what has been overcome by progress in our psyche, our culture, our myths, our everyday life.

Progress is always a selection from various possibilities, which is not accomplished without power, interest, ideology and ultimately arbitrariness. After all, there are good reasons not to really believe in progress: not as a compelling, linear and overarching force in history, politics, culture and economics. There are the great, murderous ruptures in civilization that we had to experience, the world wars, fascism, terror, which no longer makes one believe in the much-cherished notion of history as progress (albeit with setbacks). There is still increasing inequality in the distribution of material and spiritual goods in the world, the devaluation of work, the misery of mass unemployment in many countries, which cast doubt on the belief in the idea of ​​progress through human labor. And then there are the ecological, social and cultural catastrophes that are triggered by the unchecked economic growth and the exploitation of resources and energy sources and the consequences of which are only denied by very stupid, very corrupt or very greedy people.

Future-oriented solution approaches are being pursued (epd / Jens Schulze)

"Hashtag progress is a think tank consultancy for the following topics: digitization, expansion, strategy, innovation and start-up.

With our work, we are consistently pursuing a future-oriented approach. For us, targeted analyzes of disruptive developments are the basis of progressive advice. In this way, #Fortstufe develops solutions that combine high practicality with an elaborate 'thinking outside the box'. "

About the rejection and salvation of the idea of ​​progress

Societies are, at least in one model proposed by the American historian and anthropologist Joseph A. Tainter, "problem-solving organizations". That's a good thing, after all there are enough problems. But as they solve their problems, these organizations also get more complicated, especially in view of their enormous energy consumption. Energy can also be seen as human labor, including slavery, fossil fuels and resources, or creativity and imagination. None of them infinitely reproducible, none of them to be secured in any way. So progress is the simultaneous solving of problems and becoming complicated, a process which, according to Tainter, of course cannot be continued forever.

Any society built on such an idea of ​​progress breaks down at some point. A general tendency towards regression arises from progress that can no longer keep its promises. A large number of people no longer understand the complexity of their society, which has crept in from progress to progress, from problem-solving to problem-solving. There is a need for great simplifications. When it comes to this, too, historians skeptical of progress recall the decline of the Roman Empire. A world order of progress is falling apart because people are no longer up to its complexity.

But does the end of an unconditional belief in progress really automatically mean a relapse into barbarism, the victory of political and cultural regression, the loss of all hopes for an improvement in living conditions, chaos or paralysis? Can the downfall of an empire of progress automatically be equated with the ultimate loss of a concept that not only includes growth, work and history, but also hope, utopia, and fantasy? The disintegration of the various fields of progress and the ultimately absolute hegemony of an economic conception of progress certainly trigger one of the greatest cultural crises in world history, whether we perceive it or cannot see it because of the sheer preoccupation with the problems that have become hypercomplex.

But this crisis is also an opportunity. This includes the dissolution of a classic marriage between the capitalist principle of growth and the social and cultural concept of progress. The idea that one thing causes the other - parallel to the idea that capitalism and democracy can only thrive together - gives way to great disillusionment. We see a market in which one tries to generate growth without progress, and we see a science of the future that is looking for ways to enable progress without growth. And we recognize the emergence of cultures that consciously or forcibly renounce the principle of growth-progress.

The summit, the peak of growth, raw materials and capitalization has been reached, this is what so-called peak thinking sees it, and we will have to learn to apply the principle of progress no longer to the world, but above all to ourselves.

Perhaps there is also a society that renounces further progress in terms of growth, work and history, but also avoids violent regression, relapses into barbarism and destruction and settles into a post-peak status.

The Japanese sociologist and author Noritoshi Furuichi, born 1985, describes in "The Happy Youth in the Land of Hopelessness" such a pos-peak society that is neither unhappy nor decadent nor hopeless. Here you learn not to want more and more, but to orientate yourself towards quality of life, happiness and community. What is lost in material expectations of progress is compensated for by cultural prosperity. The success seems to prove the post-peak thinking right. According to surveys, people in Japan are on average happier today than they were during the economic boom. Perhaps we are watching a first experiment, a first redefinition of the idea of ​​progress.

Let us remember Antonio Gramsci and his distinction between becoming and progress.

"Progress is an ideology, becoming is a philosophical conception. 'Progress' depends on a certain mentality, whose constitution includes certain historically determined cultural elements; 'becoming' is a philosophical concept in which 'progress' can be absent. The idea of ​​progress is based on the possibility of quantitative and qualitative measurement: more and better. "

We are slowly beginning to say goodbye to "more and more", perhaps too slowly. The "better", on the other hand, is being renegotiated:

Better for who Better for what? Better at what price? Perhaps there is now a little space left for becoming. The becoming of a person of the future who is not only fit, competitive and consumer-minded, but can also be found in Ernst Bloch's sentences.

"We are. But we don't have each other. So we will first."

If we become in this sense, we no longer need to worry about whether we will call it progress or simply working on being human.