Feb 14Liked by R.B. Griggs

Fantastic post, which expands on a discussion I had with Magoon on his site on this basic topic. For the record, I strongly agree with you that material progress is both essential and insufficient, and is becoming less sufficient over time.

The basic dilemma, in my opinion, is that people discover and create their values and goals over the course of their lives and then seek to fulfill them, and as they try to do so, they change along the way. Billions of people in thousands of cultures over countless eras with their own goals and values, changing over time. Indeed, I think an essential part of progress is this journey of discovering what our goals should be or could be.

Now that said, the benefit of focusing on health and material progress is that these are both easier to measure and they work as a sort of baseline. We can almost take it for granted that everyone wants health over illness and injury, life over death, nutrition over starvation, material comfort over constant insecurity. And this is why material progress and health should be part of any good measure, as you suggest.

The trouble is that, after a certain point, material living standards shifts from a base necessity to one particular value — wanting to be prosperous. In the developed world, many, possibly most people are at or near this point. Shifting from making a hundred grand a year to three hundred is unlikely to represent much of any benefit and is easily swamped by the panoply of other values and goals, many of which are just as important or more so, and which may need to be sacrificed to get the income raise. Things like family, peace of mind, leisure, mental health, artistic endeavors, religious and community participation, freedom from addictive substances and behavior and so on.

I’ve already rambled too far, but I guess the answer is to continue to build more subjective measures and track these over time. Perhaps we could ask people what is important to them and then follow up with how well they are doing on these dimensions. Perhaps we could build indices on subjective well being such as education, leisure, freedom from dependency, and so on. I can envision all kinds of problems with these indices, but also various work arounds to the problems.

I think a robust study of progress goes beyond material progress, and those of us leading the way need to start working through these issues.

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Oh, excellent, could you link to that discussion? I'd love to read it.

I agree that any quantitative measure of the qualitative is going to be tricky, but not insuperably so, specifically around quantifying the relationship in how enabled the immaterial is by the material. In previous totalizing cultures these distinctions were blurred, but that's probably the best we can do in a globalized and connected word.

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Feb 11Liked by R.B. Griggs

Progress is a fundamental urge of humankind altogether. There are two dimensions to such.

1. The collective (and should-be-cooperative, and, altogether, right and positive) exoteric domain of politics, social and economic activity, conventional religious and idealistic culture, and materially oriented science and technology is, all and always, about would-be-progress, or the potential for always progressive enhancement in human survival-solutions and living well-being.

2. The collective (and should-be-exemplary, and, altogether, illuminating) esoteric domain of the totality of the true beyond conventional religiosity culture of Spirituality, philosophy, and the arts is, all and always, about self-transcendence.

These two human collective domains - the exoteric domain of progress and the esoteric domain of self-transcendence - are, together, the necessary and always mutually-inclusive basis for right and true human, and, necessarily, always priorly unified, and, thus, always actively and effectively single polity, society, culture, and life.

Unfortunately the second part of the equation is almost totally absent. Which is to say that humankind is now in a benighted state of universal fragmentation, and, thus effectively destroying itself and the biosphere too.

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So how do we know whether we have more or less (im)material progress?

Are people in the same time and culture likely to agree?

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Feb 10·edited Feb 10Author

Great questions! This was turning into a book so I left out some practical discussion. I think my proposed definition around "ultimate concerns" (UC) does open up some avenues for measurement:

- Is our capacity to explore and engage with ultimate concerns increasing?

- Can more of us identify and define our ultimate concerns?

- Are those definitions becoming more specific and granular?

- Are they becoming broader and more diverse?

- Are we more or less attached them?

- Can we share these ultimate concerns more with others and participate in them collectively?

- Is more of our work and social obligations aligning with our ultimate concerns?

- Conversely, is less of our work and social obligations detracting from our ability to engage with ultimate concerns?

- How much of our education is in service to developing a personal capacity for engaging with ultimate concerns?

Etc. etc. Of course, each of these run headfirst into countless challenges, but I see enough possibility not to dismiss it as impossible.

In terms of agreement, it's less about comparing the qualitative value of ultimate concerns across time and cultures (although I wouldn't discount that). It would be more about the capacities to engage with them more fully, and however we might analyze values themselves (cultural enrichment, breadth, depth, attachment).

The interesting dichotomy here is that these rich values from the past were the result of totalizing cultures, whereas today increasingly more of our values (and culture) are the result of individual choices. But that would be a whole other post!

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Well said! Focusing on material well being is a great start, but after a while it comes across like the drunk looking for his lost key under the lamp post. That isn’t where he lost them, but the light is a lot better there.

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