Humans have been around for about 50 thousand years friends. It took us about 40 thousand to understand that we can control land in order to provide the food we want, and then another 10 thousand to cooperate and begin mutually beneficial societies that have turned into large scale civilizations.
This alone is just fucking incredible. The first people- former animals who can think abstractly, ahead of time, and can make plans- were strangers with fractured languages (which by the way take time to systematically define and come to a consensus with). But they still found a way to come together and trust each other and use basic reasoning and logic to understand that they can survive and thrive when they organize.
Ever since then humanity’s progress has been naturally slow. In order for us to know to make and smelt iron, someone had to have enough fire and ore around to even put those two things together. In order for us to think of writing, we had to have a strong desire to have unchanging thoughts that we can come back to, we had to have mass amounts of goods that we could no longer simply keep track of in our heads and had to have something to remind us. In order for us to improve anything, there had to be a large calling for it. There had to be overwhelming evidence that something is wrong, ineffective, uncomfortable, or just unusable.
You may think “yeah no shit” but it can be difficult to realize how far we’ve come, and how much farther we can go. First of all it takes immense bravery to change things. There are a lot of different kinds of names for people who bring about and take upon burdens themselves that bring about progress, sometimes these people are revolutionaries or inventors or martyrs or religious figures. And even then, there are still hundreds of circumstances and prerequisites that need to be met in order for these things to happen, for the bringers of change to even be inspired and take action. And even while we (as an individual or as a society) may have a thought or idea we may want to act upon, there’s so much that would have to go into the process of making that happen that it could take decades or centuries. The accumulation, progress, and processing of any and all information for something- as even simple as something like flight- has only recently taken grasp in modern human society. (Just think about how now I can fucking FLY anywhere in the world I want. If I really wanted to learn how to fly, and make a living by flying other people around, I can do that. Fucking incredible.) But let’s step back and analyze that, let’s think about what that actual process and progress takes.
For flight, many things need to happen right? If we’re thinking of the original idea; that is to just glide around and be as close to a bird as possible, this is what has had to happen over the past few thousand years:
First, besides the fact that the idea has to form and hold/become popular in a society, the accumulation of knowledge would have to start with a person looking really really deeply into what a bird fucking is, and how it flies. The birds are where the idea comes from right? They’re very populous on the planet no matter where you go- they are a part of the planet just like us. So we’d have to study. We’d have to capture birds. We’d have to look very closely and dissect their wings. We’d have to understand what it means for them to be in motion. We’d have to remember and write down everything we have learned. We’d have to question and try to understand every single facet of a bird that makes it fly, and then try to replicate it. This means that we’d have to be able to write and draw easily, and have time to study the fuck out of birds. One cannot do that when one is struggling to find food, is illiterate, and is worried about one’s own safety. And most often, that means one has to be somewhat rich or in a rich society, where they are able to work without being hated/unsupported by their own fellow non-starving and somewhat intelligent people.
SO THEN, the next logical step would be to build our own birds, or our own set of wings. We might have to have an understanding of math to figure out how wingspan to body ratios work. We have to figure out what materials would be best to replace and remake something as delicate and fragile as the bones in a birds wings. And the material to replace the feathers. Then the actual construction and design of a glider. You have to be crafty and delicate enough to put all the pieces together,, and you have to have actual pieces to put together too. This all means that you have to be either extremely extremely skilled by yourself, where you are able to make and shape everything with your own land, materials, and time,,, OR (how it actually happened) you have to have a large enough society and support to where you can buy and find aid with all these different components.
THEN you have to start testing, figure out if your shit works. You have to find someone brave enough to be in a fucking fake bird, a brand new technology that you built that is attempting to do something never done before. This means you have to find the space for testing your technology (which would be difficult depending on the values of your society and the overall landscape), you may have to convince another person that you are reliable and that your new thing is worth being tested, and then you would have to continue to improve and accept the possibility that you failed and that something doesn’t work.
Do you understand? Progress is slow even when we have the thought of what we want to achieve. It takes so much to do incredible things and to move forward. And simply the accumulation and collaboration of knowledge is something that halts progress for decades.
Most of us now live apart of two societies: a local and global. Local in terms of what a local society always has been, the people and institutions immediately around you. But because of the internet (and other highly reliable instant communication where we can send and receive information immediately) the flow of information as it develops can be accessed quicker and by everyone around the world- a global community. Now, culture and the arts can be shared from local community to another. Now, countries that are behind, are poor or are suffering, are that way because of their past of heavy internal conflict over power, imperialism and colonialism, and seclusion from the rest of the world in terms of information and in the global economy. There is now no physical hurtles or barriers that stops the flow of communication.
But because this is so new to us as a species, because we now live in a world where so many people have voices and knowledge they may never have had in previous circumstances, it’s easy for us to think things like- “Why doesn’t this just immediately happen?” or “Everything has already been thought of.”
But this is an ignorant way to look at progress. It implies a misunderstanding of what sequence of events means when it comes to changing things from old to new. A lot goes on to creating change, and besides barriers of technology, the barriers that we as humans place upon ourselves is also an incredible hurtle to jump across. There’s a quote from David Bowie when he plays Nikola Tesla in the movie The Presitge– “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp’? It’s a lie: man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” I feel that’s an extremely well put phrase to describe social stigma towards the new, and of the initial fear of progress and change. Tesla himself experienced a great amount of it, he could have been the single most important and prominent inventor of his time but was instead undermined by Thomas Edison and his monopoly in the intellectual and financial world. Doctors for a huge portion of history, including the middle ages during the golden age of Islam where massive advances of science were achieved and parts of the renaissance with people like Leonardo da Vinci, were not allowed by cultural and religious thought to dissect humans post-mortem to understand causes of death. There’s only a brave few who would (and have the ability to) continue in their quest for progress in the face of societal stigma.
Things are easier now because of the ease of access to information. So long as we don’t go against and destroy each other, humanity can fix all of the problems we currently face. We can fix world hunger, climate change, poverty, and continue to move forward in scientific advances. There are now even many different estimations to when we will do such things, and there is just as much reason to be hopeful as there is to be concerned and pessimistic. Perhaps one of the most important steps we need to take, in order to reach a more hopeful and positive outcome for humanity, is to improve the way we change. Maybe the next big questions should be; How do we make politics more fair using the internet? How do we improve teaching to create less test focused and more creative thinking students? (For the real question to be-) How do we change the way we change?