History is not an ascending spiral of human advance, or even an inch-by-inch crawl to a better world. It is an unending cycle in which changing knowledge interacts with unchanging human needs. Freedom is recurrently won and lost in alternation that includes long periods of anarchy and tyranny, and there is no reason to suppose that this cycle will ever end. In fact, with human power increasing as a result of growing scientific knowledge, it can only become more violent.
The core idea of progress is in the belief that human life becomes better with the growth of knowledge. The error is not in thinking that human life can improve. Rather, it is imagining that improvement can ever be cumulative. Unlike science, ethics and politics are not activities in which what is learnt in one generation can be passed on to an indefinite number of future generations. Like arts, they are practical skills and they are easily lost.
What if the above is true? I think it to be an accurate presentation of the thought and would attest to it – not as much as a change in belief, but more so as recognition of a thought that I never formed.
Human emotion, rather the structured expression of it, is also pretty much like ethics and politics – “practical skills and … easily lost”. I sense a few million guns being pointed at me, as I finish this sentence.
Even if you argue that we accumulate ‘emotional knowledge’ (if there is anything like that), from parents (learn from their mistakes, become better human beings, offer a better world for subsequent generations and the like) and, it is in a way cumulative, why then, human interactions have seen the same signs of struggle for generations? Why haven’t the “futile” (read negative) emotions been overcome over generations?
In an earlier paragraph, the statement, “The illusion is in the belief that it [scientific progress] can effect any fundamental alteration in the human condition.” possibly holds the answer. The human condition, as a society or as an individual is about behaviour. And behaviour does not accumulate over generations; each generation struggles to be better.