Progress is not inherent to our nature. As discussed in this piece written for The Atlantic, looking back at history, we can see the tug-of-war play out between modernists and traditionalists.
Progress is seen by its supporters as the way to secure a better future, where its detractors see it as putting the future at risk. When we look at what is happening right now in American politics, it looks like we are at a point where the traditionalists are pulling back hard. The consequences could be dire. What meager progress we have made fighting climate change, for example, seems at risk with a president-elect who thinks that it is all a Chinese hoax.
So why do we see this play out again and again over the course of history? Well, the human mind, as it has evolved, has inherited a lot of baggage that keeps us from thinking rationally. Research is showing more and more that "being certain of something" is not a state that we arrive at logically, but emotionally. Certainty is a feeling, and not the product of reason.
As a species we have come as far as we have thanks to the invention of the scientific method. The scientific method's built-in error-checking tools have allowed us to bypass the mistakes our flawed brains are prone to making. Unfortunately, there are those people who distrust science, and see it as an attack on traditional values.
What can we do if we want to move forward? We need to support scientific advancement and progress. We should be vocal about our desire to move forward as a species and a society. If we do not then we just might see one of the dystopian plots of various science-fiction novels play out in reality. In fact, many great authors and thinkers of the twentieth century had specific warnings about the kind of future we could be facing.
In Carl Sagan's 'The Demon Haunted World', he had a sad vision of what
the future could be like when he wrote: “I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness...
The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”
Let us continue the fight against that possible future.