The Myth of Progress


Most human progress has been met with considerable resistance. The evidentiary basis for this assertion can be directly extracted from the history of progress.

Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified for challenging the money changers. St. Mark tells us that "the scribes and chief priests . . . sought how they might destroy him . . . " [St. Mark 11:15-18].

Galileo Galilei. Galileo was accused of heresy for proving that Copernicus was right. The new power of Galileo's scientific method -- consistent knowledge from experiment, quantified with mathematics -- doomed the Ptolemaic doctrines of the clergy of his time. But not without a vicious fight. The great physicist Emilio Segrč gave an account of why the Holy Office in Rome tried Galileo and condemned him in 1633.1 Science, as challenge to the World Order, would simply not be tolerated. But, as explained by Segrč, the condemnation of Galileo was not without its consequences. The authority and prestige of the Church were damaged. Not only were Galileo's books banned, even the Academia del Cimento was dismantled -- ironically, wrote Segrč, "five years after the foundation of the Royal Society"2 in England. Thanks to the Church, Italy lost its leadership position in science. The stupidity of the Enemies of Progress has sometimes no bounds.

James Watt. The steam engine revolutionized the use of motor power, and kickstarted the industrial age -- first in England, then in the rest of the world. In the summer of 1765, James Watt made a strategic invention: the separate condenser for the steam engine. England's industry, wealth, and naval power would have been inconceivable without the steam engine.3 Frederic M. Scherer (a Harvard-trained economist and a participant in the Harvard Weapons Acquisition Research Project) described Watt's invention as "one of the most famous 'inventions' of all time."4 He studied the connection between the innovation process and economic growth, and presented his findings in Innovation and Growth. If you did not know that Scherer was writing about the tribulations of Watt and his partners in the 1770's, you would think that he was writing about Canada's entrepreneurs in the early 1990's. The R&D and the commercialization of Watt's invention were hindered by a chronic lack of financial support. Here are some of the findings of Scherer. Watt's partner, Dr. John Roebuck became bankrupt in 1773. Matthew Boulton, a manufacturer who acquired Roebuck's share in Watt's invention, had his own financial difficulties -- he had to sell his wife's property to keep Boulton & Fothergill solvent. Apparently, "with the exception of Boulton, none of Roebuck's creditors placed any value on the engine patent"5 [my emphasis].

Chester Carlson. Chester F. Carlson, a physicist with a degree from Cal Tech, created xerography. The first test of the electrophotographic copying process was done on October 22, 1938.6 According to John Dessauer's account, Carlson's budget for materials was $10 per month.7 Carlson could barely afford one employee. To develop and market his invention Carlson approached International Business Machines and 20 other companies. According to Dessauer, "not one of them saw any commercial future in his [Carlson's] black box"8 [my emphasis]. Carlson was politely turned down.9 But Carlson's relentless pursuit of innovation ultimately resulted in employment for 1,800 in 1959, 49,335 in 1969, 104,736 in 1978 . . .10

Many years later, shortly before the introduction of Xerox's 914 copier, IBM had yet another opportunity to "buy into" Xerox.11 Reportedly, IBM turned Xerox down, partly on the recommendation of Arthur D. Little Inc., a prominent contract research firm. Apparently, the research firm believed that the nationwide market for the Xerox 914 would amount to no more than 5,000 units!12 In the first eight years since its introduction, the 914 generated about $1.5 billion in revenues. In seven years, Xerox placed 190,000 copiers; and total employment at Xerox skyrocketed from 900 to more than 24,000.13

Xerox itself was not immune to "fumbling" some of its own future.14 Alto, the first personal computer was invented by scientists at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). The first Alto was operational in 1973. Unbelievable as this may sound, the first personal computer commercial was televised by Xerox15 -- not IBM, not Apple. But, a numbers-oriented, "risk-averse" management, with, allegedly, "no technical instincts" ("'bean counters'")16 could not or would not convert Xerox's technological innovations into one of the greatest business successes of all time. Xerox did benefit from its technology; but the more than 25 million personal computers that were sold by 1987 to Americans17 were sold mostly by Apple, IBM, and other American and Asian "clone" makers -- and not by Xerox.

Scott Cook. According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit Inc., was turned down by "some of the finest venture capital firms in the country."18 Apparently, in the late 1980s, Intuit had difficulties paying its telephone bills, almost lost its furniture because of "overdue accounts," and could not afford to pay all its employees! Notwithstanding the difficulties, Cook's "entrepreneurial gamble" worked. Cook, reportedly, agreed to sell Intuit Inc. to Microsoft Corp. for about $1.5 billion dollars in stock. But the deal was called off, apparently, in order to avoid lengthy litigation against the U.S. Justice Department. Ironically, many banks now rely on Intuit or similar software for the provision of electronic banking services.

Imagine, some of the greatest ideas and patents of all time having had no value to creditors and bean counters! Notwithstanding modern propaganda, the struggle of the entrepreneur-innovator continues: progress, as product of Capitalism, is a fraudulent myth. As a matter of fact, progress is nothing but a continuous struggle against the established Capitalist order. When it triumphs, progress does so despite the Solomonic creed [Proverbs 22:7]. It follows that if Man wants to change the nature and rate of progress, he must first overcome not only himself, but the true obstacle to that goal in himself -- the Solomonic creed.

Hegel and Heidegger on Progress. The nature of progress is most intricately connected with Spirit -- as self surmounting itself. The connection between Spirit and Time was an important subject matter of Hegel's philosophy; the connection between Being and Time was an important subject matter of Heidegger's philosophy. Following Hegel, for Heidegger, " . . . 'progress' never signifies a merely quantitative "more", but is essentially qualitative and indeed has the quality of spirit. 'Progression' is done knowingly and knows itself in its goal. In every step of its 'progress' spirit has to overcome 'itself' "as the truly malignant obstacle to that goal". In its development spirit aims 'to reach its own concept.' The development itself is 'a hard, amending battle against itself'"19 [my emphasis].


1 For the incredible story of Galileo, see Emilio Segrč, From Falling Bodies to Radio Waves, 1984, at 15-35.

2 See Sadi Carnot, Refléxions sur la puissance motrice de feu (1824), translated by E. Mendoza, 1960; quoted in Emilio Segrč; ibid., at 194-195. Sadi Carnot is the discoverer of the second principle of thermodynamics, a pillar of modern physics.

3 Emilio Segrč, ibid., at 35.

4 F.M. Scherer, Innovation and Growth, 1984, at 1, and 8-31 (Invention and Innovation in the Watt-Boulton Steam Engine Venture, especially 11-12).

5 F.M. Scherer, Innovation and Growth, 1984, at 11-12.

6 J.H. Dessauer, My Years with Xerox, The Billions Nobody Wanted, 1971, at 29.

7 Ibid., at 10.

8 Ibid., at 21 and 37.

9 Ibid., at 31.

10 Ibid., at xiv; and Xerox Corporation annual reports, for the number of employees at Xerox.

11 G. Jacobson and J. Hillkirk, Xerox American Samurai, 1986, at 63-64.

12 D.K. Smith and R.C. Alexander, Fumbling the Future, 1988, at 27-28. This book provides significant insight into the complexities affecting the commercialization of technology.

13 Ibid., at 28.

14 Ibid., at 19-20.

15 Ibid., at 13-16.

16 Ibid., at 157, 159 ("Engineering ignorance beset all senior executives of Xerox . . . "), and 162 ("bean counters").

17 D.K. Smith and R.C. Alexander, Fumbling the Future, 1988, at 16.

18 B. Bowers and U. Gupta, Entrepreneurs Thrive in Roaring '90s, Fortunes Are Usually Built by People with a Rare Understanding of the Marketplace, an article from The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Co., in The Globe and Mail, October 22, 1994, at B8.

19 For the connection between Time and Spirit, and a discussion of Hegel's interpretation of that connection, see Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, 1962, at 484-486 (Hegel's Interpretation of the Connection between Time and Spirit, and associated references identified at 501). See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History, translated by J. Sibree, with Prefaces by Charles Hegel and J. Sibree, and an Introduction by C.J. Friedrich, 1956, at 55 (" . . . Spirit is at war with itself"), 76-77 ("aggressive selfishness . . . seeking personal advantage . . . at the expense of the State at large"; and " . . . monotonous repetition of the same kind of existence").



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