Ever since humanity has thrown off the shackles of an oppresive religious government (middle ages-ish), technological progress has done nothing but increased exponentially. So I don't quite understand what you mean.
Also, until the human psyche evolves past the selfish mindset of survival, true altruism will never exist. Everyone does everything for a reason that benefits them. Even the most altruistic have helped others because of god (guilt or promise of paradise), or because it makes them feel like they are a good person. The only way to promote a communal for-the-good approach to the world is to tap people's selfish desire to survive (i.e. work together for common good). But most people are far too selfish or ignorant to really see the merits of this system. It's a strange thought, but humans, nay, all life on earth, is quite evil and self-serving.
Don't mean to hijack your blog, just figured since you were already on the topic. Anyways, without captialism and the drive to make money (or fame), we wouldn't have such fast advances in motorcycle technology (competition). Therefore, it can't be all bad.
Thanks for picking this up. I try not to express my political opinions too much here. I save them for other forums. Here I just like being a biker and talking to other bikers. But sometimes I get the bit between my teeth and I go sounding off.
I'll respond briefly (if that is possible.)
Sorry, I wasn't very clear. When I said, 'lack of progress', I was referring to the lack of progress made by the socialist movement over the last century. Technological progress, as you say, has been enormous (though I wouldn't say exponential - since the regular crises inherent in the capitalist economy keep putting a brake on it.)
Over the last hundred years we have had many intellectual movements that have tried to demonstrate that 'human nature' is selfish, or that selfish behaviour is the result of our evolutionary or genetic inheritance: Socal Darwinism, the pop ethologists of the 1960s, sociobiology and now evolutionary psychology. These are just the main ones. None of these movements had a sound scientific basis. Even evolutionary psychology, which has a kind of academic respectablity, is forced, when pushed, to admit that its conclusions are mere conjecture for which no evidence whatsoever is available.
The simple fact is that no-one has ever been able to discover genes that determine complex human behaviour.
In evolutionary terms human beings share 98.4 percent of their genes with their nearest relatives - chimpanzees and bonobos. But from the moment that chimps and human beings started to go their separate evolutionary ways, that tiny 1.6 percent separation made an enormous difference to us. Human beings evolved into a species with an much larger and more complex brain, and a much more intricate nervous system. At the same time they developed a highly sophisticated vocal apparatus. There was also an extraordinary and unprecedented extention of the childhood phase of their life cycle. All this has selected them to adapt and learn through culture instead of having fixed behavioural responses.
Throughout our uniquely long period of childhood we remain dependent on our parents or other adults, but during all that time we are modelling ourselves on them and learning our behaviour from them and from the rest of our social environment. We learn through direct experience, through our capacity for abstract thought and through our ability to communicate with each other.
The 'selfish' behaviour you identify around you is not something 'natural' to us or fixed in our genes, it is a learned behaviour derived from the society in which we are brought up. For the last three thousand years we have lived in a series of societies based on varying forms of ownership. But they all had one thing in common: they divided us economically from one another by private property institutions. (Before that time it was very different.) For the last four hundred years or so we have lived in the latest of these: capitalism. Capitalism is highly successful form of society but it is also highly unstable and totally ruthless in its pursuit of profit.
Capitalism like previous societies divides human beings into isolated economic units, but the divisions are much more marked than before. Being isolated in this way, we are forced into competition with one another. We are compelled by private property institutions, not by our nature, to behave selfishly. Capitalism is itself the cause of 'selfish' or more correctly self-interested human behaviour.
In the course of history human beings have lived in many different kinds of social and economic environment, and as a result have displayed many different kinds of behaviour, some of which is 'self-interested' but a great deal of it isn't.
Think about this term 'human nature' for a moment. It appears to be fairly neutral, but that's an illusion. It is a highly charged piece of political propaganda. If I were to speak to you of wars or robbing or mugging, you might say to me: 'Well that's human nature for you.' That sort of response is familiar to all of us. People say it all the time. It is designed to make us think, well there's nothing you can do about it, we're all thoroughly bad (except me of course!)
But let me put to you that there are many, many, recorded cases in war or in times of adversity of people spontaneously sacrificing themselves for others. How do you explain the soldier who throws himself on a bomb to save those around him? (I remember a case from the Northern Ireland conflict some years ago). There is only one explanation that makes sense. His behaviour is the result of a sudden, unpremeditated act of empathy. Empathic identification with the suffering of others is very common among human beings. It happens between partners, between parents and children, between friends, between strangers. The propaganda model of capitalism tries to hush it up, because it is an inconvenient belief to the capitalist. He likes people to think that the competition inherent in the capitalist system is somehow 'natural' or based on 'human nature'.
But, the fact is, genuine altruism is a common experience.
The soldier doesn't throw himself on the bomb because he thinks it is going to make him feel like a good person, for the simple reason that in a few seconds he is not going to be a person at all and he may not have a belief in a god either. A serious belief in god is not widespread in the UK.
When my wife became seriously ill three years ago, the kindness and self-sacrifice shown by people in my local community was overwhelming. People like helping each other because, through empathy, they experience each other's suffering and they also experience each other's relief. They experience it as their own. We are a social animal. We have that capacity. We co-operate.
If altruistic or supererogative (self-sacrificing) behaviour is purely self-directed, why do our our parents sacrifce years of their lives bringing us up? Is that something to do with a belief in god? Is it guilt? I don't think so. Guilt is interesting BTW. We are born with a capacity for certain emotions, but guilt, like disgust is not one of them. Guilt and disgust are entirely learned feelings, and like our complex behaviours, they come from our social environment. Members of some East Asian cultures, have no experience of guilt at all. Do parents in these cultures neglect or abandon their children as a result because they don't feel enough guilt to want to look after them? Actually, no!
Empathy and altruism are perfectly common among human beings, but we don't see them or admit to their existence. We are taught not to. We argue them away. If I were to reel of a list of acts of kindness or sacrifice to you that I have experienced in the course of my life, would you beam and smile and say, 'Ah well, that's human nature for you'? No you wouldn't. People don't use the term 'human nature' in this way. It is used only to assert that 'human nature' is naturally selfish. It's not a neutral term. It's a piece of propaganda.
I suggest you don't let the social brainwashing about human nature being 'selfish' overwhelm your eyes. Look around. People perform acts of kindness, support and sacrifice every day. And they do this despite the enormous pressures that capitalism places on them to do the opposite - to 'look out for number one'.
We choose our attitudes, or rather, we are indoctrinated into our attitudes by our society, because in our society the class that lives by the exploitation of others needs to be able to justify the system that provides them with so much for so little. Educating people into the belief that human beings are naturally selfish or violent is a good way to justify exploitation, war and all kinds of inhuman practices to them. (Notice of course it is only corporations, the military and the state that are allowed to justify their actions like this - not you or I.)
We are indoctrinated into our attitudes. It's cool to by cynical about 'human nature' not cool to think that there might be something co-operative and social and very powerful about human beings. I hear that cynicism in people's voices every day. I've heard it an endless number of times on this site. And it is always stated in more or less exactly the same terms using the same sort of language. People are just mouthing what their society teaches them to believe. That's an uncomfortable thought, but if you keep your ears open you'll prove it to yourself over and over again in all sorts of ways. We are a learning animal, we learn to believe what we are taught to belive.
But for all that, the standard ways we try to deny reality don't add up to a real argument or explanation, they are just part of a settled social attitude - a way of saying 'Blahhh!' to what we are as human beings, rather than celebrating what is valuable in us. I hear it in your post when you say:
"Even the most altruistic have helped others because of god (guilt or promise of paradise), or because it makes them feel like they are a good person.as out to get something for themselves."
I don't buy that. It's only an attitude, not evidence of how people really are.
Oh Hell! And I said I was going to be brief! Failed again.