Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#104 The Perils of Progress

In this 104th episode of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz, I share my recent thoughts on the nature of progress and our potential for growth as human beings.

It’s undeniable that we have been in a state of exponentially accelerating progress for decades now. But have we balanced our material, our technological, progress with advancements in mindfulness and emotional intelligence?

Listen to find out! And don’t forget! I’d love your feedback on this episode and my future episodes. Are you progressing as a human being while you advance materially? Be sure to leave a comment!

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #104

Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.

Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode of the Possibility Podcast. This past weekend, I was reading a new book, a wonderful engaging book. It’s called The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed our Understanding of Time. On one level, it’s a heady book and I like reading heady books. I don’t like to understand everything I read. That doesn’t leave me room for new insights.

At any rate, this is a book that takes place or it’s focused on a debate that took place in Paris in 1922. Shortly after Einstein’s theory of relativity was proven and headlines of every newspaper in the world, virtually the entire world is celebrating this profound scientific discovery. Well, Henri Bergson, a name probably unfamiliar to most people, was a famous French philosopher, a titan in France, a profound intellect, and a leading thinker. His point of view about the nature of time differed from Einstein’s. Bergson the philosopher and Einstein the physicist and a debate occurred in Paris. That debate attracted the attention of just untold numbers of people, ordinary lay people, non-intellectuals. I thought about that, a quantum physicist and a philosopher garnering the attention of non-intellectuals, non-academics, and I thought, that would never happen today. Ordinary citizens enthralled. Intellectualism and philosophy were revered at that time, not debased as we have a tendency to do now.

That catapulted me, it catalyzed me into thinking about progress. In the hundred years since that debate, there’s an incalculable amount of progress on so many fronts, but such a lack of progress, if not regression, on so many fronts. So I started to think about the word progress. Progress is defined as forward movement. But we need to ask, forward movement toward what? The movement that’s forward may not be positive, but we do put a positive attachment to the word progress. You’re progressing, that’s progress, that’s positive. But much of the progress over the last hundred years is arguably unhealthy, if not life-threatening.

As a species, we seem to be moving, hurtling at breakneck speed toward disasters, global warming, flooding, increasing nuclear risk. The planet is no longer hospitable to us. Yet, that might be the result of scientific progress. Without consciousness applied to progress, without mindfulness applied to progress, we may default to greed and exploitation, which arguably are primary sources of global warming. Arguably, this progress, the ability to mine minerals and oil and fossil fuels, may be moving us to extinction.

So can we call that progress if it isn’t balanced by mindfulness? I think we need to always ask ourselves, what are the values underlying our progress? Now the progress we’re looking at here may be suicidal, and it may be humane. I think the question we need to ask in regard to progress is, are we progressing in our humaneness? Progress should be grounded in humaneness and cognitive and emotional intelligence, a balance. Humane suggests compassion, empathy, love, connectivity, sympathy for humans and animals. I might add in, it should include nature as well. That’s a higher level of consciousness that is required for humane evolving and humane progress.

So we have at times a bifurcation. Is it progress or is it humaneness? They tend to head in different directions. We need to integrate them.

Have we ever been humane? Well, that’s arguable. We’re probably more humane now than any time we have been in the past, but we certainly have progress. But again, progress without consciousness and humaneness leaves us in peril.

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We’ve made progress in health, medicine, sanitation, living conditions, longevity, all to be applauded. But has there been an increase in human consciousness? I think not. I think that in fact, there’s been a dumbing down. Now think about that debate that took place in 1922 with thousands of people trying to get in to hear the debate. Einstein’s relativity debated between Einstein and Henri Bergson. Philosophers were valued then. They were heads of state. Now pause. Can we name, can you name a single current philosopher? What does that tell us about how we devalue intelligence and philosophy?

Do we ever see real intellectuals on TV? Nope. Because progress sometimes becomes subordinate to economic progress. Economic progress. So we don’t have intellectuals on TV because it wouldn’t generate income. If everything gets driven by material and economic gain, that’s one measure of progress. If it’s the only measure, we are in trouble. Achievement is one of the principles of progress.

Let’s look at how children are raised today in much of America. I can’t speak for other countries, but I will speak for the United States, with which of course I am familiar. We do children, it’s an unintentional child abuse what we do to children. We rob them of childhood because we turn them into achievement seeking young people. The focus is on grades. Get the best grades, have the best extracurricular activities so you can get into the best college, so you can get the best job, so you can make the most money.

What’s the goal? Is it simply achievement and progress? Well, if so, is it the cost of the emotional and psychological health of these children who commit suicide at breathtaking rates? What happened to emotional intelligence, kindness, the capacity to be caring for one another? They are cast aside in deference to academic progress for material success down the road. What I’m suggesting is that we are measuring only one metric of progress, and that is damning us.

Again, progress is moving forward to what? To harmony or to destruction? To self-worth and happiness or to conflict and agitation? The chemical industry has made enormous progress, introducing untold thousands of chemicals, which often turn out to be carcinogenic and are unleashed in the environment without testing. Progress toward making our lawns greener, while we may get cancer from that. All of this progress, not all of it, but so much of it, tends to make us more hostile and aggressive.

What we desperately need is a new philosophy for living, a philosophy which focuses on authentic progress, not just material and economic progress. That should be the debate that we’re having as a culture, not just sustainable growth. In light of global warming, we hear about sustainable growth. That implies that growth, some measure of growth is sustainable.

That’s a supposition, isn’t it? Maybe no growth is sustainable. We drive children into dysfunction as they’re driven to achieve. In the United States, over the course of someone’s lifetime, there’s a one in three possibility that they will suffer from a psychological or emotional disorder, typically anxiety and depression. Is that a life well lived? Yes, a well balanced integrated progress must include do no harm to yourself and do no harm to others, progressing toward the civil and harmonious life, progressing toward the life well lived.

So once again, in summation, we have made progress on countless fronts, but in terms of consciousness, civility, intelligence, we’re falling way, way behind the mark. And progress, progress without consciousness, progress without mindfulness has given us the atom bomb, global warming, and a host of other devastating, threatening risks to the planet and to our civilization.

So think about progress in your own personal lives and temper progress so that it’s not just achieving more, earning more, consuming more, but it’s also progressing toward authenticity, happiness, civility, enjoying your life, loving, compassion, and empathy for yourself and for others.

Well, that’s it for today. Until next time, give some thought to a wider range of progress in your life. Be well, look forward to speaking with you again shortly. Bye for now.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show, and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again, and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.

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