Free «Short History of Progress» Essay Sample

Ronald Wright refers to the large culture specializations of the human race as a “progress trap”. Progress traps are the potent but highly risky technology that may ruin the human race (Wright 30). As the population grows day by day, so does the tampering by the humans on nature which eventually forces us to protect ourselves from their own creations (Wright 30-31).

In his book, Wright explains how hunting led to farming which to civilization which eventually led to an unprecedented increase in the population. The civilized domesticated people think they are much more developed than their wild counterparts are and overpower the weak humankind. This means that savages and the domesticated civilized people are the same as the savages in their level of violence. Civilization does not all-mean moral progress in this perspective (Wright 33-34).

The progress trap takes place when culture (32-33) or civilizations (32-33) are in pursuit of its myths. When the myth rises above the limitations of the environment, it leads to the collapse of the culture or civilization. Wright uses these words to show the effects of progress on the society. Wright used the word future eaters (39) to show how the growth of the population and migration would lead to extra mouths to feed. This meant that human descendants had to come up with a new way to fend for them since hunting and gathering could no longer sustain the population.



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Wright, in his book a Short History of Progress, shows how man and plants rely on each other. Without agriculture, there would be no food leading to mass starvation all over the world, and finally death. He puts this concisely as “the plants domesticated us” (47) most people of the world face blight and drought at least once in their lives. Without man, the plants would also not survive, thus giving rise to a somewhat symbiotic relationship. When referring to the farming revolution, Wright wanted to show how human descendants shifted from hunting and gathering after the hunting trap occurred. The farming revolution was a way to fend for them without having  entirely to rely on the nature for their food. The revolution did not start in any conscious way; rather it came to be by accident. The Farming Revolution then spread wildly causing more harm than the hunting trap. It led to a wild population growth for the cultures who embraced it. This continued and led to the intensification of food production leading to an even greater population growth. The trend continued, and farmers had to engage the use of oil-powered tools and machinery. They also had to use fertilizers to increase food production.

As the progress trap continued to take effect, and civilizations continued to grow at an alarming rate, the environment drew the short stick. Wright tries to show how susceptible the environment is by referring to it as “As vulnerable as a saber-toothed cat” (53).


It is difficult to come up with a more persuasive and sobering summary of 'short history' of civilization. Wright, in his book,   delivers a collection of lectures or chapters that collectively  form a case for change - urgent, essential and expansive - unlike any I have read before. By relating and extrapolating from discomforting histories of excess, the shortage of forethought and single mindedness, Wright puts our present state of affairs into a larger and longer context, going beyond what preservationist and socialists have disputed for   more than 50 years. In conclusion, he states  that our present activities are typical of failed societies at the peak of their self-indulgence and conceit.

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This book gives lessons of what not to do. Wright makes a persuasive argument for forward thinking that is needed to save the human race.


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