Every Society in the course of its evolution gathers certain intellectual, ethical and spiritual values. The aggregate of these values is mentioned as the culture of the society at a period of time. The belief and the dogmas, prejudices and the aversions of the people constituting the society have all a share in the formulations of these values. In course of time, values evolved by them become the laws and customs of the society.
Society introduces values, laws and customs to live safely, peacefully and happily. Laws can be described as a bundle of rules and regulations laid down for the functioning of the society.
Every society evolves its own laws and customs based on their knowledge and need. If a society keeps the social set-up and social organization based on the spirit of equality and universal brotherhood, a feeling of oneness develops in that society. Presence of the feeling of oneness changes the outlook and character of the people. It makes them broad-minded and tolerant.
As they become broad – minded, they unite and co-operate with the fellow people for the common good. They abide by moral values willingly since they are aware that the values were introduced by the fellow people for common good. This attitude and mindset are conducive to progress. A society with this amiable social atmosphere has more advantages than a society which does not have this social atmosphere.
Discussing development, explainer of the development philosophy, Walter Bagehot, explains the steps to be taken to achieve progress. He says that the first step necessary for progress is to civilise and tame fellow human beings. The members of the society have to introduce just moral values and protect the freedom and rights of the people. They have to identify clearly the right and wrong activities. Enacting laws for enforcing the wise and universal moral values is the first step towards progress.
What are the other essential conditions for a society to progress? What social environment helps society to progress and what retards or arrests progress. These are the basic questions before us. Getting answers is useful to know the path we should tread to progress.
Basically, the human being, as we know, is never satisfied with what he has. He has always a desire to know more. It is this desire for knowing more which is the motivating force to progress. In every age, people have struggled to acquire more wisdom and knowledge. This curiosity and truth-seeking spirit or attitude are parts of human nature. This inquisitiveness plays a very important role in human progress. So, nurturing this spirit by all means is fundamental to progress. Giving intellectual freedom and allowing people to discuss any subject without fear are fundamental to progress.
Mental energy is the motor of progress. Availabity of mental energy is limited. If the society spends proportionately more mental energy in productive and creative activities, the society progresses. If a society fails to channelize its mental energy so, for one reason or the other, it fails to progress.
The American writer, Henry George (1839-1897), discusses this subject in his book, ‘Progress and Poverty’. He says that co-operation of the people is vital to progress. If society functions based on the idea of human equality, social relationship becomes better. Unity becomes stronger. Consequently, more human energy is available for productive activities. The society progresses. So, he concludes that association in equality or justice is the second essential to progress.
If the society discriminates fellow people for one reason or the other and deny equal rights to a section of people, social unity weakens. Conflicts develop. The society is forced to spend more mental energy to manage the conflicts. Consequently, it can spend only less than sufficient human energy for developmental activities. It adversely affects progress. The progress or the decline of a society is directly proportionate to the availability of human energy for productive activities. If the society spends only a little mental energy for productive activities, it will not progress. Instead, retrogression will set in.
Every society faces different hurdles to progress. A society dominated by the other-worldly thoughts, traditional static religions, the reliance on the magical formula, and childhood indoctrination cannot progress.
The ideas that exist in respect of god, heaven and hell play a significant role in the progress of a society. A critical analysis shows that what all said about god, heaven and hell are purely human imagination only. These imaginary ideas are a major hurdle to progress. Understanding this, great moral preachers of the humankind like Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Greek Philosophers and many others warn the people not to give any importance to those speculations. The reason, they say, is that paying more attention to those speculations does more harm than good. It takes away one’s attention from the present life. It addition, it makes people unrealise their own power.
The history of human society shows that human progress has been possible only due to the sincere and hard work of human beings since time immemorial. There is absolutely no evidence to prove that god has played any role in human progress.
While this is the fact, god-centered religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism give importance to the concept of god. These religions preach that god will be pleased by our prayers and rituals. Believing this imaginary idea, a large number of people live under the illusion that god will solve their personal grievances. They also imagine that god will make their country prosperous and great. But in reality, god has never responded to prayers and rituals. So, spending time, energy and natural wealth for prayers and rituals is wasteful and it has disastrous consequences to progress.
Apart from religious ideas, many irrational ideas also impede human progress. One such irrational idea relates to race and caste. The race-conscious people spread the idea of racial superiority and inferiority. According to this idea, only certain races are intelligent; only superior races can attain progress and other races can’t progress. Is there any truth in this idea? History shows that this idea is totally wrong. Historians have recorded that people belonging to different races have produced grand civilizations.
The famous historian, Arnold Toynbee (1889- 1975), says that Nordiacs produced four or five civilizations; the Alpine seven; the Meditarean ten; the brown (Dravidian and Malays) two; the yellow three and the red race of America two. These historical pieces of evidence prove that every race has contributed to human civilization. These facts disprove the racial superiority theory.
Likewise, in India, people belonging to higher castes, especially Brahmins, assume that they are more intelligent than the lower castes. This notion has been proved wrong. The educated lower castes, entrusted with responsible jobs, have proved that they are as talented as the members of the higher castes. This disproves the caste superiority theory.
Philosophers ascertain that physical differences among the different races of people are hardly greater than the differences between white and black horses. We inherit physical features and skin colour. They differ from race to race. But the genetic composition the human brain shows no racial differences. The working of our brain, which we call by the term, mind, is influenced by the environment to which it is exposed. The qualities of the mind of a civilized man and those of a savage depend entirely on the social environment in which one is placed.
Even now, a few societies remain primitive. It is due to geographical isolation or other cultural environmental agencies. Only through critical analysis can the real reasons for their primitiveness be figured out.
In the present age, an irrational idea prevails about the word, ‘progress’ , itself. Many people assume that progress means economic progress only. This idea is wrong. Real progress refers to all-sided progress that includes economic, social and intellectual development. A progressive society is the one in which arts and science flourish; security and friendship exist and honesty, diligence, sincerity and love prevail.
In this modern age, the government plays an important role in the progress of a country. The government is a social institution developed by the society for the welfare of all the people. Any country will progress if the individuals who run the country’s government are wise and selfless. If the individuals who control the government are ignorant, unwise and selfish, the country will not progress. Consequently, its civilisation will degenerate and decay. The government becomes an oppressive institution.
In general, political knowledge is poor in many countries. To improve political knowledge, social scientists suggest that Political Science may be given importance. Political Science refers to the study of politics, government and public policies. Political scientists study the government policies and their effects. Their critical analysis enlightens us on the policies that are useful, useless and injurious to the welfare of the people. Based on their findings, harmful policies can be discarded or modified. In this way, improved political knowledge can indirectly help us to progress.
In a nutshell, Henry George states that human progress is not the improvement of human nature. The advances of which civilization consists are not secured in the constitution of man, but in the constitution of the society. This indicates that it is the constitution of the society that decides progress. So, every society has to keep the social structure of the society based on the idea of human equality and universal brotherhood. This is the right path for a society to progress.
The English historian, Arnold Toynbee, discusses the issue of the society’s progress. He asserts that every society faces challenges. At first, challenges posed by environment. Later, challenges are from internal and external enemies. The nature of the responses determines the society’s fate. If the society faces the challenges wisely and creatively, the society will progress. If the society fails to respond sensibly and creatively it will fail to move forward to a higher, better or more advanced stage.