We should think again about our definition of what progress is because we might be having a simplistic view of things. Today we speak of progress in terms of economic growth, advances in science and technology but do these aspects of our existence define progress in its entirety or are they just discrete parts of it?
The inhabitants of the ancient city of Jericho, about six thousand years ago, enjoyed a life expectancy of just 25 years; they survived only about the time that today anyone needs to grow up and get a fair college education. This is known thanks to skeletal remains found in many different tombs and burial sites of the region: In almost all cases, the bones belonged to people of about that age.
Today the life expectancy of most human beings is well above that and for the most part, increases every year; we have clearly improved in that department as well as others, but we still drag along our existence other problems that were already know for the inhabitants of that city and in some cases, things got worse oddly thanks to our technology simply because we can do more harm when we do harm with our more efficient tools: the negative environmental impact of many human activities has increased due to advances in technology, an increase in life expectancy and also an exponential growth in the overall population.
War is another example: The weapons of today are immensely more capable of inflicting damage than those of the ancients. We still wage war, and for quite similar reasons, so we cannot say that we have advanced significantly in that area. In fact, we could have fared far better, considering that thousands of years have elapsed since.
The treatment that we dispense to animals should also make us think a little: if we apply the same methods that the Assyrians or the Holy Inquisition used to obtain confessions from prisoners to experiment with animals, then we are the same. Arguments in favour of such experimentation are as believable to those supporting them as the loyalty to the king or the love of God was to both the Assyrians and the inquisitors. Many of them truly believed in their duties and thought that they were actually doing good things instead of evil ones. Now, scientists, corporate leaders, military leaders and politicians who support such experiments also believe that they are doing what is necessary and that there is no other way. Well… part of what progress is should be to try to find other ways.
If such justifications were valid, we would still have slavery instead of machinery because there was no way to replace human labour with mechanical devices prior to the industrial revolution (See Slave Traders), but machines finally came, so abolition wasn't in the end an impossibility or a catastrophic proposition.
It is true to say that in our society, as it stands today, we cannot simply let the animals go because we still need them for food and other necessities, but we have to make a difference between what is necessary by nature - i.e. eating the indispensable - from what is superfluous like cosmetics, sports hunting and even gourmet food and what shouldn't be done, plain and simple, including experiments with weapons suing animals as test subjects or targets. The way in which we treat animals is the way in which we really are because we do what we do without inhibitions.
A few months after the financial crisis that infected the world during 2008 and 2009, new talk about economic growth and economic recovery is appearing in the news, but only taking into account the numbers offered by the same governments and financial institutions that were in fact the collective cause of the problem. Individuals and families that lost their homes because of due payments are scantly better and many lives have been shattered because our society followed a path of tolerating mortgage and real estate speculation up to a point in which people had to sell themselves in virtual slavery to pay unrealistic amounts. Some decades ago people could buy or build their homes without any sort of mortgage, so having the populace drowning in debt now in order to get just the same as before is not exactly progress, right? At the time in which our grandparents liven, debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars - or now, euros - belonged to the realm of serious gambling addicts. Could we say that having almost every citizen in a country entangled in debts as heavy as those suffered by addicts meant that our world is better now?
Real progress is something more vast than increasing the size of our economy, having new consumer electronic gadgets or antibiotics. Those things are fine, but too much of a good thing is also bad, so the first and foremost thing that we need to improve in order to attain real progress is our sense of proportion for the things we do and imagine.