It is an impressive list—even if you factor in some formidably depressing data...
The trouble is that a belief in progress is more than a branch of accounting.
The books are never closed.
Wouldn't nuclear war or environmental catastrophe tip the balance into the red? And the accounts are full of blank columns.
How does the unknown bookkeeper reconcile such unknowable quantities as happiness and fulfillment across the ages?
Even if you show how miserable the past was, the belief in progress is about the future.
People born in the rich world today think they are due a modicum of health, prosperity and equality.
They advance against that standard, rather than the pestilence, beggary and injustice of serfdom.
The idea of progress has a long history, but it started to flower in the 17th century.
Enlightenment thinkers believed that man emancipated by reason would rise to ever greater heights of achievement.
The many manifestations of his humanity would be the engines of progress:
language, community, science, commerce, moral sensibility and government.
Unfortunately, many of those engines have failed.