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The Theory of Nonprogress

The Theory of Nonprogress - the persistence of or return to simple or suboptimal forms

Progress often falters. Regress or stasis wins out. The primitive or inefficient carries on. Winners often stagnate or petrify.

Advance leads to retreat, gain brings about loss, and strength begets weakness.

Overdevelopment in one area leads to underdevelopment in another.



1. A number of European nations achieved wealth and power in the 1800s. Secure populations grew flaccid and ridiculous. Examples of decadence include Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Baudelaire, and Robert de Montesquiou (pictured above).

At present, the wealthier elements in North America and Europe and Japan seem to lack basic survival skills.


2. The Persian Gulf monarchies have suffered from the curse of abundant natural resources. Oil has brought enormous wealth and built skyscrapers in the desert but has also hollowed out the rest of the economy.

Link: What Dutch disease is, and why it's bad

Quote: 97 developing countries with a high ratio of natural-resource exports to GDP had low growth rates during the 1970s and 1980s. And when the commodities run out, there will be little left to sustain an economy.


3. Rich parents may coddle their children and produce feckless and flabby adults who can't do anything on their own.


4. Jellyfish are some of the simplest and oldest animals on earth. The box jellyfish is able to survive because it possesses a superpower - possibly the most potent venom found in nature. Another animal to possess this superpower is the poison dart frog, also among the most toxic animals on earth. Frogs are some of the most primitive and ancient animals still in existence to have colonized the land. Frogs date back to the early Triassic.

See: Seeing the Woods for the Trees: Understanding Venom Evolution as a Guide for Biodiscovery

Other examples: chimaeras, rays, centipedes, spiders, scorpions, sea anemones


5. Spain grabbed tons of gold and silver from Native Americans, but did all this treasure make Spain rich in the long term? All this wealth led to inflation and the collapse of the Spanish economy.

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6. The platypus is one of the most primitive mammals and one of the few mammals to possess venom. Other ancient mammals like solenodons and shrews also are venomous. Again a special advantage allows primitive forms to survive.


7. Roman power led to decadence and decline. Roman decay began at the top and eventually permeated the whole body of state. From Caligula & Nero down to Heliogabalus the Roman Empire sank deeper and deeper.

See Juvenal


8. The horseshoe crab is a living fossil that has survived so long because of its powerful immune system.


9. China's size and success and isolation allowed it to fossilize. China was for centuries one of the largest and wealthiest countries in the world. The civilized world from the Atlantic to the Bay of Bengal was linked together, but China - blocked by deserts and the highest mountains on earth - was mostly alone. China then became resistant to change. Secure societies tend to ossify.


10. Bacteria are procaryotes - the oldest and most primitive living things on earth. Yet the accumulated biomass of the world's bacteria exceeds the biomass of all the plants and animals put together!

See: The Spandrels of San Marcos and the Panglossian Paradigm

See also: Evolution of the army ant syndrome: The origin and long-term evolutionary stasis of a complex of behavioral and reproductive adaptations

Ghosts of Evolution

Beware the Whig interpretation of history. Progress is not inevitable and modern man is maybe not as flawless as he believes.

Here's Ibn Khaldun's cyclical theory of history: Ibn Khaldun, 'Abd al-Rahman (1332-1406) Ibn Khaldun describes how uncorrupted nomads establish empires. These nomads then are degraded and weakened by luxury and replaced.

In the end the simple and uncorrupted persevere.

Maybe God, like many great artists, has a bias toward simplicity.

See also: Idea of Progress

Universal truths

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