I just finished reading "Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia" by
John Gray which is quite persuasive in its argument and evidence - one interesting thing about the illusion of progress is that initial conditions matter so much - witness guns, health care and education work very differently in different cultures - so a lot of socio-politico-"science" is about bogo-hypotheses that are supposed to explain how one progresses (how a market or a welfare system operates etc). In reality, we can see from the examples that actually cultural pre-determination might be far more important -
for example, guns: there are as many guns as adults in switzerland and crete, yet gun related crime is virtually un heard of - the UK has some of the toughest antigun law in the world, and yet gun related crime is on the increase - would Gun Law in the US have a beneficial effect or not? i dont pretend to know.
for example, health care -the UK has one of the largest state run/funded free healthcare systems in the world (actually eyesight and teeth and prescriptions are no longer free, but so long as you dont need drugs, aren't short sighted, and are a descendant of slave trade, you're fine:) - some liberal countries (Denmark) leave it up to local decisions whether to have private or state provison of health-care - the state underwrites insurance for the poor, but refuses to pay unreasonable prices - since there are a lot of poor, the state is the biggest customer and gets to have good control of both private and state provided health-care seems to work - what doesn't work is America but i dont see why. I dno t pretend to me Michael Moore (is he related to dickless brit sci fi writer?)
for example, education - private education in the UK is increasing in price at 12% per year in the last 5 years - despite competing against a state system that is improving, and universities that bias against private school kids - no i can;t explain it - its cultural -
the point about these (and I could say a lot more about each and how they operate in practice in many other cultures differently) is that there is no evidence of "progress" towards some improved (asymptotically platonic ideal) state - there's just a bunch of different systems which operate well or badly, and yet what determines which operate well or badly is outside the scope of any traditional "explanations" offered - its arbitrary - its pragmatic, dummy