A Tough Question
Tempus42, as is his wont, asks a really tough question in the comments to an earlier post: Is the natural state of man to be progressive and striving toward improvement, or to lead a semi-civilized subsistence existence? Is the U.S. an aberration?
Now without going into Max Weber or really giving it some serious thought like Victor David Hanson, I came up with a few thoughts.
What you see above is a picture of the Inner Prop and I at an exercise in Ukraine in 2003. The Ukrainians we met were decent enough people, not really much different from us - except that they lived in a crap strewn, quasi-despotic country. The Almighty had seen fit to bless Ukraine with great natural wealth - but the scum at the top of the quasi-despotism felt a sense of entitlement to all of it. The people lived under one law - who can, may.
The very next year, while 'Prop and I were in Afghanistan, the Ukrainian regime tried the same old tricks as always with the elections of 2004. What happened next became known as the Orange Revolution. What the regime did was nothing new in that part of the world - but the people acted quite differently. Why? In a word, communication.
The Ukrainians had satellite TV to see news and life in free countries. The Ukrainians had internet access (and blogs too) and all the access to information that entails. The Ukrainians had cell phones - yes, cell phones. How did that matter? When you are angry and boiling, but don't know if anyone else is feeling the same - would you go occupy the central square of Kiev? But if you can call or e-mail all sorts of friends and relatives, you may find you are much less than alone. Not only that, you can get others to go along. And one million or so Ukrainians end up in central Kiev, the regime crumbles and progress becomes possible.
The US isn't necessarily an aberration - but we are the elephant in the living room. You just can't miss us. Australia is another, more regional example of how freedom and progress are intertwined. You can also point to Japan or certain European nations (Netherlands, Britain, etc.).
I am optimistic in the sense that people in crap strewn despotisms can more and more see the US (Australia, etc.), and what life is like when the droit de seignuer types aren't running rampant. Hence the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Kyrgyz first steps toward a modern, liberal (small "l") state. Sometimes people like 'Prop and I have to go help - ie. Afghanistan and Iraq. But the people there have shown that they rather enjoy being free and will try to rise above the semi-civilized, subsistence existence.
I know others have been more eloquent about this - and more organized in their thoughts. When I can, I'll post links to them. I just wanted to toss a couple of thoughts in m'self.