Futuribles Journal n° 304

Économie, emploi - Société, modes de vie

Values and Knowledge

André-Yves Portnoff argues here that how far societies evolve depends closely on the values they hold and their ability to change. He takes as his starting point the example of the current Italian reluctance to adopt modern medical techniques such as the use of peridurals in childbirth, and recalls that the Roman Empire declined because of a "cultural and mental block". Drawing on various scientific and historical studies, he shows how the Empire "condemned itself" by clinging to "regressive" values, especially the preference for relying on a cheap and abundant labour force (slavery), rather than on innovation and investments in intangible resources as a basis for technical progress that might have allowed the Romans to start an industrial revolution well ahead of time.
By above all holding onto the status quo (preserving their leading position which they thought was at its height), the Romans forgot an important principle: it is impossible to make progress or to survive for long if one cannot imagine a better future. This is even more true if one does not mobilize the intelligence of everyone to do so...

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