logo4 Evolution is progress—                          
progress is creativity.        

Definition and measurement of social progress

Let's suppose social evolutionists don't accept the narrow definition of evolution applied by some evolutionary biologists who consider mere genetic change, such as diversification, as evolution. Let's assume social evolution is widely accepted as involving social progress, still a clear definition of what social progress entails is found lacking. However, that's of crucial importance. All discussions about social evolution hinge with the very definition of progress. No theory of social progress can be proved or refuted without a clear definition. Any purportedly scientific discussion downgrades to a mere ideological debate if allowed such a shaky ground. Newspapers and the blogosphere are full such combats of sentiments. The fauceir concept if applied to social evolution requires as always a clear definition of progress, which will be given here.

The discussion of principles of social progress is divided into trivial and abstract principles. The former are those that are commonly taken for progress. They are more or less obvious, but the easier to measure the less precisely mirroring progress. The latter are those that require more sophisticated fauceir analysis. Dividing the whole process of evolutionary progress into small more easily measurable sub-fauceirs is a tempting idea but requires well founded concept of how the sub-fauceirs have to be combined. Different mathematical combinations of the same measurements may lead to confusing and even contradicting results. And as ever ideology plays a key role.

Trivial principles

In common public perception, the concept of social progress includes

  1. simple size: nation -> number of its members or extent of territory
  2. quantity of output : economy -> production
  3. quality of products
  4. people quality: intelligence, moral (peace), living standards
  5. art and science: abstract results of human thought
  6. heterogeneity
  7. prosperity: the ability to economic growth
  8. adaptability: the ability to cope with complicating environmental factors or disasters.

Size parameter

Size is a good parameter to describe the level of social evolution. Throughout social evolution there is a good correlation between the size of a nation and its level of social evolution. Size may be measured in the number of population but also the extent of territory.

There are but drawbacks of using this parameter to estimate the present level of evolution. As we know from history empires grew and collapsed.

Economic parameters

Economic parameters include quality and quantity of production, both correlate well with a nations level of evolution. But as this is true for the long run many exceptions exist.

The mere increase of quantity of output causes overproduction which can lead to crises which hardly can be called an extremely height level of evolution.

Also the quality of output might be height in some instances, however, if it does not translate into benefits for many people, it is not social evolution.

Examples are height quality products that were produced for only a small number of people (mostly the nobility), or products of mere ideological value (pyramids, moon landing).

People qualities

Other scientists use parameter measured in the people to calculate the level of intelligence. Those qualities include: intelligence, education, living standards, and moral and ethical standards.

Those qualities are usually difficult to measure, and even more controversial is to cross evaluate them. Who can say which of these qualities is more import living standard or education. Can a higher moral countervail poor living conditions?

Abstractness of thinking

Abstractness is a quality of human intellectual abilities. As those qualities evolve with communication only they may serve a valuable parameter of the level of social evolution. But they are even more difficult to measure. Even if the abstractness of a language can be measured by the vocabulary, the body of words does not say anything about its usage in communication, and usage in communication in turn says nothing about the products of thought: scientific discoveries or masterpieces of art, literature and music.


This quality measure is favored by Spencer as it is so ubiquitous a measure of progress in nature from physics all the way through chemistry and biology up to society. And as a matter of fact. By social progress societies become more heterogeneous. But again heterogeneity is a proxy only which can be easily demonstrated by a thought experiment. If you compose a heterogeneous society by borrowing people from all nations and all professions it would not automatically mean that this society is more advanced. On the contrary many people fear, and there is empirical evidence for that, that increasing ethnic heterogeneity rather diminishes the level of social evolution.


Prosperity of all the criteria listed above is the first dynamic measure. If a nation is prosperous, if it improves rapidly over the next years, it is most likely that this nation has reached a height level of social evolution. However a nation may be prosperous because of natural resources only or colonies from where the wealth is pumped. Prosperity can be compared only if nations work under equal conditions. Moreover it takes a long period of time to measure because instant economic parameters, as the increase in GDP, vary widely.


Adaptability is my favored. Again, as heterogeneity, it works throughout nature. It best correlates with all proxies of social progress and it assures long time survival through competitiveness, creativity, and prosperity. If only it were easier to measure. Though recovery from crises, natural disasters or war give some faint impression about adaptability, it is hard to compare nations by that criterion, as those events hit differently worldwide, and of course it is unethical to intentionally induce such human disasters for measuring purposes.

The only solution to that problem is to develop proxies of adaptability that can be measured more easily. Efforts in that direction have been made for centuries, the accomplishment however are fiercely debated ideological issues. Every party, every social group favors measures that allow to propagate their particular group interests. Be it the bank sector, the governmental officials, the academic employees, the worker unions, the almighty bureaucracy, religious organizations or many many others, all of them deny to see the greater picture. All are blinded by ideology.

Abstract principles

The abstract approach is to divide a social process into sub processes and measure and analyze each of them separately. Rudimentary, such attempts already exist. (At this point it is worth mentioning that rudimentary is not the precise word here. The German word Anlage which is also used in English embryology is a better fitting term). As discussed in the previous chapter measuring economic parameters or school performance are among those.

Still the synthesis of data so distinct requires an extremely abstract concept that allows to compare objects and processes so different by only a few properties in common. Also it requires an impartial abstract concept that is unbiased by ideological pressure. Fauceir theory provides such a platform.

The main challenges when synthesizing social evolution data are as follows:

  1. The composition of sub-fauceirs is different at each stage of social evolution.
  2. The direction of enslavement or the actual fauceir hierarchy has to be considered.
  3. The dynamism has to be taken into account as measurements only collect snapshot data.


As a byproduct of evolution the composition of a social fauceir changes, an effect that Spencer calls increasing heterogeneity. It is in fact an increasing complexity by an increasing number of sub-fauceirs. The interactions of these fauceirs create new fauceirs, so it would be simplest way to measure evolutionary progress by counting the sub-fauceirs, if they ever were countable. Countable are only groups of fauceirs at a certain level of complexity. Everything else can be statistically estimated only.

For the same token, only social fauceir at the same level of evolution (complexity) can be compared by simply counting the same sub-fauceirs. For instance, at the transition from slavery to feudalism, the more liberal society, in Europe the number of Christians provides a fairly good account for social progress. On the other hand further on the ladder of social evolution, at the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the even more liberal society, the number of Christian fundamentalists is rather a parameter of backwardness.


Among fauceirs there is a perpetual competition about who enslaves whom. Usually we call the enslavement of a less advanced fauceir by an advanced one progress while the opposite is called parasitism.

If a proper judgment of social progress is to be achieved, enslavement therefore have to be considered in the context of social complexity. For instance, the enslavement of religion by the secular power (king, government, state etc.) was a progress in respect to control social cooperation and hierarchy, but to employ the same enslavement by the same powers to control science would be so backward that all enlightened people would call it outright ridiculous.

An other for ideological reasons more controversial example is the enslavement of economy by government. The government is the less advanced fauceir compared to economy, so it must fail if it tinkers to control economy, and it failed everywhere in socialism, and it is about to drive into a graver crisis in all control-capitalism countries.


If measuring adaptability, it becomes obvious that a disaster stimulates evolution of fauceirs that counter the adverse effects. Thus the next disaster will have a less deleterious effect. Such adaptations for instance occur after natural disasters, the development of a tsunami warning system for instance.

In physics counter measures are often successful, but not always as we still do not have a proper earth quake warning system. Our knowledge about earth quakes and measuring devices are insufficient at the moment to cope with all uncertainties. The problem is even more prominent with economic problems where the knowledge of economists is even more patchy or completely obscured by ideology. Not surprising then that solutions are sought in ancient less advanced fauceirs as is the economic control by government which was the hallmark of feudalism.

Those flaws regularly lead to fauceir deaths. The dismantling of non-functional earth quake warning systems or repeal of governmental regulations of the economy or, if for ideological reasons government insists on these rules, a revolution, the death of the government itself. The latter was observed in Eastern Europe recently when socialism came down.

Although death rates of fauceir mirror dynamism of a social fauceir it can not be evaluated and properly interpreted without taking into account fauceir hierarchy. If death occurs among the highest fauceirs most frequently it is probably a symptom of parasitism and cannot be considered progressive. For instance if in a nation bureaucracy thrives while economic enterprises suffer and bankrupt, usually nobody would consider this advantageous, save the bureaucrats.

Tags: Anthropology Economy Religion Society Theory

Categories: Sociology


(c) Mato Nagel, Weißwasser 2004-2013, Disclaimer