This is taken from chapter III of Tolstoy’s A Confession,
“That faith took with me the common form it assumes with the majority of educated people of our day. It was expressed by the word, “progress.” It then appeared to me that this word meant something. I did not as yet understand that, being tormented (like every live man) by the question how it is best for me to live, in my answer, “live in conformity with progress,” I was replying as a man in a boat would do if when carried along by wind and waves he replied to what for him was the chief and only question. “whither to steer,” by saying, “we are being carried somewhere.”
I’ve been interrupted by this word, “progress” over my life. People would ask me, “don’t you want something better with your life?” And I always wondered, what do you mean by better? Better assumes good, can you tell me what is the good? The effective definition of progress is a product of the cultural ethos, and it changed between places and generations. People should more often stop to think and realize that this unexamined definition of progress carries their lives somewhere, and though it may seem to be a good place, that’s the ethos speaking and it doesn’t always tell the truth. The ethos informs our moral intuitions all the time, and in a world that is absolutely convinced that moral intuitions are authoritative the people will continue to mindlessly follow the ethos.
Tolstoy seems to realize that the fleeting satisfaction from progress and the universality of it. Intrinsic suffering isn’t a psychological disorder called depression, it is the inherent consequence of not seeking what is good. We seek things, they make us feel nice, and then it goes away because it is realized that they were meaningless. So we are not filled. Progress is a convention which doesn’t bare fruit. We all suffer because we are unwilling to seriously seek an answer to what the purpose of life is. Instead of engaging with this uncritically held assumption, we fall back on progress. It is the death of meaning and of us.