So, how do we know what is true in today’s world? The answer is with great difficulty; and by being sceptical, tolerant, open-minded, vigilant, and determined.
Progress is entirely incommensurable with precaution, with a ‘No’ to recklessness. It’s time to say enough to progress and begin to reorient our political narratives around a precautionary logic.
The work on progress indicators is all well and good, especially in challenging the political priority given to GDP. However, over the years I have grown more sceptical of the possibility of measuring, accurately and fully, the state of nations and the wellbeing of their people.
How we think about progress governs what we do every day. The dominant notions of progress, however, are driving us to ruin even when they are deployed to help us address the critical environmental problems of our day.
The age of Enlightenment ushered in progress and left it anchored in our political and economic consciousness. From that moment on, technology has emerged as the key, unique and universal solution to all of our problems. This, coupled with the unprecedented rate of acceleration we are experiencing in today’s world, means that industrial revolutions are occurring before we’ve even had time to assimilate their characteristics and consequences.
I believe Pinker’s mechanical understanding of environmental problems in the age of climate change and massive species loss to be irresponsible. We need to counter Pinker’s view with a broader understanding of what our relationship to nature and to each other has been within the context of Western “progress.”
Global politics is based on an outmoded and increasingly destructive model of human progress and development. Can science change a dire situation?
The basic point is that despite our contemporary post-socialist tendency to counterpose ‘the market’ of the capitalist economy with ‘the state’, capitalist development has always been a state project, albeit in partnership with private actors. Without the state, there’d certainly be no capitalism, and probably not even all that much of a ‘market’ in the sense of places where people come together to buy and sell goods.
It’s a curious thing, this attempt of mine to make sense of the future by understanding what’s happened in the past. One of the most curious things about it, at least to me, is the passion with which so many people insist that this isn’t an option at all.
Our narrator spends his last few hours in the Lakeland Republic, finds an answer to a question that has been bothering him, and boards the train back to Pittsburgh and the unknowns that wait there…
…I’m going to spend this week’s post summarizing the the decline and fall of industrial civilization.
To suggest that faith in progress has become the most widely accepted civil religion of the modern industrial world, as I’ve done in these essays, is to say something at once subtler and more specific than a first glance might suggest. It’s important to keep in mind, as I pointed out in last week’s post, that “religion” isn’t a specific thing with a specific definition; rather, it’s a label for a category constructed by human minds—an abstraction, in other words, meant to help sort out the blooming, buzzing confusion of the cosmos into patterns that make some kind of sense to us.