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You can’t stop progress

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julie-Anne Hogbin.

Sustainable Lunch Provided. Free to attend.

“You can’t stop progress”, we are endlessly told. But what is meant by “progress”? What is “progress” toward? We are rarely told. Human flourishing? And a culture? That would be a good start / a good aim – but rarely seems a criterion for “progress”. (In fact, survival would be a good start…) Rather, “progress”, and similarly “growth”, is simply a process, that we are not allowed, apparently, to stop. Or rather: it would be futile to seek to stop it. So that we are seemingly-deliberately demoralised into giving up even trying. Questioning the myth of “progress”, and the arguably-concomitant myth of [economic] “growth”, and seeking to substitute for it the idea of real progress – progress which is actually assessed according to some independent not-purely-procedural criteria – is a vital thing to do, at this point in history. Literally: life, or at least civilisation, may depend on it. This move raises some difficulties for ‘the Left’ in politics: because it brings into question the catch-all understanding of Leftism as ‘progressive’. Or rather: it radically brings into question whether being ‘progressive’ is a good thing… Once we overcome the myth of “progress”, we can clear the ground for a real politics that would jettison the absurd hubris of liberalism and of most ‘Leftism’. And would jettison the extreme Prometheanism and lack of precaution endemic to our current pseudo-democratic technocracy. The challenge is to do so in a way that does not fall into complete pessimism or into an endorsement of (the untenable features of) conservatism. The challenge, in other words, is to generate an ideology or philosophy for our time, that might yet save us, and ensure that we are worth saving. This talk can then be heard as a kind of reading of Cambridge’s own Ludwig Wittgenstein’s crucial critical aphorism on this topic: “Our civilization is characterized by the word progress. Progress is its form rather than making progress being one of its features.”

This talk is part of the Global Sustainability Institute Seminars & Events series.

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