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Impulse for a fresh and open debate in our first event of the series “The Protopia Conversations” in Barcelona

Nearly a hundred people attend the talk with Mary Harrington to inquire about the worldview of progress

The conference with the British writer and thinker Mary Harrington, held on 23 May at the Ateneu Barcelonès, was a success in terms of attendance and a first impulse for a fresh and plural debate on some of the essential questions of our society.

Under the title ‘Is progress a belief or a fact?’, Mary Harrington questioned the strongly rooted idea in the Western world that the arc of history is bent towards progress, towards a better future: "I don't mean that nothing ever gets better, nor do I mean that everything gets worse in some way or that nothing ever changes", she said.

The central argument of her talk was that if we take into account all the costs and benefits of the great technological, economic and social changes of the last few centuries, it is far from clear that things have improved in any absolute sense for most people.

Mary pointed out that "most of humanity, for most of its history, has not believed in the idea of progress" and referred to historian Christopher Lasch, according to whom progress is "a secularised version of the Christian belief in Providence". He argued that it is characteristically Christian to see history in linear terms, only secularised Christian history renounces death, judgement, heaven and hell, so that the only option left is to try to realise heaven, on earth, in history.

In his talk and subsequent conversation with philosopher Jordi Pigem, the two talked at length about the role of technology in our progressive vision and how, despite all the talk about how technology can solve our environmental problems, the environment is only getting worse, so "we should realise that our faith in technological progress does not make paradise on earth a reality".

You can read the full speech here:


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