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"Is progress a belief or a fact?"

A talk with Mary Harrington on 23 May 2024 in Barcelona (+ seminar 22 May)

In this first talk in our series The Protopia Conversations, British writer and feminist Mary Harrington asks a provocative question: "Are all the things we do under the banner of progress really making our lives better?"

In the Western world, there is a strong notion that the arc of history bends towards progress, towards a better future. Since the Enlightenment, our societies have undergone very rapid technological, economic and social change. Particularly since the 1960s, we have despised the traditions of the past and sought to remove all restrictions imposed by custom, religion and popular prejudice that might have stood in the way of individual rights and freedoms.

But more and more people are questioning this story. The rise of the populist right across the Western world is a manifestation of this discontent. Faith in liberal democracy is waning; young people, left and right, are increasingly turning to authoritarianism. Trust in institutions such as the media, universities and the family is declining rapidly. Christian affiliation is plummeting and birth rates are at historic lows, especially in secular societies. At the same time, the global economic machine we have created is destroying the very ecological foundations on which human life on earth depends.

Harrington argues that progress is a belief, not a fact, and that we need to have more honest conversations about what the good life is, what changes in society can support the good life, and whether respecting our natural limits and setting limits are necessary means of protecting the common good and the good life.

About the speaker:

Mary Harrington is one of the most thought-provoking and intellectually rigorous writers of our time. She is a columnist and editor for UnHerd and runs her own weekly Substack Reactionary Feminist.

Harrington describes herself as a reactionary feminist. She uses "reactionary" in recognition that "progress" in its current form is waging war on human nature. It sees "freedom" best served by reframing embodied men and women as atomised, de-sexed, fungible and interchangeable "humans" composed of disembodied "identity" plus body parts that can be rearranged at will, like meat LEGOs. She uses "feminism" in recognition of the fact that the proposal to atomise, de-sex and remodel "people" has profoundly negative effects on women. Feminism Against Progress is her first book.

Thanks to The Protopia Lab, on 22 and 23 May, Harrington visits Barcelona for a seminar and an evening talk with the title “Is progress a belief or a fact?”.

How to join:

The talk on 23 May

The big event with Mary Harrington will take place on 23rd May at the Ateneu Barcelonès (near Plaza Catalunya, Carrer Canuda 6). 18.30 to 20.00. We will be inviting participants to join us for a drink in the courtyard of the Ateneu after the event. The event will be held in English, but we will provide simultaneous translation into Catalan for this event. Catalan philosopher Jordi Pigem will join and facilitate the conversation.

The seminar on 22 May

We will also be holding a small seminar (max. 20 participants) with Mary Harrington on the 22nd of May, also at the Ateneu Barcelonès (Carrer Canuda 6), from 18:00 - 21:30. The seminar will be held in English. There will be a break at which time a light snack will be provided. This seminar is aimed at participants who would like to explore Mary Harrington's ideas in more depth and in a participatory way. Catalan philosopher Jordi Pigem will join and co-facilitate the conversation.


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