top of page

Jordi Pigem: “The world that we have built is hanging on by a thread. We have to get back to taking control of our lives, and that means redefining what progress means”.

Jordi Pigem The Protopia Lab

Jordi Pigem holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Barcelona, is an essayist and writer of several books, including Bona crisi: cap a un món postmaterialista, Àngels i robots. La interioritat humana en la societat hipertecnològica, Pandemia i postveritat. La vida, la consciència i la Quarta Revolució Industrial i Consciència i Col-lapse, que tot just ha vist la llum.

On 22 May, he will join as moderator of the seminar organised by The Protopia Lab, in which the British writer Mary Harrington will reflect on progress and on whether it is really a belief or a real and measurable fact. We discuss these and other issues with her below. 

You are one of the 135 signatories of the Westminster Declaration, which aims to promote free expression in today's society. A declaration signed by the likes of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Oliver Stone and Yanis Varoufakis, among others, but of which we haven't heard much... 

Indeed, in October last year an international declaration was made with, at present, 135 signatories, including well-known figures such as the aforementioned, and people such as Micha Narberhaus, founder of Protopia Lab, and myself. 

Although the signatories of the Westminster Declaration may have opposing views, we believe that we need to have a free and open debate, a fundamental pillar of democratic societies. But, unfortunately, we are approaching a one-size-fits-all society.... 

It happened, for example, with the Covid-19 crisis. If any scientist came out to say that bad decisions were being made about mass vaccination, they were silenced. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were even instructed not to spread messages about adverse effects of the vaccine even if they were true.

At the time of the Enlightenment, Kant made famous the Latin phrase ‘Sapere aude’, which means, ‘Dare to know’. That was one of the horizons of modern society, where people wanted to overcome superstition and know how things really were.

When governments say that there is only one opinion and that those who oppose it must be silenced, we have a big problem that translates into totalitarianism. We call for free debate, one of the demands also made by Protopia Lab.

Why do you think  public conversation has become so dysfunctional?

For some years now we have seen that public debate has been declining. Free expression is the basis of a free society, but there is more and more polarisation and a single discourse imposed by those in power.

Recently, The Global Disinformation Index has been published, which is presented as the world's first media ranking based on the risk of the media disseminating disinformation. But in reality, what this index does is to measure the extent to which certain publications move away from the dominant discourse...

We have to bring back the conversation, freely express our ideas and freely listen to the ideas of others, even if we don't agree. When there is no debate, there is more polarisation because we don't listen to what the other person really thinks and why they think so. When debate is replaced by short tweets, insults and personal disqualifications, it impoverishes culture and society. Debate on important issues should be encouraged. This is precisely the aim of The Protopia Lab with its ‘Protopia Conversations’.

Precisely, within the framework of the ‘Protopia Conversations’ The Protopia Lab is organising a seminar and a conference on progress on 22 and 23 May, in which you are participating with the British writer Mary Harrington. What topics will you be discussing?

Mary Harrington has a very critical perspective on the idea of progress. She wonders to what extent progress is a fact or just a belief. And she notes, as I have, that while we have made great progress in material things, physical comforts and technological prodigies, it is far from clear that our lives today are fuller, more relaxed, more cultured, more autonomous and creative.

When the new information technology revolution began, it was supposed to lead to a world of more autonomous and creative people. But, in most cases, it has led to a world of more trapped, hooked and dependent people, who lose their sense of direction if they only rely on applications like Google Maps. Therefore, it is very useful to have a calculator to calculate a square root, but if we delegate all functions to technology, we become disempowered.

The digital transformation has brought more knowledge dissemination, but even more control. At the same time, the knowledge that is disseminated is more of disconnected data than of true wisdom. It is not a question of going back to living like 20th century media, but of having a little sanity and seeing that there are technologies that lead us to progress, but also others that are at the service of large corporations and centres of power that make us more addicted and less autonomous. We need to ask ourselves if this is really progress, if we want to go this way.

We have to know how to choose what is best for us. This idea that we have to passively adapt to technology does not work, technology should be at our service. We need to take back the steering wheel of our lives, and taking the steering wheel means redefining what progress means.

Mary Harrington has given a lot of thought to this. In her book Feminism Against Progress, she explains that technological progress has not liberated most women, but has reified them even more, and gives examples such as surrogacy. According to Harrington, this so-called progress has left many women feeling emptier, less free and more uprooted than before. And this applies not only to women but to the population as a whole. This is precisely what we will be talking about on 22 and 23 May in the framework of the ‘Protopia Conversations’. 

In environmental matters, what should be the limits of progress?

Limits are set by nature itself. There are cycles in the biosphere that we cannot alter beyond a certain point without causing major ups and downs. Among the many forms of crisis that we have floating around us are potential ecological crisis zones.

And, the most serious is not C02 emissions, which are part of the metabolism of the biosphere, and nevertheless are where the focus has been placed. There are much more serious things like microplastics, and the hundreds of thousands of new substances we have produced since the industrial revolution, most of which are not easily compatible with the metabolism of the biosphere. There are already many scientific studies showing that this is a much more serious problem than CO₂ emissions, but it is not being talked about. In this line, all the talk about the Electric Vehicle hides the fact of the great environmental impact of its manufacture, and also silences the fact that most of the harmful CO₂ emissions from a vehicle do not come from the exhaust pipe but from tyre wear... Therefore, an Electric Vehicle as it weighs even more, wears out the tyres even more and has an even greater impact on the environment....

Is this what you talk about in your new book Consciousness or Collapse?

We are in a society where, arguably, the most important asset is people's ability to pay attention, to make sense of the world. But, unfortunately, this capacity is being greatly eroded by the impact of screens and the acceleration of today's world. We have much more data at our fingertips, but less awareness and wisdom. There are several forms of collapse that are faltering.

Common sense practices such as, for example, giving up one's seat to older people on the metro have been abandoned in a world where youthful energy takes over. It seems that the past is no longer of any use; there is no need to read the classics, only the future matters. It is not a question of anchoring ourselves in the past, but of finding a balance and taking advantage of the things of the past that worked, such as the classics of literature or art.

The world we have built is hanging by a thread more than ever. We have to know how to choose what works best for us. We have to take back the wheel of our lives, and taking the wheel means redefining what progress means.

In the book, I draw on a huge amount of neuroscience research over the last 20 years, which shows that the human mind has two forms. One, which is the algorithmic mind, which allows us to calculate and classify, and is very useful but which machines can do better, and the human part that has to do with ethical and aesthetic sensitivity, empathy and intuition, a form of knowledge that is much deeper than reasoning. And we are leaving all this aside because we are basing everything on technologies.

I invite you to attend the events organised by The Protopia Lab to continue reflecting on a subject that is as necessary as it is exciting.


bottom of page