Progress as Changing Patterns of Dependence

Progress. Hardly any word describes better what is special about the last 200-250 years of human history. Up to then, technological, economic, social progress was scarce, the European Medieval was characterized rather by regress, for instance. But then, then came the Great Transformation, the Industrial Revolution, and changed everything. Today, it is clear to (almost) everyone that the pursuit of progress is what defines humanity, even though it is not the whole definition. Yes, we have difficulties when it comes to agreeing on what progress is. But we mostly identify progress, at least implicitly, with technological progress – all the nice innovations, not necessarily technical in a narrow sense, but also e.g. institutional, that make us less dependent on nature. This is, indeed, what defines social progress in the end – our ability to overcome scarcities and obstacles “created” by nature, be it with regard to natural resources for production, be it our psyche. When it comes to the former, however, it may be argued that we do not really become less dependent – we only change the source of dependence. Continue reading

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The Myth of Decoupling

It is something probably every junkie dreams of – to be able to keep taking drugs and feeling free, careless or just high, but without all the unpleasant side-effects like health issues, financial ruin, destroyed social networks etc. This, however, is illusion and no reasonable person would deny that it is. It is therefore astonishing how many otherwise reasonable persons fall prey to this illusion with regard to the great societal addiction – economic growth. They invoke the idea of decoupling GDP growth from resource use, environmental pollution and the like. But decoupling growth has nothing to do with reality, it is a myth. Continue reading

Where Does Technological Progress Lead – Ancient Greece or “Beggars in Spain”?

Ancient Greek polis are often thought to be the ideal form of participative democracy and vital cultural life of a society. Political discussions, philosophy, science and arts – male Greeks enjoyed a real “highlife” that many in the educated “elites” of today dream of. However, to engage in politics, arts, philosophy and science, one needs a significant amount of free time. Indeed, Greek vivid public life rested on a peculiar foundation: slaves. Greek citizens were free of doing most of the less pleasant (but necessary) work like washing, cleaning, production of simple everyday-use goods etc. Therefore they had lots of time to visit the Agora or the Amphitheatre. Continue reading