I present here a very simple and not very original thesis: PROGRESS, as the summit project of the species, IS EXHAUSTED. For many decades, many humans have had this quite clear, and more and more are added every day to this opinion. But, apparently, this intellectual conviction does not produce the desired effects, it seems to be only the equivalent of a few buckets of clean water thrown into a huge pool of dirty water.
The thesis continues with the conviction that this is happening because, despite the exhaustion, the project has a lot of inertia, mainly because for many humans it is still projected into the future with guarantees of success, it still generates a very powerful confidence. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, he is accompanied by many secondary projects that reinforce this inertia and are not being questioned too much.
In reality, this thesis conceives the progress as a project started by the movement we call Enlightenment, but at the same time has some autonomy with respect to the humans who believe that they manage it and on which it acts. This autonomy has been granted by the power of language, and it has been possible because humans are not yet fully aware of this power and, therefore, do not control it.
The hypothesis advocated by this author is that the solution, if there is any, involves the replacement of the project of progress with a better one and at least equivalent strength. That is to say, metaphorically speaking, progress itself is waiting for a replacement that corrects its defects and guides Western civilization -and, with it, the human species-, in a direction that can, more or less, guarantee our future in the medium and long term.
The hypothesis is completed with a concrete proposal: that the project substitute for progress will be centered on the concept of RETROPROGRESS, created and developed by the philosopher Salvador Pániker. The main advantages of this proposal are several. The first is that the notion of retroprogress breaks the unilinear nature of progress, in a unique way into the future, in a certain sense almost a fatal destiny.
The second is that it does so by focusing on what Pániker called the “critical process”, that is, in a continuous debate in which the objective is not to win over others but to test the real viability and meaning of collective projects.
And the third, and not the least, is that the retroprogress does not start from zero, but takes advantage of the work done by progress and continues it, incorporating a security device that now doesn’t have, and that allows it to reorient itself if necessary. Because we are not following a previously traced path, since, as the poet said, there are no roads, but trails in the sea.
Precisely because of this, and following Alan Watts, and despite the fact that the sign of the times seems to claim otherwise, there is no hurry: in this task we can take as much time as necessary. This author maintains that the positive results of such an apparently paradoxical attitude can be pleasant and surprisingly fast.
And he also proposes to follow the advice that Henry David Thoreau gave in Walden, that of “sinking our feet through the mud of opinions and prejudices and tradition and deception and appearance, that flood that covers the planet; through Paris and London, New York, Boston and Concord; through the Church and the State, poetry, philosophy and religion; until we reach the hard bottom, the rocks, what we can call reality. And to be able to say: this is, without error.”
Despite his efforts and achievements, not even Thoreau managed to reach that much desired bottom. And almost two centuries later this author has come to the conviction that the path for the humanity to reach it will still be long. Here he only exposes a possible change of course.
This change of direction is based on Pániker’s proposal, and also incorporates what the paradigm of complex systems has consolidated since he conceived it. A paradigm that, rather than replacing anything, what it is doing is completing what was incomplete, due to the unbalanced properties of the ideal of progress.
In other words, it does not in any way mean going backwards, as the prefix “retro-” might suggest, but rather gaining momentum in order to overcome the blockade in which humanity is as a civilization, not only because of climate change, but in general by the adjustment it has to do with the biosphere in which it was born and on which it depends entirely. In this sense, climate change is possibly only the first major warning of the need to tackle this pending work.
Josep Maria Camps Collet