There is No Such Thing as Absolute Progress

“We need to be aware of the fact that there is no such thing as absolute progress, that every time we add something to our world, we take something away as well. It’s the Eastern notion of balance, of yin and yang, at play: Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. Life does not by definition only get better when someone invents a new phone or car or facial cream, even if that phone makes it easier to talk to someone thousands of miles away, or the car makes it easier to go see people, or get away from them, or the cream dissolves wrinkles like magic. It doesn’t work like that. We pay a price: for everything we add, we lose something. The question then becomes: what do we value most. But that’s a question we never ask: we see everything new as an addition to our lives, and ignore what gets taken away from us.”

Quoted from: The Price We Pay For Progress, The Automatic Earth.

Reveal the Infrastructure

Designer Gauthier Roussilhe:

“People seem to be living in a techno-fantasy dream. Mostly because they don’t understand the infrastructure on which it is relying. Eventually, the physical world with its energy limits and planetary boundaries will catch up with these dreams. I’ve been dedicating a lot of time in conferences and workshops explaining to people why autonomous cars will not be possible. Once you open the black box and reveal the infrastructure, people understand what is behind their dreams. You can break the spell, even in the French start-up scene.”

Read more: Can you design a website on a (very) limited energy budget? An interview with Gauthier Roussilhe, We Make Money Not Art.

I’m not optimistic, but that doesn’t make me a pessimist

Environmental scientist Giorgos Kallis in Knowable Magazine:

“We know there were civilizations that flourished in periods where they did not necessarily expand economically. Greece in the classical period would be an example. And many civilizations tried to put limits on how much money an individual could accumulate, or how much money you can lend, or interest rates. We have examples where we know society tried to limit and tame this self-perpetuating character of growth. And we know there are societies that flourished without having constant growth.”

“The easy but stupid critique to that is, “Oh, you want us to go back and be like hunter-gatherers or live like the Romans?” No, that’s not the point. We’re not saying look at how other civilizations are better, we’re saying let’s study other civilizations to get ideas about how things could potentially work differently in our society”.

Do you think we’ll get this figured out in time?

“I’m not optimistic. To think that tomorrow people will wake up and come to their senses and realize that climate change is a huge problem and economic growth is unnecessary, and take action on that? No, I don’t think this will happen. But this doesn’t make me a pessimist. History has always been dire. I don’t think I’d be better off living 100 years ago, having two world wars in front of me, or facing famines. History never stops, and constantly there’s a moment of fighting for things to be better.”

“The last 200 years, we lived in a capitalist society where growth is fundamental for the stability of the system. Maybe there is no alternative, and the only way is to have growth. If this is becoming catastrophic, what do we do? Do we bow our heads to catastrophe, to disaster, or can we think outside of that? We know that we humans are very inventive. Why can’t we think of alternatives? Why is this the only thing where we can’t think differently?”

Smart Technology is a Solution Looking for a Problem

iabR Hans tak

Picture by Hans Tak, International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2016

Technologies like driverless cars and smart heating systems could end up making cities dysfunctional according to Maarten Hajer, chief curator of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2016. Speaking at an opening event for the biennale, Hajer called for architects and designers to stop treating the advent of smart technologies as inevitable, and to question whether they will solve any problems at all.

“People with lots of media force pretend to know exactly what the future will look like, as if there is no choice,” he said. “I’m of course thinking about self-driving vehicles inevitably coming our way.” Discussions about the future of cities are at risk of being “mesmerised” by technology, he added. “We think about big data coming towards us, 3D printing demoting us, or the implication of robots in the sphere of health, as if they are inevitabilities. My call is for us to think about what we want from those technological advances.”

“I have nothing against good technology, it’s wonderful, but you always want social problems to be the priority. If it doesn’t help us get CO2 down, if it doesn’t help us make cities more socially inclusive, if it doesn’t help us make meaningful work, I’m not interested in smart technology. Sometimes I think: “if smart technology is the solution, then what was the problem again?”

Read the full interview at Dezeen. Thanks to Anne-Marie Pronk.

Deschooling Society

Quoted from: Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich, 1972:

We cannot begin a reform of education unless we first understand that neither individual learning nor social equality can be enhanced by the ritual of schooling. We cannot go beyond the consumer society unless we first understand that obligatory public schools inevitably reproduce such a society, no matter what is thaught in them…

deschooling societySchool initiates the Myth of Unending Consumption. This modern myth is grounded in the belief that process inevitably produces something of value and, therefore, production necessarily produces demand. School teaches us that instruction produces learning. The existence of schools produces the demand for schooling. Once we have learned to need school, all our activities tend to take the shape of client relationships to other specialized institutions.

Once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all nonprofessional activity is rendered suspect. In school we are thaught that valuable learning is the result of attendance; that the value of learning increases with the amount of input; and, finally, that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates.

In fact, learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being “with it”, yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.

Once a man or woman has accepted the need for school, he or she is easy prey for other institutions. Once young people have allowed their imaginations to be formed by curricular instruction, they are conditioned to institutional planning of every sort. “Instruction” smothers the horizon of their imagination.

So you want us all to go back to the Stone Age?

The word “back” is a trick. It implies a magical absolute direction of change. Suppose you go to your job, and when you get ready to leave, your boss says, “So you want to go back to your house? Don’t you know you can never go back? You can only go forward, to working for me even more, ha ha ha!” Really, all motion is forward, and forward motion can go in any direction we choose, including to places we’ve been before.

Ran Prieur in his Critique of Civilization FAQ.