Cult of Progress

What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life.

— Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1967)

The idea of progress is a secular version of the Christian belief in providence. In science, the growth of knowledge is cumulative. But human life as a whole is not a cumulative activity; what is gained in one generation may be lost in the next. A view of the world is not something that can be conjured up as and when we please. Once gone, traditional ways of life cannot be retrieved.

Today, only science supports the myth of progress. Science gives us a sense of progress that ethical and political life cannot. Philosophy has been a masked ball in which a religious image of humankind is renewed in the guise of humanist ideas of progress and enlightenment. In the Middle Ages, philosophy gave an intellectual scaffolding to the Church; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it served the myth of progress.

— John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (2002)


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2 thoughts on “Cult of Progress

  1. Isis

    Hi Cris,

    Do you happen to be familiar with John Michael Greer’s blog, the Archdruid Report ( At the moment, Greer is in the middle of a series on what he calls the religion of progress. I thought you might be interested! (And BTW, he is an actual Archdruid, it’s not just the name of the blog. 😉 )

  2. Cris Post author

    I was not aware of Greer’s blog but I find it fascinating on a number of levels. Thanks for sharing.

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