The Roots of Progress

Announcing The Techno-Humanist Manifesto

A new philosophy of progress for the 21st century

The picnic of the future

Humans are a curious species: We have a need not only to do, but to explain what we are doing—to each other and above all to ourselves. Movements begin with practice, but as they evolve, they need theory in order to maintain the coherence needed to change the world. Providing this is the role of what Joel Mokyr calls the “cultural entrepreneur,” whose function is “formulating a coherent doctrine that the followers can all accept as the consensus central message.”

The progress movement needs such a doctrine, and it has long been my intention to offer one. Years ago I thought that I would write a comprehensive history first, as the empirical foundation for philosophy. But the need for the doctrine has become too pressing, and I’ve decided that it cannot wait.

I am now writing a book laying out my philosophy of progress: The Techno-Humanist Manifesto. And you’ll be able to read it here, one essay at a time.

“Techno-humanism” is what I am calling that philosophy, a worldview founded on humanism and agency. It is the view that science, technology, and industry are good—not in themselves, but because they ultimately promote human well-being and flourishing. In short, it is the view that material progress leads to human progress.

The purpose of the book is to present a moral defense of material progress, and a framework the progress movement can use to understand what we are doing and why. It will present a bold, ambitious vision of a future that we want to live in and will be inspired to build. It will acknowledge, even embrace, the problems of progress, and point towards solutions. And it will show how progress can become not only a practical but a moral ideal—giving us a goal to strive for, a heroic archetype to emulate, and a responsibility to live up to.

This book is first and foremost for the scientists, engineers, and founders who create material progress and who are seeking to understand the moral meaning of their work. It is also for intellectuals, storytellers, and policy makers, to inform and inspire their thinking and writing. More broadly, it is for everyone in the progress movement, and for anyone who is curious to learn what we are about.

I am going to serialize the book on this blog and on Substack, publishing the first draft one essay at a time. The series will also be syndicated on Freethink Media, as part of their new Freethink Voices feature. Freethink’s purpose is “to cover the progress we’re making on new frontiers” and “to tell stories about a future that is possible so we can inspire others to make it real,” and to do so in a way that is “curious, thoughtful, open, and constructive.” I’m honored to be their first Voice.

Here’s the plan, including target publication dates:

Introduction

Part 1: The Value of Progress

Part 2: The Future of Progress

Part 3: A Culture of Progress

To support this effort, we are turning on paid subscriptions at the Roots of Progress Substack, for $10/month. The book will be free to read online, but I will try to give some exclusives to paid subscribers, such as outtakes or excerpts from my research. If you buy an annual subscription ($100/year), I’ll send you a copy of the book when it is published. Founder subscriptions ($500/year) will get a signed copy and access to other exclusives, such as Zoom calls with me to discuss the book. But the most important reason to subscribe is to support this work and to support me as a public intellectual. (Note, all subscription revenues will be received by the Roots of Progress Institute, the nonprofit organization that employs me.)

This is, of necessity, a book for the moment. For the sake of time and readability, I won’t be able to research all prior work or to answer every objection (much as I wish I could). And as a manifesto, the purpose of the book is to state clearly and vividly a certain worldview as a reference point for people to define themselves in relation to—not to make the most thorough and unassailable case for that worldview. I would like to make that case eventually, and I expect this will not be my last word on the topic, but the full case will take me another decade or so. This is my best current statement of my ideas, for the people who need to hear them the most, right now. If you disagree with it too vehemently, all I can say is that it’s not for you.

If I do not have the obvious credentials to write this book, I hope that my long study of the subject, my position near the center of these conversations for many years, and my previous career in engineering and business gives me a unique perspective from which to write it. And if none of the ideas in it are original to me, I hope there will at least be value in pulling them all together into a foundation for the progress movement.

This book will, again of necessity, contain a large quantity of my personal opinions and philosophy. Ultimately, these opinions are mine alone. The Roots of Progress Institute as an organization works with a wide range of intellectuals and partner organizations, including our fellows, and none of them are responsible for anything I say here. Indeed, I expect that many of them will disagree with at least some of what I have to say—as will, I expect, many of you in my audience. I look forward to hearing your rebuttals and theirs, and I hope that we can have a healthy debate over the issues—one that leaves all of us wiser, and that sets a standard in civility and epistemic rigor for our community.

Thanks to the tens of thousands of subscribers and followers who have shown me that there is an audience for my work and given me the confidence to go from essayist to book author. I’m excited to write this in the open with you and to get your feedback along the way.

Comment: Progress Forum, LessWrong, Reddit

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