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On Progress

On Progress

Progress is the realisation of utopias…

Oscar Wilde wrote that, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

It seems very aspirational, but bearing in mind when Wilde wrote this, the end of the 19th century, progress often meant suffering for some. It meant darker skies and longer hours. Certainly, when Europeans got on ships to explore stuff, it often meant people losing their lands and their liberty. But he was also a fierce critic and satirist of what passed for noble endeavour in his time. So, what did he mean?

He was being a little sarcastic perhaps, and it’s easy to guess that he wasn’t being literal. It may have been a dig at the perpetual pursuit of greener grass. But most idealists sound like cynics sometimes. It comes from a piece espousing Socialism after all.

We’ll go out on a limb here and suggest an edit to this truism. Progress should be the realisation of utopias. Otherwise, it’s not really progress. What constitutes utopia is the question, and there’s the rub.