What Is Progress, And When Does It Work?
Surviving Progress is a very convincing thesis documentary that leads us to examine the notion that progress is, indeed, progress -- that is to say helpful to humankind. In our age of increasingly rapid technological advances, this discussion is timely. It is, indeed, a vital necessity.
The film, based on Ronald Wright's insightful nonfiction book, A Short History of Progress, presents convincing arguments that technology if not used appropriately and in moderation can lead to adverse conditions and the collapse of civilization -- if not the actual demise of humankind.
Those are strong and controversial assumptions. But, in the film, they are more than adequately supported with on camera commentaries by a number of highly respected scientists, academics, theorists and other brainy people who qualify as experts and have spoken out about various points raised in the film.
Falling Into 'Progress Traps'
Wright, who is interviewed in the film, points to 'progress traps,' or instances in which human know how, belief systems or technologies that have solved short term needs have actually had adverse effects. One example, presented as a dramatic reenactment in the film, is the prehistoric hunt for woolly mammoths -- it was progress when our ancestors figured out how to hunt efficiently, killing two beasts at a time instead of one, but when they figured out how to slay the whole herd by driving them off a cliff, they killed off their entire future food supply, and put their survival in jeopardy. That's a progress trap that anyone can understand. And, that the same sort of dangerous behavior persists today is raised by Jane Goodall, who points out that humankind's continued exploitation of Earth's resources and the wasteful consumption exacerbated by ever increasing use of technologies that are deemed as progress, is simply not good for the future evolution -- or survival -- of the species.
Experts Challenge Conventional Thought
Jane Goodall is, as is seen in Jane's Journey, the documentary about her life and career, an advocate for animal rights and conservation. Her positions are supported by other experts who indicate that human thinking is very similar to ape thinking, and that humans react instinctually in much the same way apes do. In other words, the human brain's evolution and social instincts have lagged behind the development of technologies, creating a dangerous situation that might be characterized as the equivalent of giving a child of three a loaded gun.
According to DNA expert J. Craig Venter, humans have many of the same genetic components as worms and other less evolved creatures, and don't really have the mental capacity to handle potentially dangerous technologies, or to use advanced technologies wisely, with moderation and considered thought about their future effects.
A specific behavioral science experiment is reenacted to show that there just one major difference between the thought processes of humans and those of apes. In the experiment, an ape learns quickly to place yellow blocks upright within circles drawn on a flat surface, a task for which she is rewarded with a treat. Then she's given a block that has an uneven bottom, so it keeps falling over. She tries repeatedly to stand the block upright, but fails. She doesn't look for a reason or try to analyze why she can't get the block to stand upright. However, when a human child who's four or five years old is put through the same paces, he examines the block almost immediately and tries to figure out why it won't stand upright. That's the essential difference between human and ape thinking. Other than the human's ability to and characteristic trait of asking 'why?,' the species, according to experts, think alike and have similar gut reactions in seeking satisfaction for immediate -- rather than long term -- needs.
Additional commentators include Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki and Stephen Hawking, among others.
Surviving Progress is filled with information and presents a wide range of arguments that call for a reconsideration of the notion of progress. The film covers a smorgasbord of concerns that are presented as a nourishing mixed salad of reenactments, graphics and on camera interviews. It is an intellectually stimulating and provocative film that raises more questions than it answers. The essential question is a valid and challenging one: Is humankind sufficiently evolved to be able to handle its know how and not allow the misuse of technology to eventually destroy civilization? That's a question that should be considered by everyone. And everyone should see this film.
If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:
- Jane's Journey
- Project Nim
- An Inconvenient Truth
- Bigger, Stronger, Faster
- The Best Government Money Can Buy
- The Cove
- Arctic Tale
- Winged Migration
- Water Wars: When Drought, Flood and Greed Collide
- Earth Days
- A Small Act
- Title: Surviving Progress - 2011
- Directors: Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks
- U.S. Theatrical Release Date: April 6, 2012
- Running Time: 86 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Locations: Canada, Brazil, China, USA
- Language: English
- Production Country: Canada
- Production Companies: Big Picture Media Corporation, Cinémaginaire Inc., National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
- Distribution Company: First Run Features
- Official Website