Surviving Progress

Synopsis: Humanity's ascent is often measured by the speed of progress. But what if progress is actually spiraling us downwards, towards collapse? Ronald Wright, whose best-seller, A Short History Of Progress inspired SURVIVING PROGRESS, shows how past civilizations were destroyed by "progress traps" - alluring technologies and belief systems that serve immediate needs, but ransom the future. As pressure on the world's resources accelerates and financial elites bankrupt nations, can our globally-entwined civilization escape a final, catastrophic progress trap? With potent images and illuminating insights from thinkers who have probed our genes, our brains, and our social behaviour, this requiem to progress-as-usual also poses a challenge: to prove that making apes smarter isn't an evolutionary dead-end.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Mathieu Roy, Harold Crooks (co-director)
Production: First Run Features
  1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
86 min

Surviving progress.

In defining progress,

I think it is very important

to make a distinction

between good progress and bad progress.

I mean, things progress in

a sense that they change.

Both in nature and in human society there appears

to be a clear trend towards increasing complexity.

As change proceeds, we tend to delude ourselves

that these changes always result in improvements.

....from the human point of view.


We are now reaching a point in which technological

progress and the increase in our economies and our numbers

threaten the very existence of humanity.


What is progress.....

I think..... mhm. That's

too hard question....

When I think of the word 'progress'...

Progress will not come easy, it won't come quick,

but today we have an opportunity to move forward.

It seems we are stuck in this trap for the last

200 years, since the industrial revolution

where we think progress is

more of the same, like:

We should make our machines

better and get more machines

but we've been doing it for 200 years,

so doing more of that is not progress.

We're like stuck in this

like a record......

Things are start out to seem

like improvement or progress.

These things our seductive, there seems

like there is no downside to these

but when they reach a certain scale they

turn out to be dead ends, more traps.


I came up with a term 'progress trap'

to define human behaviors that

sort of seem to be good things, seem

to provide benefits in a short term

but which ultimately lead to disaster,

because they are unsustainable.

One example would be going right

back to the old stone age

the time of when our ancestors

were hunting mammoths.

They reached a point, where their weaponry

and hunting techniques got so good

that they destroyed hunting as a way

of life through the most of the world.

The people who discovered how to

kill two mammoths instead of one

had made real progress, but the

people who discovered that they can

eat very well by driving a whole herd

over a cliff and kill 200 at once

had fallen into a progress trap

they'd made too much progress.

Our physical bodies and physical

brains as far as we can tell

have changed very little

in past 50 000 years.

We've only been living in

civilization for the last 5000 years the most which is less then

0.2% of our evolutionary history.

So the other 99.8 we were

hunters and gatherers

and that is the kind of

way of life that made us.

We are essentially the same people

as those stone age hunters.

What makes our way of life different from theirs

is that culture has taken off at exponential rate

and has really become detached

from pace of natural evolution.

So we are running 21st century

software, our knowledge,

on hardware that hasn't been

upgraded for 50 000 years

and this lies at the core

of many of our problems.

All of this is because our human nature is back

in hunting-gathering era of the old stone age

whereas our knowledge and technology, in other words, our ability

to do both good and harm to ourselves and to the world in general

has grown out of whole proportion.

One thing to remember, of course,

about human mind is that it's not

that fundamentally different from,

say, a brain of a chimpanzee.

Most of the human brain, the

basic structure of the brain

is much older than human species

some of it goes back to bacteria

some of it goes back to worm, some

of it originated in first mammals

some of it within the first primates,

some of it in first human beings.

Very little however changed

in the last 50 000 years.

And so most of what we do, we

do with hardware components

that are much older than any

of the problems that we face.

When I first began to study chimps

I thought that the task was to just

map out more and more similarities

to find the areas of cognition

that hadn't been studied yet

and simply show that

chimps were just like us.


You can imagine teaching a small

child to stand up a block up right

and you can teach a chimp

to do the same thing

'oh I set up a block here, set up a block here,

I can see everything, its very, very clear'

'and I get a piece of fruit for doing it'

But what happens when you introduce a

small subtlety into the situation

when you trick them and make the block off

center just that the block keeps falling over.

Well, the chimp will come

in, set up the good block

set up the block that

we've tricked them with

but then it falls over.

Well the chimp can see that it's

not the way it's supposed to be

so they try again, and they try again

and they move it to one place, and

they move it to another place

and they keep trying to get it to stand up

because they know what

is supposed to happen.

But they have no understanding

or no inclination to ask why.

What unobservable part of the situation is

causing that block to keep falling over.

The young child will enter

set up the good block

try to set up the block that

we've tricked them with

but when it falls over, well

first they'll try again

then maybe try again, but very quickly they'll

turn it over, feel the bottom of it, shake it,

try to concern what unobservable property

of that block is causing it to fall over.

That's the fundamental, core difference,

I believe, between humans and chimps

that humans ask why, we're constantly probing for

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Harold Crooks

Harold Crooks is a Canadian journalist, writer and director of film documentaries. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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