One of many things that’s revelatory in Surviving Progress is I tend to be a long-term thinker, not a short-term thinker. How about you? I guess I’m not well-balanced. I like to ask why a lot. This can sometimes be frustrating. In fact, I may largely lack the ability for short-term thinking–you know, snap decisions, fight-or-flight–which can be debilitating. This explains much. Perhaps as individuals and as species we need both long-term and short-term thinking to survive progress.
Based on the CBC Massey Lectures and the book, A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright (right), the core idea is that our notion of progress is wrong, is killing us, and we must change our ways. Whereas the book was written in 2004, the film was made in 2012. Much has changed, some for the better (meaning the survival of life, including humans). But while we have great technical means, the film makes it clear that’s only half the story–we also need great moral means. Interviewed in the film, Marina Silva, senator & former minister of the environment for Brazil, says, ‘there is no technological problem, but an ethical one.’ Without morality, we, umm, die. We’re history.
History has been, Wright says, a series of ‘progress traps’. Globalization may be the ultimate progress trap. For, unlike before when we could go to another country or another continent, we have no where to go now should we fail, no way out of this trap, unless, we smarten up. To support such ideas, the cinematography is stunning; the locales global, even extra-terrestrial; the interviews and statements–with many people, such as Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki (‘Conventional economics is a form of brain damage’), Colin Beaven (AKA ‘No Impact Man’), Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, and many others–are engrossing.
Craig Venter, biologist and CEO of Synthetic Genomics, says, ‘By changing and taking over evolution, changing the time course of evolution, and going into deliberate design of species for our own survival at least gives us some points of optimism that we have a chance to control our destiny.’ However, Jim Thomas (right), activist for the ETC Group, says, ‘The engineers can try to treat life as though it was some sort of computer or engineering substrate, but ultimately the microbes are gonna end up laughing at them, that life doesn’t work like that.’ You decide.
The film posits that the unequal distribution of wealth and power is the problem and suggests salvation comes in the form of greater morality and cognition. Cognition can be shared via the Internet, but morality must guide it, else the Internet is just a means to express our current problems–porn, stuff, etc–the same problems we carry into space if we don’t change. I’ve always thought of globalization as an economic trend, but Wikipedia calls it a cultural trend, with the Internet leading the way. Again, technology is just a tool that needs morality, a worldview, a new paradigm. In the film Robert Wright (right), author and journalist, says, ‘Half of being God has just been handed to us and then the question is whether we’ll master the other half of being God, the moral half.’ The moral half may take hundreds of years and billions of people. In the meantime, why wait for peace and happiness to happen? Many philosophies and religions, Christianity and Buddhism included, say peace and happiness are the way. You don’t have to follow a religion or philosophy, however. In the film, Colin Beavan (left) says, ‘Before I go around trying to change other people, maybe I should look at myself and change myself and keep my side of the street clean.’ A peaceful and happy street. Ever notice the Dalai Lama is often smiling, laughing? He’s a refugee, his temples have been smashed, scrolls burnt, monks and nuns beaten. What does he smile about? Laughing is his favourite thing to do. Ever wonder why?