Can progress be a problem? Is bigger, better, faster and cheaper really the best way to advance as a society? How much more can humanity extract and deplete the world’s resources as more nations become “developed?” Could it be that Homo sapiens are evolutionary dead ends?
All these provocative and controversial questions are tackled by the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary Surviving Progress. Executive producer Martin Scorsese brings together some of the world’s greatest minds to discuss humanity’s history, its present “predicament” (to say the least), and what can be done to overcome our self-destructive tendencies (for starters, making a distinction between what Ronald Wright calls “good progress” and “bad progress”).
The film destroys the conventional concept of “progress,” one of constant expansion and growth. In short: overconsumption, disregard for the planet, overpopulation, massive debt to private interests, grotesque amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and the alarming growth of income inequality are anything but progressive. How can we praise and preserve the status quo when our very survival is at stake? Our current course is clearly unsustainable and until we realize this and do something to change it, we’re doomed to failure.
“Unlimited economic progress in a world of finite natural resources doesn’t make sense. It’s a pattern that is bound to collapse and we keep seeing it collapsing. But then we build it up because there are these strong vested interests; “We must have business as usual.” And…you get the arms manufacturers. You get the petroleum industry. You get the pharmaceutical industry. And all of this feeding into helping to create corrupt governments who are putting the future of their own people at risk.”
– legendary primatologist Jane Goodall during one of her interviews in the film.
Things clearly have to change. We have to realize that progress does not simply equal more more more.
“All the civilizations of the past and, I think our own, only seem to be doing well when they’re expanding, when the population is growing, when the industrial output is growing and when the cities are spreading outwards. Eventually, you reach the point at which the population has overrun everything, the cities have expanded over the farmland. The people at the bottom begin to starve and the people at the top lose their legitimacy. And so you get hunger. You get revolution.
– Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress, the book on which Surviving Progress is based on
Surviving Progress delivers a dose of reality and offers a challenging solution. To overcome this challenge, it is going to take the one thing that seems to have brought us to this point: our brains. The world is an international one. We’re literally one people now and all of our lives are interconnected. It is going to take cooperation with other nations. It’s going to come from consuming less and fundamentally altering our view of what makes life “good.” My two cents: living to make humanity and the world better than it was before our own, mediocre existences began is the “good” life. 😉