Film Capsule: Surviving Progress

Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.

So goes the central theme – and cautionary advice – of Surviving Progress, a remarkable documentary directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, and executive-produced by Martin Scorsese.

The angle, which Progress reinforces time and again, is that while the human race has made tremendous strides in terms of technological advancement, the cognitive modes human beings use to confront, and ultimately overcome, problems haven’t evolved worth a lick since the dawn of civilization. 

This very often results in what anthropologists refer to as a “progress trap,” or evolutionary disaster.

Example: When Pleistocene hunters first recognized woolly mammoths as a tremendous source of meat, hide and tusk, they slowly learned how to corner and slay the large beasts. Over time, the hunters honed their skills, until one day they realized they could pool their resources and force the entire herd into a stampede … straight over a cliff – a genocidal hunting technique which ultimately led to the mammoth’s extinction.

The game may have changed, but the thinking is very much the same, which is why – according to sources like Margaret Atwood, Jane Goodall, Robert Wright, and Steven Hawking, all of whom agreed to be interviewed for the film – the human race finds itself constantly chasing its own tail.

The key distinction most experts make is that there is a tremendous difference between change and progress. While most profit motives, political strategies, corporate ploys, and ad campaigns are geared toward selling people on the idea that change is good, history proves the reality is very much the opposite.

Highly recommended viewing for anyone who has a passing interest in anthropology, sociology, psychology, biology, or any -ology, for that matter.

(Surviving Progress is slated for a staggered release in major cities across America throughout April, May and June. Check out this schedule for release dates in or around your metro region.)