Surviving Progress 

More science, please.


We now turn our attention to the latest "outrage documentary," Surviving Progress. It's a Canadian production, so right out of the gate we know we're going to get lectured. Also, whenever we see an ape in the first shot of a movie about science, especially a doc, bad news is coming. When that scene is followed by a shot of men in space, the news is going to be extremely bad. We might as well give up. Humankind is doomed.

But wait, here's a friendly thinker to help us out of our jam. Several thinkers, mostly scientists, some grumpy and disheveled, a few crisply polished, like Ronald Wright, whose book A Short History of Progress is the basis of the film. One, population scientist Vaclav Smil, talks so fast with such a strong accent we can't understand him. The only thing we can do is nod in agreement. (His part of the movie is when everybody will get up for that popcorn refill.) Another of the thinkers says the basic structure of our brains goes back to bacteria and worms. That does it, we're screwed. The global financial system is wrecking the earth in the name of debt and profit. Koyaanisqatsi-style shots of traffic jams, humanity-clogged urban streets, and denuded Brazilian rain forests reinforce the gloomy prognosis.

The idea seems to be that we should slow down, cut our consumption, reproduce less, reestablish financial equality by cancelling debts, dismantle the oligarchies, restore the primacy of life, deconsolidate, abandon world economies, and so on. Familiar advice. Marina Silva, former Minister of Environment in Brazil, wants to plant more trees. Stephen Hawking is an optimist — he believes we should push into space. But how are we going to do that when we're running 21st-century software (our knowledge) on 50,000-year-old hardware, our pitiful primate brains? Obviously we need more robots. It's our only hope. We'll never be able to evolve fast enough on our own. I'm waiting for Rise of the Planet of the Androids. Pass the soy nuts.


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