Sections of the few naturally-occurring trees in southern Saskatchewan have been cleared to make roads and paths. These lead to lakes and rivers and adjacent to these lakes and rivers more trees have been cleared for what is known as the commercial campsite. Commercial because you pay for it. Campsite only because that is what they call it. Very rarely is it used for actual camping. I discovered that my idea of camping differs greatly from that of some people, even those I am close to. This past week at Greenwater Provincial Park, each time I walked by a trailer that was nestled nicely beside a seadoo trailer, a boat trailer, a mosquito zapper, a belching generator and a satellite dish, I thanked God that we knocked trees down for these goofballs. But they might ask, as believers in the advancement and intellectual supremacy of the human species, why not bask in our dominance over nature? I would answer that camping is connecting with how humans are supposed to live, reliant on and connected to nature, without distraction, where time doesn’t matter and phones are useless, entranced by the natural and primal thought-nurturing wisps of a late-night fire. But for our neighbours across the way, camping means watching the Olympics on a slightly smaller flat-screen television, slightly closer to a seaweed-ripe body of water, distracted by the shallow and personless characters on a screen. Our campsite of four tents and eight people, a fire and several chairs, a hatchet and a flashlight, compared to their campsite (listed above) shows how much we have advanced technologically as humans, but shows how as humans we remain the exact same.
Human progress. The idea that we as humans can advance through technology, science, industrial efficiency, or mass production to become greater than the previous level attained, whether that means mentally, spiritually and even anatomically. That the advancements in how we do things, as if a catalyzed form of evolution, will propel us into a sort of utopia.
Some may consider our ability to live in absolute comfort anywhere we want Human Progress. Who needs fires and tents and knives when we have generators, fifth-wheel trailers with two bathrooms, and slap-chops? The progression of our systems does not ensure the progression of humans. Our innovations are not making us better humans that are approaching perfection, they are taking us downwards, into an ignorant, illiterate, unaware cell that is not greater than the fire pits, the nomadic life, the simplicity from whence we came.
Progress not only failed to preserve life but it deprived millions of their lives more effectively than had ever been possible before.
Almost seventy years ago this week, Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed. World War II and the few years after, epitomized by the final acts in Japan, are what Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout calls ‘The Finale Rack of so-called Human Progress.” A Finale Rack, the set of fireworks wired together by a pyrotechnician to light as the ‘grand finale’ for the gazing patriots and children. The nuclear bombs were dropped and we have been making them ever since. “It was science, industry and technology that made possible the 20th century’s industrial killing,” Hedges says. It was our ‘Human Progress’ that made possible the destruction of hundreds of thousands of humans.
Apparently, Human Progress is an odd looking creature, like what we can imagine a Sasquatch might look like: floppy ears, hairy face. Non-existent. But if it does exist, what better place to find it than the tree-cleared campgrounds of Southern Saskatchewan. It is probably cozied up in its trailer watching the Rider game with the firepit dead and cold ten-feet away.
“What a relief it was, somehow, to have somebody else confirm what I had come to suspect toward the end of the Vietnam War, and particularly after I saw the head of a human being pillowed in the spilled guts of a water buffalo on the edge of a Cambodian village, that Humanity is going somewhere really nice was a myth for children under 6 years old, like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
-Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus, Chapter 26, p204
The myth of Human Progress, characterized perfectly in contrasting campsites, is eating away at our world. It is tearing apart the environment, making mass-murder more and more accessible, and at the same time we remain the same clueless, occasionally barbaric human beings, only now with larger tools to highlight our cluelessness and barbarism. Instead of whittled willow twigs we have the sturdiness of a bent piece of wire. To complement those, we have wire racks to hold them over the embers. If we get lucky we can use a grill instead of a wire, and if we really show our advancements, we would just use a propane range. Our hotdogs and marshmallows have advanced in the way we cook them, but in the end we are still eating the same damn thing.