The Lovely Wife and I have been catching up with some of the DVDs people have generously bought for us for either Christmas or my recent birthday, and although it means some of the stuff we have recorded off the TV is worryingly building up in backlog on our hard disk recorder, we have been mainlining the BBC ‘The Human Planet’ from a few years back.
It was a series I just missed at the time but I am wondering how I managed to do that considering just how great it is and why everyone should watch it, if only to get a better perspective on what a way of life actually is and how wonderfully indomitable and adaptable we are as a species.
For anyone who has not seen it, the programmes are based around five or six ‘stories’ revolving around people who are living in the environment that the episode is featuring; e.g. desert, or grasslands. As with all of the BBC Life productions there is an element of dramatic staging, but a lot of that is through editing and John Hurt’s marvellous narration – another of those people you can listen to for ages without being bored. But no amount of editing can really detract from the stars of the show – the people featured and the diversity of their lives.
I confess I thought myself widely read, but I am amazed and stunned not to have heard about some of these groups of people and just how interesting their approach to life is, whether living in huge tree houses in the jungle, to hunting with eagles while on horseback or even walking calmly towards a group of fifteen hungry lions and intimidating them enough to push them – albeit briefly – off their kill. We have been impressed by the way us humans have been able to manage conditions that seem insurmountable.
I find it terribly reassuring – and provides some reinforcement for a personal view I’ve had for a long time – that humans are almost impossible to eradicate (short of destroying the actual planet to make way for an Interstellar bypass).
We are too adaptable and if a calamity does overcome most of us, some of our people – because they are all our people – will survive somewhere and build a community that will sustain. They will do this because our biology and intelligence provides the basic tool and all it then needs is focus. If you know that if you do not find water within a few days you are going to die, that pretty well focuses your mind and ingenuity on finding water. Everything else is secondary.
And someone will find a way to succeed, and the rest learn will learn (quickly, if they want to survive and flourish).
The other thing that strikes me with most of the stories is the humour that is present, no matter the adversity. That is another thing we all possess and another great gift for survival I think we often overlook. It binds us together, and from the interactions with the film crews it is clear that while culturally the groups are a long way from understanding each other a lot of humour does cross over very well. It provides a basis for acceptance.
From these interactions it is also clear how much the local people are in charge. They have to be – they are the experts, and the oh-so clever Westerners with their knowledge and equipment are very much in the hands of those who live this life that they are peeping into.
Now, let’s be clear that I’m not advocating living in tree house and it will be a while before BBQ spider turns up on my snack menu. But I do feel I have learned that the concept of focus is a good one. My life is far too complicated, built on a fragile structure of created concepts and technology which means I am terribly dependant on many people who I have actually have no relationship with to go about my daily business. I don’t think that is necessarily progress or entirely healthy.
Things can change and change quickly and we can change quickly too and move with the times. But like the warriors facing down the pride of lions we cannot do it on our own and hope to succeed.
*The Doctor, The Ark in Space (1977)