The Human Animal (1994–…): Season 1, Episode 3 - The Human Zoo - full transcript

Imagine a piece of land desolate and wild.
Somewhere in this vast expanse,

a tiny group of primeval humans has taken up residence.

A tribal settlement is built.

The village is invented.
After a million years of hunting,

farming begins and with our new affluence, the villages grow into towns.

By Roman times, these towns are already magnificent in their scale and in

their architecture, but they continue to grow.
Nothing can stop them now.

A thousand years on,
a large medieval city has sprung up.

Three hundred years later,
the boundaries of the now

vast settlement spread as far as the eye can see.

In evolutionary terms, the human animal
has gone from mud hut to skyscraper

in the mere twinkling of an eye.
There have been massive cultural

advances, but no time at all for biological changes.

In certain ways, our great cities are a paradise on earth

compared with our primeval settlements.

They give us creature comforts and freedoms of many kinds.

But there's always been a price to pay.

After many years spent living in London
where I'd written The Naked Ape,

I moved in the late 1960s to a village on the

small Mediterranean island of Malta.

From here I was able to look back at the urban environment

and view it dispassionately.

It was here in the peace and quiet of a Maltese garden that

I decided to write a sequel to The Naked Ape.

I wanted to have a look at the way in which man, the primeval hunter,

became transformed into man
the modern city dweller.

What had happened to all those ancient, primitive urges?

The need for spaces, for territories,
for hunting grounds.

Now that he was crushed into tiny cells inside these great cities.

Some people, of course, call the city a concrete jungle.

But jungles aren't like that.
Animals in jungles aren't overcrowded,

and overcrowding is the central problem of modern city life.

If you want to look for crowded animals,
you have to look

in the zoo. And then it occurred to me.

The city is not a concrete jungle,

it's a human zoo.

How do we cope with the crush
and confusion of our cramped

city environment?

How has it affected our tribal behaviour?

Our social relations, our aggression
and our need for territory?

How do we organize our lives in the artificial world of the human zoo?

Somehow we manage to interlock our movements with those

of the thousands who surround us in the great metropolis.

A metropolis in which he's trapped
not some wild-eyed victim of a hunt,

but the human hunter himself.

Inevitably, with such naturally crowded conditions, even the amazing adaptability

of the human animal sometimes falters.
The system breaks down,

and violence erupts.

What is surprising about these scenes

is that they're so rare.
After all, the human animal evolved

over a million years to live not like this,

but in small tribal groups of no more
than a hundred and fifty individuals.

In The villages of the Dogon tribe in West Africa, it's still

possible to get a glimpse of this earlier way of life.

The key feature of this lifestyle
is that there are no strangers present.

The communities here have retained their primeval

group size of a hundred and fifty.

As a result, everyone knows everyone else.

This makes people feel secure.
But it can also lead to

an alarmingly elaborate and endlessly repeated greeting ceremonies.

Everyone has to be acknowledged
as the villagers go about their daily routine

Because all Dogon tribes people are so aware

of everyone else in their society,

they're really solitary. When they move

from place to place inside the village,

they prefer to travel in small groups rather than singly.

For the modern city dweller,

the major difference is that he's
now surrounded by countless strangers.

He can't possibly know them all personally,

and he can't greet them all
or he'd never complete a journey.

So, he avoids their gaze,
pretending they're not there.

Although it's a most unnatural thing for a human to do,

he strides through their midst
as though they're trees in a forest.

When the tribesman leaves his tribe behind

and moves to the big city,
he faces a dramatic new problem.

This is the phone book of Los Angeles.

There are literally millions of names in it.

And Los Angeles has already grown
to be half the size of Belgium.

So the human tribesman can't possibly make all

these people members of his own tribe.

So what does he do?

The answer is here,

in his personal address book. This is his tribe.

It contains the names of his family
and friends, his relatives

and his colleagues.

This is his personal tribe.

So it's wrong to think of the citizen as a human ant in

a great human anthill.
The city is not an amorphous mass.

It's a vast interlocking network of tribes,
all interwoven together.

Unfortunately for the modern citizen,

he can't always remain
in the bosom of his own tribe.

He must frequently strike out into alien territory.

It's then that to protect himself from social overkill,

he's forced to turn all these strangers into trees in a forest.

So at times like this,
it's not surprising that he treats

a collapsed body as no more
than a fallen log, and walks past it.

By the simple device of asking someone to feign a collapse

and lie still on the ground.

I was able to establish that in a big city street,

a human figure, apparently in need
of urgent attention, can remain unattended

for a very long time indeed.

It's not that these city dwellers are uncaring,

it's that in the city,

it's simply impossible to react emotionally to everyone as

as if they belong to your own tribe.

When the same body lay in a village street,
rescue was immediately

at hand.

Interestingly, it came from the local inhabitants,
the true villagers,

not from the visiting tourists.

So one of the changes in behaviour that's taken place during

our rise from tribe to super tribe is a dramatic reduction

in this kind of personal cooperative behaviour.

In the city, strangers are treated

almost as though they belong to another species.

This has led to something that's extremely rare among villagers.

To the phenomenon of theft.
The helping hand in the city is

not always what it seems.

The urban thief treats his target not as a potential friend,

but as a member of a rival tribe.
The practiced skill of

a craftsman,

he delicately lifts the gold bracelet from his victim's wrist.

This trend starts young.
A hidden camera enables us to watch

this small gang of pickpockets operating skillfully in a

big department store.

They cooperate with one another and work as a group,

but feel nothing for their victim,
who again is unknown to them personally.

Superstores are even more impersonal than strangers

and for these ram raiders,
the act of thieving becomes an exciting game

played out by urban tribesmen for whom crime has become

a tribal way of life.

Because it's so important to demonstrate
some kind of tribal membership,

to set the individual apart from the teeming masses,

the modern tribesman adopts a wide variety of tribal uniforms

that display his particular allegiance.
The black leather of these Hells Angels

and the striped blazers at Henley Regatta

are instantly recognizable as tribal badges.
If the tribesmen displays

the right badges, he labels himself to the world

as a member of one particular group.
Sharing his costume, his manners,

his form of speech
and his colours with those around him,

he feels strengthened by the shared display.

It excludes non-members,
and gives him a sense of tribal identity

and power.

Even when the tribal signals are
rather mild, sharing the

same display, makes members of the group feel more confident,

more at ease.

As a way of forging the tribal bond, some groups demand

an initiation ceremony.
This ancient tradition survives today,

even in the most advanced cultures.
Obediently, these new recruits

to a Japanese electronics

company chant the song of their new tribe.

In a shared ordeal, they're introduced to the tribal elders who are suitably

elevated on a special platform.

And in unison, they display their newly acquired subservience

to the might of the company.

Here in Los Angeles, a group of female gang

members from one of the feared city gangs is also initiating

a new recruit.

The function of this tribal ordeal is precisely the same,

but the form it takes is very different.

After enduring 30 seconds of physical abuse,

she's accepted as a fully-fledged member of the gang.

Once a tribal group has been established,

it must repeatedly display its existence.

Tribal badges are not enough. Shared rituals

must be performed. Members of the tribe
must indulge in extravagantly

unique activities that conspicuously set them apart from other tribes.

New tribes invent their own unique language of rituals

with amazing speed.

Ans those with age-old traditions,
like these Freemasons, frequently develop

rituals that are staggeringly elaborate.
And to the outsider,

frankly bizarre.

Whatever the specific reasons given for all these different

tribal rituals, they all have the

same underlying significance,
namely, that they repeatedly reinforce

the tribesman's sense of tribal belonging.

And this happens all over the world in a thousand different ways,

usually with synchronized movements and music that

increase that feeling of tribal sharing.

This shared rhythmic quality of tribal rituals

breaks down at moments of high intensity.

Then the individual tribesman forgets his companions and

becomes lost in the ecstasy or the agony of the moment.

But at less intense moments, even the largest of tribes manages by performing

simple rhythmic actions to enjoy
the experience of shared involvement.

This ordinary scene is the cheerful face

of tribalism that survives even when the tribe becomes

swollen into a vast super tribe.

Flip the coin, and there's a stark contrast.

This tribe of Korean students has come into violent conflict

with the tribe of Korean police.

The members of each group are acting in support

of their companions and they're driven on
by their sense of loyalty.

Violence can even break out
in supposedly restrained groups

such as rival political parties,
as here, in the Japanese Parliament.

When disputes erupt,
it's much more common to observe some

kind of avoiding action.
This man, as soon as he's seriously

threatened, will lie down and adopt a submissive posture that

will successfully switch off the attack.

Visual and vocal threat displays can resolve disagreements

without the spilling of blood.
In real fighting, even the winner

may be injured and all animals not just humans

go to great lengths to avoid serious physical attacks.

So most disputes are settled by threat and counter threat,

rather than by actual fighting.

One way in which violent emotions can find a bloodless outlet

is through what's called redirected aggression.

Here, the anger is vented on inanimate objects instead of on human rivals.

With these joyriders,

the victims are vehicles rather than people.

One of the most spectacular examples of stylized aggression

is an event called the Palio which takes place twice a year

in Sienna.

At first sight, one can be forgiven for imagining that a battle

is about to be fought between the main tribes of the city.

The occasion has all the trappings of ancient warfare.

Flag-waving, military uniforms and the beating of drums.

The colours of the different tribes are worn by individuals

all over the city, heightening the intensity of the occasion.

But this is to be a fight by proxy.

The true warriors here are not these men.

The warriors of the Palio are not human, but equine.

This is to be a battle between horses and uniquely,

they're permitted to enter the churches to be blessed

before the ordeal begins.

The aggression of the young men in the city

reaches a vocal climax before the final act of the event begins.

Each horse represents one of the ancient families of Sienna

and carries their colours.

For these bareback jockeys, the race has no rules.
They can use their whips on one another

as well as on their mounts.

This is a savage contest for both horse and rider

and few of these riders will complete the course.
Indeed, unlike any

other horse race,

it's the first horse past the post
that wins with or without

a rider on its back.

After days of preparation
the race takes only 90 seconds,

but during that brief time,
the whole of Siena is focused

on the intense drama and its outcome.

This highly stylized ritual of
tribal rivalry drains so much

aggression from the population, that it appears to reduce

the amount of violence in the city throughout the whole year.

And it's certainly true that Sienna has one of the lowest

crime rates of any European city.

That then, is human tribal behaviour.

But how do we organize ourselves within each tribe?

Considering how complicated modern urban society is,

it's remarkable that people
aren't more aggressive than they are.

For most people, an average day

is really very friendly and amicable.

How is this managed?

Well, to some extent it's because we stay with people

like ourselves.

We have a group of people with whom we feel at ease.

We feel comfortable with our friends
and with people who are

similar to us.

So what happens is that society organizes itself into a number

of levels. Each level feeling at home with its own kind.

The British pub is a good example of this.
The bars each have

different names. There's the lounge bar,
the smoking room and further

down there the public bar and people gather in the bar where

their friends are. Where they feel that they're in the right

social grouping, and that reduces friction. And that of course

is the basis of the social hierarchy.
This gathering of senior Maasai

in East Africa demonstrates social levels,

rather neatly.

They arrange themselves in three rows.
Higher status at the front,

middle status in the centre and lower status at the back.

In the front row sit the tribal Elders.
The chief himself

displays his rank by his ebony star. And all the elders

show off their fly whisks and their elongated decorated ears.

In the second row,

the junior Elders have the elongated ears wrapped up in readiness

for the day when they'll graduate to the front row.

And in the third row sit the warriors, who display their rank by holding

erect their sharp spears.
Each culture has its own special

forms of status display and it's not always easy for outsiders

to anticipate the subtle rules that are in operation

in any particular case.

If we were invited to this Japanese boardroom,

we might easily sit in the wrong chair.

Every position is carefully worked out. The precise rank of

each executive being defined by
his distance from the managing director.

This boardroom is a status minefield.

If we were served with tea,
we might unwisely take a sip straight away.

But in this delicately structured world,

we would be committing a social gaffe.

The managing director must drink first,
then each of his executives

may drink in turn according to their relative seniority.

In this streamlined high-tech world,

it's necessary to become skilled
at the nuances of correct behaviour

and status etiquette.
Watching body language can

give us a special insight into status relations.

Here the manager on the right is unconsciously mimicced in almost

every action

he makes by the junior executive.

Cheek scratch, cheek scratch.
Arms fold, arms fold. Nose wipe,

nose wipe. Head nod, head nod.
And when the senior man smokes

a cigarette the junior does his best putting his empty fingers

to his lips.

One of the most basic forms of high status display is increased size.

For the reigning monarch, this is achieved by placing

her on a raised platform and providing her with tall headgear.

In her case,

the headgear is a crown.
For the Archbishop,

it's a mitre.

This idea of height and status going together is very basic

to human behaviour, and indeed
to the behaviour of many other animals.

If the high status individual is very small like

this Kumari virgin in a Nepalese religious ceremony,

then the throne on which she sits must be raised up even more

than usual to compensate for her diminutive figure, and to place

her in an appropriately elevated position.

In this way the tiny nine year old girl in her tall crown

and golden robes suddenly becomes transformed

into a regal queenly figure.

Local status displays are so familiar
to the people involved

that it's often assumed

they can be understood universally.
But this is not the case.

If a traveller from another land were to view this scene

he can be forgiven for making a mistake about the status

of the individuals involved.
Looking down there,

he would perhaps assume that the individuals
in the brightly

coloured costumes,

sitting on the horses are the dominant members

of this particular group.

But of course he'd be making a mistake.

He wouldn't realize that the colours they're wearing belong

to the owners of the horses, and not to them.
On closer scrutiny,

he might spot that when the brightly dressed jockey meets

the plainly dressed figure in the ring,

he politely touches his cap revealing the true status relationship

between the two. Again, the high status
of this figure in

blue is revealed when the jockey
on the horse touches his

cap as he passes.

In earlier days, high-status demanded elaborate costumes.

But today, thanks to the media,
a famous face is alone enough

to indicate elevated rung.

By deliberately wearing casual clothing,
even on a special occasion,

the high status individual says, with mock humble arrogance,

I don't need the trappings,

I'm big enough without.

In the eyes of Allah, all Muslims are equal.
This posed a problem for

the very high-status king of Morocco.
During the inauguration of a new mosque in Casablanca,

he is obliged to wear the traditional
djellaba of the Moroccan people.

How do we know then

that he is of much higher rank
than the others present

at the ceremony?

Well he's set further back,

away from the main assembly, and he's raised ever so

slightly on a shallow platform of cushions.
Not enough to

insult the deity,
but just enough to make him different from

his fellow worshipers.

Even more revealing is the behaviour of other people when approaching him. They bow so low,

that as they talk to him, they literally have to look up to him.

So, in special circumstances, high status can be displayed

passively merely through the actions of subordinates.

It's clear that just as increased height can raise status,

so body lowering can reduce it.
In this Zen Buddhist monastery,

everybody bows deeply to the Buddha. But when the monks

bow to one another, their relative degree of body lowering

reveals their respective ranks, with the junior monks bowing

further than the senior one who also incidentally uses special

clothing signals to underline his high status.

Occasionally, a status display is performed that

includes an unusual element.

This Maasai not only has to lower her eyes, which is a common form

of subordination,

but is also made to wear excrement on her shaven head as

an additional way of emphasizing her low status in the ceremony.

To fully appreciate the origins of all these various forms

of body lowering,

we only have to observe what happens when people are seriously

threatened with death or injury.
To reduce the risk of brutal assault,

these rioting Bangkok students frantically prostrate themselves,

trying to make their bodies as small as possible.

Here lie, in both senses of the word, the raw origins of human

submissive actions.

Like other animals big, to us, means powerful . It's as basic

and primitive as that. And when I looked at this small village,

I realized that if I knew nothing about the inhabitants,

I would imagine that the dominant individual there lived

in that huge building in the middle surrounded by a lot

of subordinates. Of course that is indeed the case.

It's just that in our species, uniquely, the dominant member

of the group is present only in spirit.

When people first discovered God, the deity quickly acquired

a role of major importance to human society.
Treated as the

dominant individual, with all
the appropriate gestures of subordination,

the awesome power of the god figure commanded

a deep respect.

Although this respect was exploited by holy men who set themselves

up as God's agents,

it also had the effect of making people within groups much

more cooperative.

In this way, organized religion became the ultimate state

of strategy, producing subordination displays of a more extreme

kind than can be found in any other sphere of human activity.

An extraordinary example of this is displayed by this pilgrim

visiting the Labrang monastery in Tibet.

He has to prostrate himself on the ground
every step of his journey,

which may be hundreds of miles from his home.

Setting up a social hierarchy is one of the two ways in which

we organize our human tribes.

The second is establishing a territory.

Whereas status is concerned with who you are,
territory is

concerned with where you are.
In being territorial, we differ

from most other primates.

This is because, as primeval hunters, our ancestors needed

a place to return to with the spoils of the chase.

We had to have a home base, and that home base had to be defended.

We feel compelled to set up territorial signs indicating

that this is an occupied area.

In this way

we hope to reduce the need to actively defend our homes.

We trust people to respect our space if we make the boundaries

clear enough.

We also treat our vehicles as mobile territories

and when these are threatened, defend them with an amazing

primeval passion.

In addition to a family territory,
each of us has a personal territory.

In a large office

it may be no more than a desk area.

But once again, we try to label
it as our own personal property.

These may look like childish toys,
but in reality they're

territorial markers declaring that this is my desk "keep off".

Just how powerful are territorial markers?
Let's try an experiment.

We'll put a coat on a chair over there, and see

how long it manages to keep people from sitting on that particular chair.

What follows is two hours compressed to 45 seconds.

As with other species, our personal space is like an invisible

territorial shield that surrounds us wherever we go,

and that distances us, one from another.
Wherever you look,

you can see bodies arranged at regular intervals, as though obeying

some unwritten spacial law.

In today's world, personal space is often at a premium.

This is a capsule hotel in Tokyo, where each guest must endure

a bedroom little bigger than that
ultimate personal territory, the coffin.

In stark contrast
is this Las Vegas hotel suite,

where the high status of high rollers demands the biggest

apartment in the world.

Size is not only important in status relations.

It's also a common weapon of territorial display.

Wherever we go,

we like to establish temporary territories.
Without a well-defined space,

we feel lost.

So we're forever setting out our territorial markers and recreating

familiar surroundings.
As here, where imaginary dining rooms

are magically conjured up in the middle of a field full of cars.

Sometimes we seem to indulge in activities that could

be called territory for territory's sake.

Throughout Japan, when the cherry blossom is about to fall,

people leave their homes and carry rough-and-ready territorial

markers with them to establish and defend a small patch of

ground in the middle of public parks.

The cherry blossom is really only an excuse for an orgy

of civilized territorialism.

Each group enjoys the sensation of being inside their little nest,

even though it's only a simple flat covering on the ground.

Here they sit beneath the trees
for hour after hour, eating and

drinking and talking, and enjoying the view.

They usually respect one another's territorial markers and

rarely intrude on one another's delineated spaces.

Occasionally there are brief disputes like this one

because of the strictly territorial conventions, but they're extremely

rare and quickly settled.

Once they're all well installed, they celebrate with songs and dances,

and a warm sense of belonging to a territorial group.

The cherry blossom viewing happens only once a year.

When it's over, the small group territories will be dismantled

and the park will return to normal.

Some other group territories are more permanent.

In cities where gangs of young males have created a rebellious subculture,

there's often a return to a primitive and savage

form of tribal territory.

Each gang restricts its activities to a small, clearly defined

section of the city and tribal discipline is severe.

Here in the very centre of Gangland in Los Angeles,

walls and buildings are covered with graffiti.

Everywhere you look there are visual signs.
Now this is because each

gang has its own particular territory, which has to be defended

and not only defended, but also displayed, to the rival saying

this is our patch.
If we were wolves or tigers, we'd do it by

scent marking, but because we're humans we do it visually.

And almost every area here that can be painted on

has been painted on. Amongst the markings,

there are specific signs saying this is our territory.

To some people this is pure vandalism,
but to the gang members themselves,

it's a private language of great significance.

Although these gangs have stepped outside official society,

they're still bound by rigid rules of their own making.

They must learn the gang hand signs,
wear appropriate clothing

and decorate themselves with body tattoos.

There were over 800 gangland killings last year

and gang members are always on their guard for possible attacks

from rivals, even when they appear to be almost

sleepily relaxed.

Because graffiti are such important territorial markers,

the most dangerous thing you can do in gangland is to go around

and obliterate somebody else's graffiti, and that's exactly

what's happening at the moment over there.

A group of graffiti artists is working over the top of some

specific gang signs.

And if those gangs find out what's happening,

then there will be shooting.

Gang members now treat the frequent gunfights

as a routine part of daily life.

The human animal is a compulsively tribal,
compulsively territorial species.

If the leaders of modern society don't offer acceptable

forms of tribalism and territorial display, then unacceptable

ones will explode in their faces.

Beyond personal territory, beyond family territory, even beyond tribal territory,

there's another level of social organization.
That of course

is national territory.

If you look around the streets of a city like New York,

you can see the signs, the emblems,
the symbols the colours and

the flags that reflect the persistence of national loyalties.

When a large national gathering is assembled in one place

to cry out its territorial chants,

the effect is intensely emotional for those taking part,

and equally threatening to those who do not belong. In fact to

other national groups
these threat displays can be deeply offensive,

as they were of course originally intended to be.

So what's the future of the human zoo?
As we've seen, it contains

an overcrowded mass of human animals.
Animals that evolved

to live in tiny, scattered tribes.

So how on earth can they enjoy a lifetime in ramshackle slums

or in huge impersonal tower blocks?

We already know from studies of other animals that serious overcrowding

causes acute stress, and that this stress can

damage the body's immune system.
The same process applies

to the human animal. And unless we slow down our population

growth, further overcrowding

may well unleash waves of disease and epidemic.

30 years ago there were a mere 3,000 million people alive in the world.

Today that figure has nearly doubled.
What this means for

many city dwellers is daily chaos and congestion.

So, why do we want to live in the city?

Why don't we all return to a simple tribal existence,

to a village like this?

There's plenty of space here, and a serenely untroubled atmosphere.

Living here,

we could escape the stress, the pollution and the violence

of the city.

So why do we stay?
The answer is personal freedom,

and a sensation that in the city, anything is possible.

The ever-changing complexity of the city excites us.

If we use it well,

the city can become a dazzling stimulation palace in

whose corridors

our imagination can be let loose.
Our creativity unleashed.

At its worst,

it can send us to an early grave. At its best.

it can send us to the moon. So the city of the future can

either be a stress-ridden human zoo,
or an exciting human game.

The choice is up to us.

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