I am a lover of documentaries, and this week I have been watching copious amounts of cosmology and paleontology programs. I’ve had other weeks where the ebb and flow of human history has been my interest but this week I wanted something simpler- the infinitely complex (but emotion-free) universe, and the basic animal instinct of immense creatures fighting for survival.

I also watched the film Apocalypto for the first time since it’s release in 2006. The film seems to show the movement of humankind within the same time frame: From tribal culture, to the building of civilisations, to the foreboding impact of advanced culture on ancient ways. Jungle tribes get captured by the Mayans and taken to their stone cities, and finally the Conquistadors arrive, accompanied by a doom-faced priest ready to do some converting.

Apocalypto is quite stylistic and presents a basic view of each group of people. But the ideals are clear. Tribal life is simple, a basic gathering of needs with an understanding and respect of the wild world around them, blended with primal beliefs. The Mayans are presented as having created a clear caste system with priests and nobility at the top, merchants below and labourers/slaves crushed at the bottom. They revel in blood because their religion has developed to a point of cosmological knowledge that combines with a belief in primal, bloody gods that demand sacrifice. The conquistadors shed floods of blood as well, convinced of their own superiority but whether it was a matter of spreading their religion or a simple quest for power is always up for debate. One can easily be disguised by the other.

The universe is a galactically brutal place: Galaxies eat each other when they get too close. Black holes suck in and squash to a pinprick the greatest of spacial entities. And this is done without intent, with no mind behind it willing it to happen- it just happens, so we can’t express any kind of moral dismay over it.

The same animal instincts the great creatures of prehistory had are still prevalent: Animals eat, breed and kill- survive, multiply, defend and extend turf in order to ensure personal success. Even simple creatures like corals will eat another coral that gets too close. But humans should know better. Sentience should imply morality, and developed instinct should create empathy. I am wondering why so much of the human race haven’t developed this yet.

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