Ticket to Ride

A documentary on society, morality and evolution can be seen on Amazon

What is the bedrock of society? It wasn’t a question I ever thought I’d want to answer. Yet here I was grappling with a bundle of research papers that was starting to stack up in the kilos. The desk was creaking and so was my ability to deal with the information overload.

Nearly a decade ago I’d made a documentary that looked at consumerism. It was called ‘Consumed – Inside the Belly of the Beast’. I won’t deny it had a certain Adam Curtis vibe (!) but the building blocks were slightly different. First was two fantastic expert interviewees with writer/academics Geoffrey Miller and Jonathan Chapman. Second was the angle we attacked the subject from, that of evolutionary psychology.

Principle to the discourse was how big business and their marketing gurus know how to tickle our evolutionary pressure points. But beyond that I found consumption is like our need for air, its desire is in-built and extends way beyond goods and products, it involves the consumption of experiences too. This is how we grow and develop. It is also why we feel boredom so acutely. Consumption in its broadest sense is brain food.

It had been an interesting film to make and I learnt a lot. But somehow I came away from the experience unsatisfied, it didn’t answer the big question – how do we live together? With this in mind I set about investigating the concept of society as a whole, its drivers and precipitous growth.

I started reading again, books like Darrin McMahon’s ‘In the Pursuit Happiness’ a meaty six hundred pages looking at happiness from the Greeks onward. My reading also included dozens of scientific papers. The kind that used to be found in dusty volumes in University basements but can now be plundered online. Soon I was down the proverbial rabbit hole, lost without a torch.

Fast forward a few months and I was on the west coast of America interviewing evolutionary psychologist Professor Michael Mills. Michael had written up an overview of research on how the development of society, the brain, language and evolutionary drivers (such as reproduction, safety and prestige) were all intertwined. Importantly he presented this with clarity and made it easy to understand. He also touched upon a broad range of other topics, ones coming to dominate current discourse on society, like sustainability and meme culture.\-2SqbpkTs

My camera assistant was an old university friend who’d never operated a camera before but we dived in to experience and travelled to do a couple of other interviews too. One was with ‘happiness expert’ Darrin McMahon and the other with a left field thinker who was trying to shift attention away from Charles Darwin’s underlying thesis of ‘survival of the fittest’ to one that revolved around morality. This according to him is buried deep in Darwin’s writing.

When I got home I was excited to start editing only to stall pretty quickly. I couldn’t find a through narrative, and to be honest, I didn’t understand the film I was trying to make. I was lost and, though I didn’t realise it at the time, I’d done too much research.

Fast forward a few years and I was at a loose end. Freelance work had dried up over Christmas and I was staring at a blank calendar for this January. Maybe it was time to revisit that Magnus Opus again. The film that got away!

The distance from my research (which when I dug it out shocked me by its size) brought a new approach. I would build the edit solely around Michael Mills’ interview. This I remembered to be comprehensive and broad. He also has a presence that is welcoming and fun. I would fill the gaps in the narrative with voice over which, as soon as I got the opening right, seemed to fall in to place. The film would be illustrated with cool mid 20th century archive.

The film became unapologetically philosophical and academic. Meaty. Slowly I fell back in love with the subject, seeking to answer the questions that brought me to it in the first place.

So taking a whirlwind tour from the birth of civilisation, through Darwin’s theory of man to John B. Calhoun’s iconic 1970’s Universe 25 experiment, the foundations upon which society has grown were revealed. Equally how the world’s people have questioned, and will always continue to question, the principles on which society has been built, especially when it disconnects us from one another and the environment. A process that, it could be argued, is escalated by the governmental and commercial world we find ourselves in, one that promotes individualism.

Did I answer what might become of the world in the future? I’m not so sure but it definitely made me realise that we need to trust our guts a little more. There is after all tens of thousands of years of evolution within all of us.

Ticket to Ride – Society, Morality and Evolution can be seen on Amazon, the trailer on Youtube.

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