Andrew Marr's History Of The World (2012) s01e08 Episode Script

Age of Extremes

1 In the 20th century - our age - our brilliance and our foolishness collided to produce one of the greatest moral dilemmas humankind has faced.
For three years, Robert Oppenheimer had led a top-secret mission to end the deadliest war in the history of the world.
But to do that, his team were building a weapon which would soon also threaten to end human life on earth.
[PHONE RINGS] Oppenheimer.
Mankind's greatest intellectual achievement.
Modern science had now unlocked the secrets of atomic power.
In our age, democracy confronted two great enemies - communism and fascism.
Their leaders believed that if you killed enough people, some kind of human paradise would follow.
Instead, as these ideas were tested to destruction, they planted little pockets of hell on ordinary earth.
With this handful of salt… But new freedoms were won.
Science brought us machines of awesome speed and power, and we reached beyond the limits of our planet.
[FLIGHT DIRECTOR:] 'CapCom, we are go for landing.
' [CAPCOM:] 'Eagle, Houston.
You are go for landing.
' In the 20th century, our failures were greater than ever before and our achievements astonishing.
Mankind found itself in a race, a sprint between its technological brilliance and the risks of its political idiocy.
[SHOUTING IN GERMAN] Welcome to the age of extremes.
November 1918.
The first global war had ended.
The emperors and the top-hatted politicians had failed.
They'd shattered the optimism of the modern world.
For many, especially on the losing side, it seemed that a new order must rise from the ruins, a new kind of politics which needed a ruthlessness the older generation had flinched from.
Among the soldiers straggling home from the trenches of the Western Front was an angry and embittered 29-year-old corporal… Tag.
…Adolf Hitler.
Danke schÃn.
Like many others, Hitler was looking for someone to blame for Germany's humiliation.
Dies ist der Grund unseres langjährigen Zustandes.
This is the story of the revenge of the nobody.
When Adolf Hitler arrived in Munich, he was a nothing.
He'd won a medal in the war, but his fellow soldiers described him as a bit peculiar, a loner, and he'd never been promoted, because the German officers realised that he lacked leadership qualities.
Das wissen Sie doch.
Er kannte das! This is also the most extreme example in human history of how one individual can unlock hell.
[HITLER ADDRESSING RALLY] [CROWD CHEERING] But how did this chaotic loser harness a big idea, fascism, and goose-step Germany into another world war? In a single word, fear.
We are all of us susceptible to being scared by events, and then feeling anger, so when people's savings and jobs are destroyed, which happened in the early 1920s in Germany, they panic, then they want revenge.
Hitler's great good luck was that he offered up his recipe about who to blame at just the moment when rampant inflation had brought Germany to its knees.
A loaf of bread for a billion marks.
But for many the spectre of communism seemed even more frightening than capitalism's collapse.
In southern Germany, Munich had been shaken by a communist uprising put down by troops.
Into all of this stepped Adolf Hitler.
He joined and took control of a tiny right-wing party.
He even redesigned its curious emblem, based on an ancient symbol for good fortune, the swastika.
In this grey defeated city of small angry parties and big angry meetings, Hitler stood out as a star speaker, because he simply went further.
He said the unsayable.
The Jewish problem would be solved with brute force.
Germany would carve a new empire for herself in Eastern Europe, a greater Germany rising to be a world power, and the people listening to him were soon comparing him to Martin Luther, Mussolini, even Napoleon.
Right at the beginning there was this leader cult.
Yet Hitler came across as crazily optimistic.
He thought that, by pushing Munich right-wingers into revolt, he could get them to march on Berlin and seize control of all democratic Germany.
[AUDIENCE APPLAUD] [CHEERING] Die Roten gedeihen im Chaos.
On the night of November the 8th, 1923, a political meeting was being held in one of the city's beer halls.
[SHOUTING] Hitler hijacked the meeting, declaring, "The national revolution has begun.
" Die Reichsregierung wurde gebildet.
But few in the hall were impressed by the jumped-up extremist, and the meeting ended in confusion.
The next morning Hitler led armed supporters onto the streets.
But when police fired on them, this revolution by sheer bluff collapsed with embarrassing speed.
Two days later, Hitler was arrested.
The beer-hall revolution was a political shambles.
It ended in humiliating failure.
But it made Adolf Hitler a hero far beyond Munich, because he realised that he could use his trial as a much bigger platform than any that he'd get in a beer hall.
He was defiant, completely unapologetic, and he was heard all across Germany.
Sympathetic judges gave Hitler a soft sentence for treason.
He was imprisoned in the nearby town of Landsberg.
Hitler's rooms were soon crammed with unrestricted visitors and parcels and messages.
One particularly gushing letter came from a student in Heidelberg called Joseph Goebbels, and as for the parcels, it was like a delicatessen.
One visitor said you could have opened a flower, fruit and wine shop with all the stuff stacked up in there, and Hitler began to become rather fat from all the chocolates and the cake.
Eventually he had to usher the visitors out so that he could settle down and dictate his memoirs to a man called Rudolf Hess.
[TYPING] The Führer was emerging.
Der Jude ist und bleibt… But he had a truly terrible title for his book… Four And A Half Years Of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity And Cowardice… …shortened by his shrewder publisher into My Struggle or Mein Kampf, and in it he said exactly what he thought.
[TRANSLATOR:] "The Jews are a pestilence worse than the Black Death.
"The day will come when a nation will arise "which will be welded together "that shall be invincible and indestructible forever.
" Mein Kampf argued that capitalism and communism were equally dangerous and that Jews were behind both, pulling the strings from Wall Street and Red Square.
In other times and places, few would have listened to such a crackpot theory, but by the early 1930s, the Great Depression starting in America had thrown people out of work across the world, while the looming menace of Stalin's communist state haunted millions.
There are times when the politics of fear become irresistible and nonsense seems common sense.
Eventually, the Nazi Party did very well in elections.
Hitler came to power not as a tyrant but entirely legally.
[CROWD:] Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! During the 1930s, no other major political leader had his level of popular support.
It was support based on the violent creation of a new German empire in Europe, the destruction of Europe's Jews, which was all laid out in black-and-white.
[CROWD:] Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! History is full of nasty surprises.
Adolf Hitler did his very best not to be a surprise.
Whilst Hitler was fighting for power in Germany, in America, the greatest democracy, women were fighting a rather different battle.
They'd won the vote in 1920, and now a new form of politics had arrived, sexual politics.
Margaret Sanger was a tiny redheaded radical from the backstreets.
Her name isn't very well known, but she did more to shape today's world than most politicians.
In the early 20th century, Manhattan was a divided island.
Uptown was swinging, brash and booming, the most fashionable place on the planet.
Downtown was very different, a place of old-fashioned poverty.
In the overcrowded tenement blocks teeming with new immigrants, women were desperate to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
These women were caught in a dilemma, either dangerous self-induced abortions or the backstreet abortionist, who could be just as dangerous.
Margaret Sanger was a nurse.
She saw the worst and she thought all women had the right to safe contraception, birth control.
You're going to get through this.
"I shuddered with horror," said Margaret Sanger.
"I resolved to do something to change the destiny of these mothers, "whose miseries were as vast as the sky.
" But contraceptives were taboo.
Those who sold them were condemned as purveyors of vice and sin.
In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened America's first birth-control clinic here in a poor district of Brooklyn.
On the opening day, more than 100 women queued up for help and advice.
) I haven't seen you before.
What's your name? But the pamphlets she was giving out were classed as obscene literature.
Get out of here, now! - You're under arrest! - No, you listen to me! Get these men out of here.
Get off of me! Will you get them off of me?! Sanger was charged under America's very strong anti-obscenity laws.
The clinic was shut down.
So much for women's rights.
But private individuals, if they had enough guts and could lay hands on some money, could fight back.
Contraceptives couldn't be imported into America, but Margaret Sanger had a friend, a friend who could help, a friend with a picture-book chateau by Lake Geneva.
This was the summer home of a rich American heiress, Katharine McCormick.
She was a glamorous society lady who liked the latest fashions, but she was also a rarity.
She'd studied biology at university and campaigned for votes for women.
Very good.
Once American women had the vote, like their Scandinavian and British sisters, she was looking for a new cause and she alighted on birth control, which is why an unlikely friendship was formed between the heiress and the agitator.
In Europe, contraceptives were easy to get hold of.
Katharine McCormick went around buying up posh frocks and then had hundreds of diaphragms sewn into the hems, before boldly smuggling the clothing in trunks back to New York where Sanger had opened a new clinic, which flourished.
This was a great victory for private enterprise politics, and the campaigner and wealthy rebel kept in touch.
Margaret Sanger always wanted an easier contraceptive, a fail-safe one, and when, decades on, scientists thought this might be possible, she turned again to Katharine McCormick, who bankrolled the research.
It had been a long road from those New York tenement blocks, but in 1960, the pill went on the market.
It revolutionised birth control for women.
Half a century on, the pill has become the contraceptive of choice for way over 100 million women all around the world.
Its social impact has been huge.
It's allowed women to make choices about education and their careers, to delay having children or to have no children at all.
Along with votes for women, it has been one of the biggest social changes of the 20th century - indeed, many women would say the biggest change of all.
Not all revolutions were won by men with tanks.
Like the women behind the pill, others used ingenuity and moral force.
It's been said that, in 1930, three people had achieved instant global recognition - Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler… …and a skinny fellow who dressed to impress… …Mohandas Gandhi.
The British liked to think that, in India, they were the good imperialists… parents, really.
But after famines and repression, many Indians didn't see it that way.
In March 1930, Gandhi, leader of the Indian Independence Movement, sent a letter to the headquarters of the British Raj in New Delhi.
It was a direct challenge posted through the front door.
The letter was addressed to Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, the Lord Irwin, Viceroy and Governor General of India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire.
Gandhi explained politely but firmly that he was intending to start a campaign of civil disobedience through which he would win India's independence.
"I do not seek to harm your people.
"My ambition is no less than to convert the British through non-violence "and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India.
Gandhi finished his letter by promising to call off his planned campaign, if the British would agree to talks about freedom for India.
In the 1920s, on the surface, the British Empire seemed as self-confident as ever.
Some sense of its swagger is given by the Viceroy's new house in Delhi.
A British architect working on a Mogul scale.
It makes Buckingham Palace seem poky.
But this was confronted by the determination of the wiry little man from Gujarat, who understood that the British weakness was a determination to be thought decent rulers.
So, his campaign of non-violent disobedience was a kind of political torture.
Gandhi said, "There are many causes I'm prepared to die for "but none that I am prepared to kill for.
" Answer that.
Hmm! The Viceroy chose not to answer Gandhi's letter, so the troublemaker embarked on his campaign of polite, smiling civil disobedience.
Gandhi set out to walk the 240 miles from his home to the coast in a protest about salt.
Along the way, the crowds welcoming him grew day by day.
When he arrived at the seashore, 50,000 supporters, newsmen among them, were waiting to greet him.
Gandhi walked down to the water's edge and he scooped up some salty mud.
With this handful of salt, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.
Focusing on salt was a stroke of genius any spin doctor would envy.
Indian salt production was a British monopoly and it was taxed.
Gandhi encouraged all Indians to break the law by panning their own salt and refusing to pay the salt tax.
It was an echo of the Boston Tea Party.
Gandhi was engaged in a propaganda campaign and refusing to pay tax on salt would remind the Americans of their refusal to pay tax on tea when they broke away from the British Empire.
So, by collecting the salt and refusing to pay tax on it, Gandhi was challenging the British to make themselves look both brutal and ridiculous.
As mass protests rippled across India, the British authorities decided to arrest Gandhi and throw him into jail.
Perfect! Just what he wanted.
His arrest spurred even more people to come onto the streets.
Demonstrations were ruthlessly put down.
Britain was humiliated and condemned around the world.
By the end of 1930, 60,000 peaceful protesters had been imprisoned.
The agonised Viceroy gave in.
He had Gandhi released from prison and invited him in for talks.
Mr Gandhi.
Lord Irwin.
- Would you care for some tea? - Tea would be perfect.
This meeting was the turning point.
They agreed a pact which would lead, in stages, to India's independence.
Sugar, Mr Gandhi? No, thank you.
As the two men celebrated with a cup of tea, Gandhi had one final surprise.
I am putting some salt into my tea… …to remind us of the historic Boston Tea Party.
Very good, Mr Gandhi.
But in Britain, not everybody was impressed.
Back in London, Winston Churchill was appalled to see Gandhi posing as a fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the King Emperor.
This is just the beginning.
It took 16 years and a world war, but already the greatest empire the world had ever seen was lying, rather grandly, on its deathbed.
But in an age of so much political horror and failure, Gandhi's legacy reached further than independence for India.
His philosophy of non-violent resistance has been an inspiration all around the world.
"Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.
"It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction "devised by the ingenuity of man.
"Non-violence is a weapon for the brave.
" Adolf Hitler could never understand Britain's queasy response to Gandhi.
"All you have to do," he told Lord Irwin, "is shoot Gandhi.
"You'd be surprised how quickly the trouble will die down.
" During the Second World War, the capitalist democracies of Britain and America allied themselves with communist Russia against fascism.
This was a necessary pact but a diabolical one as well.
Both the Nazis and the Soviets believed in the power of science, racial science in Germany and the science of class war in Russia, pseudo-science.
Both thought that if you could get rid of whole classes of people, Jews, Gypsies, rich peasants and the bourgeoisie, you could build a new world.
And in the heartlands of central Europe they put their theories into action.
On the 29th of September, 1941, here, at a ravine outside Kiev, 33,761 Ukrainian Jews, who had turned up on time, as they'd been asked, carrying their suitcases, their children warmly dressed, were stripped naked and shot in batches of ten by the Germans.
It took 36 hours.
Babi Yar.
Nothing was worse than what the Nazis did, but their job here had been made easier by what the Russian communists had already done.
Eight years before, they too had rounded up whole classes of enemies and overseen a famine which left the villages and the streets of Kiev littered with the dead and dying, so bad that families ate their own children.
Reds and Nazis.
Sadly…not ogres.
Human beings with a big idea.
No leaders emerged morally untouched from the Second World War, and, to end that war, the great democracy, America, had to confront a hideous moral dilemma of its own.
The top-secret American operation to build and use the atom bomb would challenge the humanitarian values on which democracy is built.
It was led by one of the most intriguing minds of the 20th century.
Robert Oppenheimer was a curious mix of a man.
He was fascinated by other cultures and the religions of the east, and, in politics, a man of the left.
In fact, he even flirted with communism before the war, and so you might think a strange choice to head a project like this.
But he was a brilliant theoretical physicist and a charismatic leader.
By the summer of 1945, Oppenheimer's bomb, codenamed Little Boy, was ready.
The target, Hiroshima.
After Germany's defeat, Japan had fought on.
Now Japanese civilians would pay for their leaders' refusal to surrender.
[CLOCK TICKS] [CHILDREN SHOUT] The strike was set for Monday, the 6th of August.
[CLOCK TICKS] [CHILDREN SHOUT] There were American scientists who didn't believe in deploying the bomb, but Oppenheimer argued strongly that it had to be used.
There was a chance that the bomb would end all war, but, for that to happen, the whole world had to see its full horrific potential.
And so this man, with his cultured sophisticated mind and his humanitarian values, spent a great deal of time calculating the exact height at which to detonate the bomb so that it would kill the maximum number of people.
Thank you.
This morning, at 8.
16, Japanese time, a B-29 bomber was successfully deployed above Hiroshima.
[APPLAUSE] Hiroshima is a big word.
This is a big story.
Let's try and bring it down in scale a bit.
This is a woman's watch, hands fused to the time of the blast.
Around 400 young children were here with their ten teachers when the bomb went off, and all but one was burned to death immediately.
In a three-mile radius of the blast, almost everybody suffered fatal burns, and, beyond that, there were mass blindings from the flash, and then of course came the radiation sickness, killing many thousands in the days and weeks and years that followed.
Stubbornly, incomprehensibly, Japan still refused to surrender, so, three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki.
In the two attacks, up to a third of a million people died.
Now Japan finally admitted defeat.
On the evening of the 14th of August, 1945, the Second World War came to an end.
There are plenty of places around the world where terrible things happened.
What makes this one different is the thought that what happened to Hiroshima could happen almost anywhere else.
I certainly grew up in the 1960s and '70s thinking that my home town in Scotland and the people I loved could be nuclear victims, and people were thinking just the same all across America and in Russia and France and Germany and many other places.
"We shall not repeat this evil," says the monument behind me.
But was this the end of something or was it the beginning? We still cannot be sure.
Dropping the atom bomb changed the world forever, and nobody felt the ambiguity of this more than its creator.
A few weeks afterwards, Oppenheimer resigned his post on the nuclear programme.
Later he reflected openly on his…achievement.
We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world.
A thing that by all standards of the world that we grew up in is an evil thing.
And so by doing, we have raised the question of whether science is good for man.
In later life, Oppenheimer described on television how he was haunted by a line he had once read in an ancient Hindu scripture.
"Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.
" I suppose we all thought that one way or another.
The nuclear arms race between communists and capitalists terrified the world.
But the horrific promise of mutually assured destruction did preserve a fragile peace between the superpowers.
Doo-doo-doo-doot, sh-boom Life could be a dream if I could take you up… It allowed the rival systems to test their own economic power, and in the West, the sheer energy of capitalism was unleashed as never before, producing a gushing abundance of goods, a colourful gloss of material plenty.
Life could be a dream if only all my precious dreams… It was a time when everything seemed possible.
[MISSION CONTROL:] 'This is Apollo Launch Control.
' 'Five, four, three, two… '…one.
' 'OK, all flight controllers.
Go/no-go for landing.
- 'Retro.
' [OTHERS:] - Go.
- 'TelCom.
' [OTHERS:] - Go.
'CapCom, we are go for landing.
' 'Eagle, Houston.
You're go for landing.
' 'OK, Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now.
' 'It's, er, different, but it's very pretty out here.
' But as the West went moony, on the other side of the earth's great divide, daily life was descending into another political nightmare.
[SHOUTING IN MANDARIN] The People's Republic of China, July 1967.
Fanatical gangs, known as the Red Guards, were hunting down anyone suspected of betraying the ideas of the Chinese communist leader, Chairman Mao Ze Dong.
[SHOUTING IN MANDARIN] The name of this victim, Deng Xiaoping.
[SHOUTING IN MANDARIN] One day, he'd become the most powerful man in China, the leader who would turn the country into the economic powerhouse that it is today.
[SPEAKING MANDARIN] Deng was one of the original Chinese communists.
He'd been a guerrilla fighter, he'd led armies for Mao from the early days right through to the final victory, and Mao liked him a lot.
He called him "the little man" and he'd drawn Deng into the tight group of people who really ran China, but now Deng was on his knees being screamed at by the Red Guards, the fanatical foot soldiers of the wildest social experiment ever to hit modern China, the Cultural Revolution.
[CHANTING] The Cultural Revolution meant a vast purge of anyone thought to stand in the way of Chairman Mao's long march towards a communist utopia.
Once again, innocent individuals were being sacrificed to the big idea of a deluded tyrant.
Mao called for a war against the Four Olds - old thinking, old culture, old customs, old habits.
[CHANTING] It's estimated that millions of people died in the Cultural Revolution.
The Chinese government itself says that 100 million people suffered.
Mao had quite deliberately unleashed social anarchy, a war against the past, a war against moderation… …a war against common sense.
Mao's warped economic reforms had led to famines in which up to 45 million people died.
Deng Xiaoping fell foul of Mao's Red Guards for daring to suggest there might be a better way of running the economy.
At the 1961 party conference, Deng argued that economic growth mattered more than communist theory and he quoted an old peasant saying, "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white.
"If it catches mice, it's a good cat.
" Now, this was dangerous stuff.
It suggested that he thought there was an alternative way for China to modernise, not necessarily Chairman Mao's way.
[BIRDSONG] After his public denunciation, Deng Xiaoping was exiled to work in a tractor factory.
Then the Red Guards came looking for his son, Pufang, a brilliant student at Beijing University.
[HE GROANS] He was ordered to confess to his father's treason.
[HE GROANS AND GASPS] [HE GROANS] [HE SPEAKS MANDARIN] The guards told him, "The window is your only exit.
" [BIRDSONG] [HE GASPS] [HE SCREAMS] [THUD] Pufang was paralysed but was refused proper care in hospital.
Deng desperately begged for news of his son.
Eventually, Pufang was sent to join him in exile, where the old communist became a good father, trying, unsuccessfully, to massage his boy back to health.
In time, Mao relented, and Deng was welcomed back to Beijing as if nothing had happened.
When Mao died in 1976, the great survivor seized the chance of a political comeback.
Within two years, Deng was the most powerful man in China.
Deng's moment had come, and what a moment! He took China right round towards roaring full-throttle capitalism.
Under Deng, China's repressive state continued, but he began welding together the two big ideas that had divided the world in the 20th century.
For him, capitalism in a communist country wasn't a contradiction.
It was a pragmatic solution.
Since Deng's reforms were introduced, China's economy has been growing at an average of nearly 10% a year every year.
It's on track to become the world's biggest economy by 2016.
But there's a twist to this story, because Deng Xiaoping wasn't the only survivor.
From his wheelchair, his son, Deng Pufang, is today one of the most influential voices in China for humanitarianism and, in 2008, he was part of the team behind the Beijing Olympics.
The father's message was all about economic growth, and that is very important.
But the son's message is about the importance of compassion, and, in the end, that may matter more.
[CHATTER, WHOOPS AND WHISTLING] The great standoff between dynamic capitalism and tottering communism came to a dramatic end with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
With the Cold War over, there was wild talk about the end of history.
Mao, Stalin and Hitler had all attempted to reshape humanity using political terror.
But now it seemed there was only one way forward - capitalism.
But history didn't stop.
Other people were trying to reshape the merely human and they included scientists working in the beating heart of capitalism, New York.
In 1997, a game of chess began.
The defender, the reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov.
The challenger, a supercomputer built by IBM.
It had a name.
Deep Blue.
[NEWSCASTER:] 'The world of chess is bracing itself 'for what they're calling the match of the century.
' The match between man and machine was dubbed "the brain's last stand".
Chess has always been seen as one of the ultimate tests of human memory and concentration and planning and intuition.
There are said to be more possible moves in a game of chess than there are atoms in the universe.
Human chess players deal with this extraordinary complexity by seeing patterns, using their imagination and their intuition.
Computers can only grind the numbers.
They have no intuition.
Or so people thought.
Kasparov opened the first game with a classic attack.
An IBM expert was carrying out the moves dictated by the computer.
A chess genius like Kasparov could calculate three moves a second.
But in that same second, his electronic opponent could process 200 million possible moves.
The world champion played an aggressive first game.
After four hours, he'd gained the upper hand.
If this was the brain's last stand, the brain seemed to be doing pretty well.
[CLICKS TIMER] Deep Blue conceded defeat.
[AUDIENCE APPLAUDS] [NEWSCASTER:] 'And Gary Kasparov has won the first game against Deep Blue 'in fantastic style.
' The second game was the turning point in the match between man and machine.
Kasparov tried to lure Deep Blue into a trap.
But the computer didn't take the bait.
It went quiet.
It processed its options… …for a full 15 minutes.
Then it ignored the trap and made a brilliant strategic move of its own.
This was the decisive moment.
It almost seemed as if the computer had been thinking.
The great master was being outsmarted by a circuit board.
Kasparov tried to escape… …but every manoeuvre was futile.
There was no way out.
The machine had beaten the man.
[AUDIENCE APPLAUD] [NEWSCASTER:] 'And Kasparov has resigned.
' Kasparov said later, "Deep Blue sees so deeply, it plays like God.
" [VEHICLES SOUND HORNS] The idea of machines waking up and becoming cleverer than we are is something that has long haunted science fiction and Hollywood, but it is the cold belief of many scientists that this will happen and in the lifetime of many of the people watching this.
If so, it would be the greatest achievement of humanity since the invention of agriculture, but it would be one which challenged the very idea of what it is to be human.
We are now, all of us, living in an age of acceleration, a frothing torrent of invention, devices, interconnectedness and smart everything.
More of us on earth live longer, healthier and wealthier lives than our ancestors would have imagined possible.
But all this consumption hasn't come free.
We've ripped through rainforests like the Amazon.
We've caused the extinction of other creatures and we've affected the climate.
It's hard to imagine the shock early humans would have felt if they were suddenly confronted by modern humanity.
Except that, at the end of the 20th century, that is exactly what happened to a small group of Indians who'd lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle for thousands of years in South America.
Parojnai, Ibore and their five children were members of the Ayoreo tribe.
'We thought that the beast with the metal skin could see us.
'We thought that it had seen our garden and came to eat the fruit 'and to eat us too.
' And of course they were quite right.
The bulldozer had come to eat their land and their way of life.
'Parojnai asked me if I was scared of the stranger.
'I said I'm not scared.
'So we went to get a closer look.
' [BANGING ON DOOR] [SHE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE] Ibore tried to reassure the stranger.
"There's no reason to run," she said.
"We are good people.
Hey? They may have been separated by thousands of years of human development, but on both sides, their tastes, their needs, proved humanly familiar.
Decoration, nice things, a shared humanity.
[LAUGHTER] Barcelona, Barcelona! Yeah, Barcelona.
You know football.
Under the layers of experience that we call progress, we're still driven by the same instincts and desires that ruled us right at the beginning of the human story.
Today we're armed with gadgets, computers, phones, and what do we do with them? The same shopping, gossiping, consuming and sometimes protesting that we've always done.
Only now there are seven billion of us and rising rapidly.
Either we manage differently, no longer devouring quite so much so fast of the earth's natural resources, or we'll have to shrink our numbers.
So, the decisions we make in the next 50 years may well decide our fate.
I'm in what's said to be the largest shantytown in South America, and yet it's also got a dynamic vibrant democracy, producing growth.
This is a shantytown on the way up.
It's got a bit of law and order.
It's got some businesses.
Now, Brazil is going to be one of the most important countries in the world in the century ahead.
If they can get the balance between a better life and democracy without destroying the environment… Big if, but if they can get that balance right here in Brazil, then perhaps mankind can get it right.
But getting it right must mean drawing on our past experience.
What else have we got to learn from but our history, all of our history? The history of the world.
Homo sapiens means "wise man".
Really? Clever, certainly.
Our technical accomplishments, awesome.
We understand our planet, the origins of our universe, even ourselves, as we've never done before, and we live in societies much less violent than most of those you've seen in this series.
But we are still deadly dangerous, very greedy and bad at looking ahead.
I'd say we're a clever ape in a spot of bother.
Societies have faced catastrophe before and found ways through them, and there's no reason why we can't do the same.
But at the end of this series, the only absolutely clear and safe prediction that I can give you is that the most interesting part of human history lies just ahead.
If you'd like to know a little bit more about how the past is revealed, you can order a free booklet called How Do They Know That? Just call: Or go to: and follow the links to the Open University.