Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Descent of Man?

While I was watching the excellent Andrew Marr series History of the World, or whatever it's called, it occurred to me that he is possibly trying to make a worrying point. There is a vague possibility that he is trying to tell us that the more “civilised” we become, the more bloodthirsty, power-crazed and generally unpleasant to each other we end up. I will level with you here, I was a long way into a bottle of red wine by this point, so the crazy in the back of my head was fully engaged. However, I recall in the first episode that he spoke of the first towns, which appear to have been mostly without leaders or government of any kind, which seem to have lasted for several thousand years in an anarcho-communist style of living, with absolutely no problems. I realise I am putting this simplistically. He also shows you happy nomadic tribes people that potter about and work together to be happier. This all seems lovely.

And then he gets to Rome, and Egypt and the other great early empires, and Alexander the Great, who mostly like to throw their weight around and enslave/kill/rape the happy nomads and little anarchist communes. In fact he has largely shown most great rulers from history as being, if you will pardon the phrase, massive dicks. To the extent that Alexander the Great seems to have murdered his best friend in a drunken argument, and then had a bit of a cry over it. This is just my take on it however, I could be wrong. And as usual have little evidence to back up my claim, as I tend to watch the show while drinking, so am left with just a basic foggy memory of what he said, and my own knowledge of history to guide me.

I do recall being highly impressed with human ingenuity for the first few episodes, and then more and more disappointed as the love of money and power slowly take over. This week we discovered America, not a happy point in history, I sat hugely depressed as I saw the conquistadors wiping out the Incas and the Aztecs and the Olmecs so they could take the gold. Which ironically the Incas and Aztecs and Olmecs weren't so bothered about keeping anyway it seems (the way Mr Marr puts it anyway). There seem to be brief golden ages and places where the financial imperative seems to be forgotten, and a rush of new discoveries and beautiful art unfold. And then something else becomes terribly valuable.

We also got the story of the Dutch “Tulip Bubble” the first boom and bust in the futures market, in fact probably the first futures market. After a thing like that (google it, I have no intention of explaining it now) you would think everybody would have learned and decided not to bother with futures again. However, clearly there were enough people who got incredibly rich out of it before the bubble burst, that it was worth doing again. And the myth was perpetuated, and the bubbles still continue to boom and burst and ruin ordinary people's lives right up to today. Also very depressing.

I was reminded of the Terry Pratchett joke that if Darwin had called his book the Ascent of man, he may have had an easier ride of it. I then began to think he may have been right about the descent. We start out happy and eager, ready to take over the world. No ingrained hate of anything, leaping down from the trees and across continents ready to adapt and survive. Within the blink of an eye we are murdering the Neanderthals for being in the way. This seems to set a precedent, until we end up slumped in front of 42" LED TV screens moaning that the gays and jews have taken over the TV and it's all rubbish, and we can't get a job cos of all the bloody immigrants. As I say, depressing, and inevitable. Largely because of my ridiculously simplistic and naive view right back there in the middle of the paragraph.

What finally really hit me though, is that I like to blame the television for the lack of inventively brilliant new art and ideas today, always have done, always will do. Despite the fact that I watch so much of it (although probably because of that, it steals my time away from doing useful things). And the fact that I was watching the slow decline of the incredible human spirit on a TV show, seemed, in my wine-soaked haze, to be a rather poignant and ironic joke. So much so I seem to have left myself a voice note on my phone about it. Unfortunately, it makes no sense to me now whatsoever, so I have written this rather than the undoubtedly beautiful missive that the drunken idiot who left me a note on my phone on sunday night would have.

Addendum – I found another voice note on my phone slightly later, in which I tell myself that TV does also inspire you to do things, such as write this piece. I then go on to tell myself that the spark of inspiration struck me about 10 minutes into the program, and unfortunately the next 50 minutes drove everything I wanted to say out of my head. Thus making TV the ultimate bastard, with it's ability to inspire one to create things, while simultaneously driving them out of one's head while one tries to finish watching the show. Cruel mistress indeed.


HarryMonmouth said...

Unfortunately I have not seen this programme as I don't have a television. Ha ha ha. Actually, not entirely true. The landlord did leave a giant behemoth in my flat that is sitting in the corner. I doubt it works though considering that it has not been turned on for more than half a year. I don't think these CRTs last too long when they are ignored. I also actually own a flat screen but have never tuned it in. That has not been turned on for a good few months. I occasionally put it on when I want to have an extra screen of productivity.

Anyway. The point I was going to get to was the asking of the question, has he discussed the East India company yet. I guess we are even more civilised than in the times of the conquistadores at that particularly low moment. The most powerful force on Earth is a company. I would say that in some ways things have actually improved to a degree. You don't often hear tales of Apple getting the whole of China addicted to opium so that it can make a profit, and then going on to actually take over India as though it is a warring nation. In many ways things are getting worse of course. Have you heard the story I recently heard that people are thinking of placing adverts on the moon so the whole world can see them? It was either coke or pepsi that was supposed to be really behind the idea.

Dave Holwill said...

East India company were very much in it last week, there was a discussion of the first ever hostile takeover (by the British East India company of the Dutch East India company) which was a 3 year siege of a diddy little spice island. Again the wine-ridden haze has taken away my memory... but the British also got manhattan out of it, and I may have got the details the wrong way round. That might have been the spark of inspiration that was crushed by the rest of the programme.