Arts: Laugh? They were almost civilised
The week on radio
More to the point, it looks good on clay tablets, which is what Michael Diamond took as a starting-point for his 15-part history of Civilisation on the World Service last Sunday. (No apologies for reviewing another World Service programme, even if most readers find reception difficult; the World Service deserves all the support we can give it.) Diamond placed the beginnings of civilisation in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago, with the invention of cuneiform - wedge-shaped writing on clay - to assist the processes of Sumerian bureaucracy.
Civilisation is potentially a war-zone, and Diamond approaches it slowly and deliberately, with a factual presentation, refusing to get drawn into debates. In particular, he sidesteps defining what civilisation is. But his picture of ancient Mesopotamia identified some features that are, if not necessary to civilisation, certainly typical of it: cultivation of crops (irrigation), cities, abstract nouns, charging interest on loans, literature.
Interestingly, money is not on the list. Compare and contrast Rob Long's Conversations with My Agent, read by Rob Morrow as last week's Late Book on Radio 4. The book is based on Long's experiences as a television scriptwriter in Los Angeles, where money is more than a central feature, even in the way that a sunflower is a central feature of a Van Gogh. Money is the paint.
But Long's beef with Hollywood is not the commodification of creativity - though he has a fine riff on the way that the local argot reduces any project to "a piece of business". Money, which washes around the place like water in a toilet, is abstracted in a way it never is in the real world, where scarcity makes it seem more concrete. How much money you have bears no relation to your success: a sitcom Long has written faces cancellation, but he has his contract renewed at a vastly favourable rate.
This isn't quite a morality play, then, but a nervous, earthling view of a planet where terrestrial morality is out of place. Nor does Long try to draw it as a primitive, philistine society, which it clearly is not. During the filming of Long's sitcom, some dogs run riot, and the studio audience roars. Long's agent congratulates him. "But they're not laughing at what we want them to laugh at," Long points out. "They never are," says the agent. This is a good working definition of life; and a society that has achieved this depth and simplicity is surely civilised in the profoundest sense.
Life & Style blogs
Google Maps Pacman: company offers chance to play arcade classic on streets around the world
Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
The Clove Club: The restaurant where you will pre-pay for your food
Apple Watch: What is it good for?
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...
£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...
Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...