To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. — Buckminster Fuller

So here we are. After some 6,000 years, Babylon has taken over the planet. Attendant evils form a familiar litany: gross inequalities, nasty megacities, social parasitism, horrific abuse of land and waters, chronic institutionalized warfare, destruction of indigenous lifeways, growth-based predatory economy, insane amounts of stress, and stupendous waste. What good has it brought us? Over most of its written history, not much. The books on the “glorious” ancient civilizations play up the art and play down the horrors. Do the exquisite figurines of the Sumerians allow us to sweep under the rug their penchant to bury alive whole retinues of people when a “noble” person died, or their habit of raining devastation and death on their very neighbors on a regular basis? And thanks for that vast desert you left us, guys! Are the architecture and paintings of the Renaissance much balance for the plagues spread by hunger and filth, or for the widespread torture of dissenters? Not in my way of reckoning. But in the last 150 years or so, there has indeed been a change. Medicine, the reach of human knowledge and communication, technology and gadgetry, human longevity, hygiene, and certain civilized pleasantries have come into their own and brought along much that has been valued, not just by the propagandists for civilization, but by its common denizens.

And so the obvious question arises: can we keep some of the good while chucking the bad? Can we keep books and antibiotics, fine tools, computers and pressure cookers, precision glasses and bright lamps? Can we even have a benign version of a human organization able to accomplish complex coordinated tasks without the resort to cogmen and bosses with sticks? Can we have access to some nifty material benefits without devastating the world? Dammit, is a civilization worthy of its name too much to ask?

This, this misshapen glittering menace I call Babylon, is many things, some good, but it is certainly not civilized. Rather, it devalues and gets in the way of much that is cultured, humane, learned, edified, courteous, enlightened, bettered, and wise. A civilized civilization cannot be built by brutal human hands applying brutal methods. The global battering ram that drives Babylon must be stilled. A system founded on the predatory domination of one group by another cannot ever be anything but grossly uncivilized.

Those who criticize our civilization as aberrant and terminally corrupt are right, but they themselves fall into fallacious thinking. The options before us are not either/or: either this civilization or none. Either this civilization or back to the cave. Just as “we the civilized” are not “humanity,” so “this civilization” is not “civilization.” This civilization is only one type of civilization.

Jensen et al have a blind spot when it comes to their critique. And of course it is a blind spot we’ve all shared. It is part of the inheritance of living in Babylon. One of the ways dogmatic, cultish groups defend themselves is -– “but what else is there? Where else would you go?” Implying “we are the only ones worth bothering with.” Babylon functions the same way, and not only makes civilization’s champions feel unnecessarily embattled, but the critics themselves typically see no other option but giving up on civilization altogether. There is no middle/other ground. This civilization, then, is the only game worth playing, and so we must defend it with everything we’ve got. Perish the thought! I bear glad tidings. This particular civilization, stretching all the way back to Sumer and Babylon, is only one type of civilization. Once we remove our blinkers, we can look for evidence of other types of civilizations in the past, and speculate about their possibilities in the near future.

If my hypothesis has merit, then surely the archaeological record will show remains of other types of civilizations? And in fact, it does. Looking back from the vantage point of the 21st century, we are privileged to see the remains of a variety of civilizations not based on domination, stratification, despoliation, and war. Lacking writing and, often, obvious monuments, they have only been noted and studied fairly recently. Much is still to be learned about them, and others yet await discovery. But we already know that these ancient civilizations were notable for their peacefulness, their longevity, and the autonomy and comfort of their inhabitants. I will describe several in the next chapter.

If other types of civilizations flourished once, they can flourish again when the global Machine no longer hovers over the world like the Shadow of Mordor. Cultural sophistication need not be forever hitched to coercion and control. I am persuaded that once our descendants are able to stand back and make comparisons, the domination civilizations from Sumer on will be recognized for what they are: ambitious and desperate detours that ran into a wall.

7 Responses to “Civilized civilization?”

  1. mike k Says:

    “once our descendants are able to stand back…”

    The problem is, the ability to detach, to disidentify, to impartially witness is in its developed form, an attribute of higher consciousness. 99%+ of the population does not exercise this capacity. One of the “powers” of spiritually developed consciousness is the ability to remove oneself not only from the manifestations of the minds of others, but more crucially to be able to stand beyond one’s own mental productions as well.

    Then what is to be done? The silence that meditation woos so devotedly is the place of release, the dimension of real freedom.

    “Beyond good and bad, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
    Rumi

    Only practise can grant this invaluable capacity. The greatest bar to a person taking up this endeavour, is the belief that they already have this ability, or alternatively, that it is really of no value anyway. Truly, we are powerless victims of all that we cannot step outside of. We live overwhelmingly in a world of our own illusions and projections. Getting free of all that is an essential step towards transcending our greatest obstacle: ourselves.

  2. mike k Says:

    To imagine we can build a new world without personal transformation is to be forever trapped in a web of our own weaving.

  3. Mary Wildfire Says:

    I like the ideas you express here. I have a theory that goes like this: once there were a million small tribes all over the Earth, with various cultures. Ten to seven thousand years ago, some settled down, got into agriculture, and in some cases grew cities and division of labor, art and science. And some got into social hierarchies, the repression of women, the replacement of the Earth Mother with violent Sky gods, warfare. Does the latter necessarily flow from the former–or are advanced societies that don’t exploit and abuse some of their own members and attack other groups possible? Anthropologists disagree, and I don’t know enough to know who to believe. But in any case…a culture engaged in domination and agriculture tends to grow in population. Eventually they will want their neighbors’ land. These neighbors, lets say an egalitarian, peaceful tribe, see trouble coming. What can they do? If they do nothing, eventually they will be attacked, the men killed and the women enslaved.

    The amalgamated culture that results may get some words, some recipes, some stories from the peaceful culture but they will not adopt its peaceful and egalitarian ways. The peaceful tribe may choose to fight, but they likely have fewer warriors, less well-trained, and inferior weapons. If they make a great effort to overcome these disadvantages it’s conceivable that they could triumph–by becoming the enemy. Another choice is to flee, to pack up the kids and whatever they could carry and go searching for an empty land where they might prosper. But note this: in all three cases, the land originally held by the peaceful tribe is now held by a warrior culture. And now it wants to expand again, and another tribe is threatened…fast forward to today. The aggressive culture has metastasized until it has taken over the entire Earth except for the last few bands in remote jungles or frozen wastes, who are under assault now by oil drillers and such. because we have never found a good answer to the question of what you do when the aggressive, insensitive, dominator group threatens. Ghandi and MLK and Frederick Douglass all came up with partial answers, but we need more…

  4. leavergirl Says:

    Mary, a heartfelt welcome! You sum up the gist of the “problem of power.” And you are absolutely right, it has not been solved so far.

    Daniel Quinn in the Ishmael trilogy, and Andy Schmookler in Parable of the Tribes say it too, just like you do. In my view, this is THE puzzle we need to solve before any other pieces can fall into place. If you have any more thoughts on this, I would love to hear them!

  5. Mary Wildfire Says:

    Actually, I do. I’ve been thinking a lot the past year about the possibility that a lot of humanity’s problem comes from the 1% psychologists say are sociopaths–people without conscience. Usually they study prisoners–after all this is a group known for lying and not inclined to cooperate for the greater good. But prisoners can be motivated to cooperate. But–what if there is no correlation between absence of empathy and IQ or socioeconomic status, and even poor impulse control? What if low levels of those things, and lack of empathy correlate with ending up in prison–but there are also sociopaths with high IQs, born into mansions, and some have no problems with impulse control, than you very much? (Of course, they can commit crimes and be rescued by daddy and have no record, even if they do have that impulse problem.) My thesis is that these people concentrate too–in corporate boardrooms, Congressional seats, the Oval office, and wherever the people meet who tell the President what to do.
    I’ve been trying to research this, in part because I’m trying to write novels depicting a positive future (I do have one completed, a romance set in 2024). From what I’ve gathered it looks like genes and environment are about equal in causing this. The best book may be Paul Lawrence’s Driven to Lead: good, bad and misguided leadership. He bases his argument on Darwin: that humans evolved a “drive to bond” that led to community and family, etc, but some never did acquire this. They persist in the gene pool because it can confer some advantages to be without conscience, even sometimes advantages to the group (like in warfare). But I must admit that perhaps the best book I read argued the other side: Phillip Zimbardo’s the Lucifer Effect. He shows the results of hundreds of studies that show how easily people who are NOT sociopaths can be led into cooperating with immoral acts. Changing this tendency on the part of the overwhelming majority is daunting at best–thus Id rather focus on stopping Hitler than on stopping the Good Germans who actually committed the atrocities he ordered.

  6. leavergirl Says:

    You go, grrl! I think along similar veins. Will check out the books you recommend. In the meanwhile, have you seen my posts on sociopaths and disruptors? I have a feeling you might like them… just look in the Archives tab.

    Do you have a link to your book, or any other writings? I love smart romances… 🙂

  7. Mary Wildfire Says:

    Okay, read through them both–might comment, but these are old posts, eh?
    As for the novel and other writings, no I don’t have a website yet–I need to create one. My husband is a website manager so he can do the tech part. I tried first to market the romance, Bringing Eden Home, via traditional publishers, mostly e-publishers–got four rejections, the last one with a detailed critique which led me to think I might be better off moving to science fiction, or to marketing it myself. it’s daunting, as I find I am congenitally incapable of selling anything, but maybe in an online mode…anyway, I will be happy to send you the novel as an attachment if you send me an e-mail.

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