If civilization refers to the process whereby societies achieve an advanced stage of development and organization, and if a civilized society is a highly developed society that normally shows evidence of moral and intellectual advancement. Then something is seriously wrong when this concept and label is attached to the modern world and its workings. Modern Western democracy and capitalism likes to paint itself as advanced and developed. Indeed we hear the subtle rhetoric at work when the US talks of delivering democracy to economically ‘under-developed’ and none capitalist countries. This usually translates as acts of violence and military aggression, and the control of local resources by US companies, or friends of US companies who are based in these particular countries. Along with this democracy comes poor or non-existent safety conditions, low pay, long hours, and environmental degradation. With actions and methods like these it seems clear that the West and its ways are far from being civilized.
Is Civilization really the opposite of what it claims to be?
If civilization is measured by how far removed from barbarism and savagery we have come then we really need to think again about this. Particularly when we consider historical events such as the Nazi Holocaust and the murder of 6 millions Jews, and the murder and slavery of millions of Africans as part of the slave trade that resulted in the deaths of around 11 million people. On top of these historical atrocities we have modern day system of economics where millions are starving and the combined wealth of a handful of business people is higher that the collective wealth of whole nations. We are actually living in very savage times, where personal private profit is put before the welfare and well being of billions of people on the planet. The way we treat nature is no different either. We have wiped whole species of flora and fauna out of existence to prop up our unsustainable lifestyles. As I type this piece, we are forcing pipes into the earth and pumping millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals to fracture and smash the planets internal organs so that we can collect gas and oil to use to power our absurd idea of endless economic growth.
I am not here suggesting that we abandon or destroy all technology and return to some rural idyll as some from the primitivist community might advocate, as technology existed Pre-Enlightenment and will always be something that we create and innovate as human beings, but we certainly need to face up to the many mistakes and failures that we continue to prop up in the name of so called progress, and acknowledge that our world we have created is not as civilized as we claim that it is. The West speaks of capitalism, democracy and endless economic growth as if there are no other viable ideas of how to exist in a harmonious healthy and thriving world. Equally it is telling when Academic philosophy that is taught at our institutions of learning is based on the ideas of four hundred years of dead white European men.
Could there ever be a civilization based on the well being of all?
I believe that We should really be thinking about moving away from the ideas and concepts of things like ‘civilizations’ and ‘empires’, firstly, they almost always fail and collapse because it is built into their existence, and secondly, we cannot afford in a planetary sense to have further empires and civilizations. For the type of future that we need based on the well being of all living things I believe that we should be thinking about and trying our best to create and bring about permanent cultures. We are in both a dangerous and unique predicament at the moment, our binary political thinking has failed on the one hand, and we are facing huge changes to our habitat on the other, permaculture offers us both the ecological and organizational tools for a better future.