Perhaps we as civilized humans are grossly missing the point. Perhaps all this talk of progress, growth, space migration, immortality, etc. is a pathological and pathetic delusion and symptom of an underlying disease. Why can't we simply surrender and abandon the overwhelming desire to be something else, something more and better? Isn't there something wrong with that? Would it not be better to try to find a contentment -- and possibly even true happiness -- in this life, here and now? Is that not possible? Is that not preferable? There is an awful lot of people who have climbed aboard this ship, and by and large it is a ship of fools.
Modern culture strongly cultivates and fosters institutions, ideologies and the acquisition of stuff. It works well for things. But the same culture is woefully deficient when it comes to giving people lives which are truly meaningful. It does not work well for people.
George Carlin was fond of calling society a "failed experiment." This remark is quite perceptive. It can apply to the federal republic of the United States essentially not living up to the utopian dreams of the founding fathers -- not living up and then some. How can one look at American history and not see an exposé of a bunch of land-grabbing, slave-owning pirates? His point can also apply to human civilization on the larger scale, and the fact that quality of life is markedly worse than it ever was outside of and before the onset of stratification, specialization, inequality and all the rest. If civilization were somehow to redeem itself -- and this possibility would most likely occur in the form of the advent of artificial superintelligence, which would indeed be a worthwhile legacy -- the fact remains that, as a system for taking care of, for adequately supporting its constituents, stratified civilization has been a total failure indeed. We're stuck with it, and we have to put all our efforts into running it as smoothly as possible, but it is indeed a failure. Despite the fact that it could not have been avoided, it has been a giant swindle from the start. Carlin was absolutely right on both fronts.
Civilization has way too much inertia for sustained radical change to be at all possible.
In any society, some people -- many people -- will need help of some kind. Why should we deny them that? Why should we not want to help others? As it is, today, in America, literally millions aren't "making it." They don't have enough money even for basic necessities. What is our problem? Part of the problem, anyway, is the ethos that the individual is all that really matters. That social cohesion is somehow stupid, or unnecessary. That it's every-man-for-himself and should be. How did we ever become so fragmented as a culture? It's a malaise and a shame. And if people changed their minds about it, it would change.
Humans did not evolve, and were thus never meant, to engage in civilization. Perhaps that is why we are so bad at it.
In an economy based upon things, things take on a highly overvalued and unnatural character.
In our system of economics -- that is to say, that of civilization going back to Rome and even before -- there has to be a massive maldistribution of wealth. It is structural and the system could not possibly work without it. Civilization is very top-down. It is run by the managers for the managers. As a few get really wealthy, their ability to generate more wealth increases geometrically with time. This means that whatever revenue gets generated by the middle and lower classes usually winds up mostly in the coffers of the rich. They historically exacted this wealth in tribute, taxes and cheap or slave labor, and today simply take most of it because they own the property on which the work gets done, and they own most of the property (and they still pay relatively low wages and salaries, largely). This system always results in a fundamental imbalance, even after relative balance is achieved, because of the simple mathematical principle discussed above: the exponent. Whenever the slightest inequality develops, the differential ability to generate more wealth and eventually to buy out your competitor makes our kind of civilization systemically unfair and truly horrendous. We have done some great things as a civilization, but the suffering of the many amidst the well-being of the few has been the rule of the day.
To be civilized is almost by definition to be operating out of some type of neurosis.
I'm going to be blunt: any individual that prizes material possessions as much as the average American does has a malfunctioning brain, and is suffering from a kind of disease. Any individual who values material possessions as useful, but does not center his life around thinking about them constantly, is doing a little better, probably. The whole thing is totally disgusting. We exist in an economy that is extremely materialistic because it has to be in order to function -- the buying and selling of goods is paramount to the maintenance of society itself. So, from a very early age people who exist inside of such an economy are conditioned to base their lives around accruing possessions, and being grateful for the opportunities to do so. Essentially, people in our culture are taught very early on to love "stuff," and so they do, happily and unquestioningly. Like I said, this is pathological and not okay. But it is ubiquitous, and we are living in a virtual nightmare because of it.
A civilization like ours was inevitable, despite the contrary cries of many romantics. Like Burroughs said, the evil was there waiting.
It is easy to forget that, while it is a logical consequence of nonzero population growth, civilization is an aberration. It runs counter to the harmonious, evolutionary stability that was the rule for tens of millions of years. And, quite naturally, we are reaching a critical breaking point as a civilization. Perhaps we have already reached it.
Everyone's so keen in our culture to posit oneness, 'we are all one, everything is one.' Why is this? Because our separation from each other and the environment has become so extreme. In truth, the universe probably operates on a complementary principle of separation and oneness, both. So many of us, especially the young, seem so desperate to posit oneness as a result of the fragmentation. It's driven by culture, not necessarily objective reality.
Animals do not understand -- nor do they not understand. Perhaps in some way, they understand better than modern, civilized man.
Property protection is nine-tenths of the law. And naturally, those with the most property benefit from this the most. Our society is systemically and inherently unfair. Oh well.
There is a dark suggestion to be made, and that is that nuclear weapons had inevitably to be built, and certainly would be by the Soviets, so didn't we do the proper thing by setting about doing it as well, thoroughly and quickly as possible? I am no apologist for Dr. Strangelove, but it is a pragmatic question to consider. Some very bright and moral souls contributed to the hydrogen bomb. Were they right or wrong to do it? Realistically, it had to happen, right? I must indicate, for my own sake, that I am wholeheartedly against nuclear weapons existing at all, obviously. I would also point out that a lot of us are, and still, the weapons aren't going anywhere.
What most people fail to realize is that our civilization is unique, not general. Every other civilization that sprang up -- and there were not that many -- confined itself to its own region, and did no conquering outside of it. Mesopotamian civilization didn't stop until it swallowed everything, and it's still going, making a slave out of Earth and everyone on it.
Civilization is hard to come by, because it doesn't make any sense as an initial offering. We now know that most incipient states fell back to more egalitarian forms or simply dissolved because no one wanted to go through what was a considerably more difficult and troublesome affair to make a living. Anthropologists are quite unable to sort out how a civilization like ours ever formed in the first place. We don't know why it happens; one with anthropological savvy knows it doesn't make any sense.
Civilization is more concerned with becoming than with being.
People go on and on about "change." Change is virtually never intentional, and when it is intentional, the result turns out to be a domino effect of uncontrollable, blind forces which themselves were never intended. I'm not so sure what "saving the world" even means.
Most of the world's major problems could be solved overnight if people really made up their minds that they wanted such a thing. However, I do sympathize with the fact that most people in the world do not have the time, money or leisure to think about such things.
Every great civilization or empire goes inevitably through the same very predictable stages. Of course it begins with its inception, and, for various reasons, it begins to rise in wealth and power. Typically some war results in its establishment to prominence as a truly great power. There is a period of relative success -- a golden age, as it were -- and then things begin to grow stale -- after ripening the country begins to rot. Classes separate, complacency overall leads to the degradation of the integrity of institutions and values, and things decline. Decadence, depravity and real stupidity result from the decaying social fabric. Birth, rise, explosive success, efflorescence, complacency, stagnation, decline and then darkness. It has happened over and over again throughout the history of vertical civilization, and right now the syndrome of stagnation and decay are nowhere more in evidence than in the United States of America. It turns out that, despite all the enthusiasm, America was not immune to the natural cycle.
There is no true distinction to be found in success or riches. We're all in the same boat, and the presence of these attributes definitely does not, on the whole, create a surplus of happiness, or some magical enhancement of character.
As empires mature, their militaries engage increasingly in more offensive, rather than purely defensive, maneuvers.
It is unavoidable that an animal living outside of its evolutionary setting is bound to develop pathology or neurosis to some degree.
It is as if it were a physical law: civilizations rise, then they fall, then the cycle gets repeated all over again. From Mesopotamia to Sumer to Egypt to Greece to Rome to Europe to Great Britain to the United States to. . . what exactly? America is very probably not exempt from the law; the questions are how badly will America fail, and who's next?
Modern civilization has its tentacles into everything; it's obviously extremely powerful. We know about the Hadza and ancient Chinese poetry; moon missions and deep-sea diving; Cajun cuisine and thermoacoustics, seventeenth century Russian ballet and logic -- and logic gates. You have to give us that.
Civilized man is a broken animal. He was born whole; but he was conditioned into being a shell of a healthy human. Not only do we no longer live in an ecology compatible with our genetic heritage; but we live in modern societies which place no emphasis on community, on true spirituality, on well-being, on meaningfulness. There are reasons for our existential conundrum. Narrow birth spacing and sedentism, an artificial and inadequate living environment, and an overemphasis on individuality during every phase of life synergistically work to rape the spirit of the civilized human of modern times. If you take an animal out of its natural environment and place it in one full of poisonous practices and influences, it will not function properly. Humans are in this situation; we were never meant to live this way, and it is taking its toll. As long as we recognize the reality of the issue, and that there are knowable causes of it, we can take a small step in the right direction. But I very much doubt there's any way out at this point. One can only live, learn and come to terms with, find a constructive spirituality among, the malaise and despair. That's all we can do for ourselves as we look out through the bars.
As every civilization rises and falls, Spengler reminds us that there is always a shift from the organic and creative to the mechanical and bureaucratic. Every civilization sows early the seeds of its own inevitable disintegration.
The downtrodden seem generally to be the happiest class of people in the world. The affluent seem rather to be the most miserable.
There are clear psychological needs that are not met by civilization; hunter-gatherers typify the role, sociologically and psychologically, into which humans evolved, and it is not surprising that, when people were taken out of that role, psychological aberration ensued.
One of the tragedies of the modern age is that the vast majority of people have been splintered into solitude, at least in America. Some people like solitude, but most people don't do so well with it. There's simply not enough social cohesion, and not enough of a community scene, for it to be materially different in most places. It's quite sad.
It seems to me that it's frankly quite impossible to have a sustainable civilization with a world human population of 7.5 billion and climbing, in any way or at any kind of reasonable average standard of living.
Our view of history is sadly quite skewed. There is only one factor we look at in Western history, and that is the development of civilization originating in the Fertile Crescent. This was not a factor until much later for most societies/cultures that have existed. "We" as a species did not all develop into that scenario at the same time, and most humans never did at all. As a matter of fact, civilization is very rare in the ethnographic record; it was very unusual for complexity to form. Small-scale agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers were still in very large numbers before European colonization. Things would be very different in this world today if the accident of a power-crazy civilization that had to expand at all costs did not transpire. There was only one of those.
Civilizations sprang up in several different places (though not terribly many). But most of them, even though they were stratified and had militaries, were not totalitarian in their cultural orientation like ours, i.e. Western civilization going back to Mesopotamia. In Quinn's terminology, one could have a "leaver" civilization, and in fact most of them were.
For those societies that take matters into human hands, the cultural premise is the world belongs to man. For those societies that leave matters in the "hands of the gods," the cultural premise is man belongs to the world. This has relevance especially for the history of man on planet Earth for the last 10-12,000 years, and is a dichotomy that directly pertains to the massive debacle in which we find our sorry lot.
What we have in world history is very essentially one of the ugliest cultures systematically stamping out many thousands of cultures that actually had something going for themselves. There's a tremendous imbalance of karma someplace.
Everything you see is part of the foundation of the power-base. Every activity is directed either at becoming powerful, or at preserving someone else's power. Once power came into existence, its holders worked very hard to make sure that it would continue, essentially at the expense of entire civilizations. This hyper-elite class has existed throughout history, and has never been safer from danger than it is today. The primary reason the powerful are safe is that the vast majority of people would like to be in their position. The carrot and the stick. Until people decide they don't want that anymore, the status quo will reign.
Even the most powerful cannot prevent major disasters. But they can, and do, reinforce stability in certain ways.
People more often than not mistake the history of western civilization for the retelling of the world, which could not be a worse mistake. There were a lot of different people doing a lot of different things all over the planet until relatively recently. While it is true that hierarchy sprang up in many different spots, these were not in our image, and there was plenty of non-hierarchy as well. History is the story of our civilization, not humanity.
The most disastrous century by far was the twentieth.
The greatest scam in the history of the world is the practice of putting the food under lock-and-key.
What no one will admit is that the real issue, the central factor in the pervasive global social and environmental dysfunction, is the population level, which has skyrocketed completely out of any reasonable control. And of course, the reason no one will admit it is that this is a wholly insoluble problem.
It's not the end of the world for people to live the way we do. It's the end of the world for everyone to live the way we do.
There are literally billions living in horrendous third world conditions, and so many in the West feel like everything's just fine. Our rates of consumption in the United States contribute directly to the suffering of sweatshop workers and child laborers in places like Indonesia and the Philippines, for example. If you were an alien anthropologist, looking at us closely from afar, you would see an absurd situation: a few hundred billionaires amidst billions without enough to eat or drink. That's not to say a lot of money eliminates suffering; just that some of us seem to feel copacetic with the fact that billions go starving and without medicine while millions of Americans are holding their breath for the latest i-phone. It's a ludicrous situation. If some of these major catastrophes -- such as what's currently happening in Syria -- ever transpired on our shores, it would be a rude awakening.
The only way to change the world is to change minds, and this process seems to be glacially slow. Revolutions don't seem to help much, either. We simply can't expect radical change; trying to spur it on is futile. The world will attain a more enlightened state when its people do. The sad truth is that most people do not have the luxury -- i.e. the time or the money -- to do much changing at all.
Nothing can have true value or be something of real integrity if you have to pay for it. Education and knowledge are not commodities. Actual education never occurs in the classroom -- it occurs when one is by oneself. They're even hucking 'enlightenment' on DVD for $29.99. It's nonsense. If you paid for it, it is a product and its primary reason for existing was to be sold. If there is something you cherish about yourself, your own mind or personality, or someone else's, chances are it's not for sale. And chances are some transaction didn't generate it, directly or indirectly. There is a reason for that. In the modern world what is for sale is confused and conflated with everything. Nobody has any idea what's real anymore.
Rebels at heart and those on the far left believe that radical change is necessary and possible. It may or may not be necessary, but possible? The system has been basically the same -- i.e., radical change has never happened -- for the last ten thousand years, varying only cosmetically. For the last ten thousand years, we have had to work to eat; there have been upper, middle, and lower classes; power and wealth have existed to serve themselves and have remained entrenched and in the hands of a very small portion of the population; government has been ubiquitous; injustice has been prevalent; and everything has been basically unfair and rather ludicrous. Why or how anyone with a working brain and even an extremely cursory knowledge of history thinks this will change at all, or change quickly, is beyond my comprehension. Rome wasn't built in a day; it will take a lot longer than that to change it appreciably, and radical change may never come at all. Certainly radical change, if it ever does happen, will only be possible in the very long term. And a crisis -- not a manifesto -- is what will be needed to precipitate it.
Nationalism is obsolete nonsense. It is a religion of fervent stupidity and plays on people's idiotic pride, being all the while carefully maintained because it keeps the populace in check. Stupid.
People talk about the apocalypse coming soon to Earth. Truth is, in many parts of the globe it is already here. Literally billions have nothing more than a shanty and the air they breathe, and have to deal with infestation, disease, malnutrition, and a lack of clean water to drink, among other things, with no money to spend. If as a westerner you can stand up and actually look at what's going on in the world, you would easily agree that for countless inhabitants of our planet, desperate end times are already here. In a purely material sense, the U.S. and all of the developed nations are extremely lucky. (I suppose, parenthetically, that that doesn't necessarily mean they are really happy).
The civilization game is rigged: money flows vertically, not horizontally.
Human civilization at this point is a cluster-fuck. Who cares how advanced it is? The question is: What is the nature and quality of people's existential lives? Are people getting happier over time? Looking around at the global situation, it would seem that quality of life is being negatively impacted for most as the population spirals. So the question is: How advanced are we really as a species? We have these fabulous technologies, but as I mention quality of life has grown poorer per capita, it would certainly seem, for the vast majority. In fact, most people in the third world do not even have access to most of these technologies, and we're talking about billions of people here. Have we taken one step forward and two steps back?
As Terence McKenna astutely pointed out, history is not really serviceable. You cannot fix the system by tweaking it. What is needed is something fundamentally different, and to come by such a thing seems to require magic. And we're not magicians.
Contrary to what some believe, anarchy would not work, nor would it be desirable. As soon as you have an anarchic state, you're going to have individuals and groups swoop in to fill the latent power vacuum. No matter what, in every civilized society, one group has power over others at any given time. So the goal should not be an impossible anarchy, but setting up the most humane and effective government that we can. When I say vacuum, I mean that if one removed from society all of the authority structures, and all of the instruments of those structures, and erased all laws, almost immediately, new ones would begin to form. And they would very likely be more oppressive than the ones they replaced.
If there is the opportunity, in an anarchic situation, to gain power in some way, someone will inevitably take it. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch.
As a child I wondered why the Earth weren't just one big country, with nations as states and states as counties. A united planet, each person a citizen of the world. A preservation of the diversity of cultures with many official languages. Why not? This makes sense to a child, and probably would to an extraterrestrial, but I suppose a child's thinking is too sophisticated for most jaded, defeated adults. And so we fight on...
The law is fucked, in principle and in practice.
The extremes of monarchy are greater than those of parliamentary democracy. When it's good, it's better -- but when it's bad, it's worse.
Civilization is the boiling of the frog, and currently we're at a simmer.
Most rich people are assholes. Why? Because they haven't found what they are looking for.
The countercultural revolution of the 1960s was obviously variously significant, and it scared the hell out of many people in the conservative establishment. But, in the end, with the exception of a more liberal attitude toward drugs and to some extent sex, nothing changed materially and the status quo was mostly preserved. The movement never culminated in an actual cultural revolution, even though it must be admitted that between 1965 and 1969 tremendous momentum developed in some sectors, mainly among the young, that made a lot of noise. The reasons the wave rolled back on the hippies and whoever else subscribed to the idea of radical change are certainly manifold, but I think one factor must have been that no coherent alternative was ever really suggested. Or perhaps it would be better to say that they hadn't formulated any cultural narrative with which to replace the "ways of old and evil." In other words, they didn't offer a new story to be in. Western civilization certainly has a very recognizable story to be in: the garden of eden, the agricultural revolution, the bronze age, the iron age, Greece, Rome, the enlightenment, the great awakenings, the industrial revolution: PROGRESS AND MORE PROPERTY at all costs. Basically this story can be summed up by saying it has a Biblical orientation, a belief in and worship of the notion of progress, and that humans achieve progress and manifest the Biblical orientation by "multiplying and replenishing," that is, subordinating the entire Earth to human enterprise, which is to attack and eliminate as many natural elements as possible in order to achieve better and more control of everything. The various countercultural elements of the sixties didn't have a story, a memetic narrative nearly as formidable and adaptable to which people could turn and that is why, in 1970, the dream faded away and died. You can't just pull off a political revolution in the ordinary way on the one hand (because it never amounts to a true change in the story), and you cannot hope to effect real and lasting and meaningful change on the other, without giving people a new and effective and infectious narrative structure in which they can participate and let some kind of meaning and feeling of belonging and mattering, which in reality was lost in large part in our culture a long time ago, flow into their minds and souls. Changing the political landscape, or trying to argue for universal peace and love, without couching it in a group of people with utterly changed minds looking for and finding a new and exciting and successful story to be in, will get you nowhere. And that is what happened with the youth movement in the sixties, as effervescent as it was in any case. If it had been allowed by circumstances to last a little longer, perhaps it might have evolved into something unprecedented and dreamed up for itself a new story, a new narrative to which people could truly belong and in which they could truly matter -- maybe being content to be less, to do more with less, to recognize some basic truths about the Earth and human evolution that have been forgotten, to restore some sanity that most of the people who now inhabit the Earth lost long ago. But without this new coherent story, the revolution just faded, for the most part, into oblivion.
War will exist as long as there is an unequal distribution of wealth and as long as there are money and resources and enemies to be seized.
In this system, the people have no real choice at all. George Carlin correctly pointed out that there is a carefully crafted illusion of choice, but there is no genuine choice in much of anything available to anyone.
In civilized societies, humans are weaned from the breast much earlier than in evolutionary societies. This is not trivial.
Once a political boundary is established, people on both sides of the line tend to go a little nuts.
Essentially, civilization is a gigantic swindle.
Health and (non-monetary) success come about when there is diversity. Diversity in and of cultures and ecosystems: diversity of flora and fauna, diversity in the ways these are connected; diversity of viable memes, diversity of artistic output, preservation of the languages, arts, and ways of all cultures, not just the dominant ones. Diversity in and of thought. Diversity in ways to live. Some of these categories I have mentioned may seem strange, especially, perhaps, when I suggest that there can and ought to be more than one way to live -- i.e., not just this one. The moral is that diversity is one of the few things on Earth that can wisely be treated as sacred, and I feel the need to point to it because we are destroying every last vestige of it in our quest for total domination of everyone and everything. The world is quickly becoming a monoculture. Certainly in the United States, across Europe, in China, and soon everywhere we will have KFC and Starbucks on every street corner, and there is no word to describe how crass, evil, and horrifying this is. Diversity is the key, at almost every single level of the biosphere, to the sound and harmonious operation of the constituent parts in an elegant whole. Our civilization was bred to slaughter that diversity, and it is doing it -- and it is, in relative terms, almost done.
One could move Heaven and Earth and not pull humanity out of the hole it is in. Civilization is what one might call inert.
Humanity is a chimpanzee species. In order to have been successful (which we haven't been), we would have needed to be a bonobo species.
The only phenomenon one can control is oneself, and even there the picture is quite muddy. Notions of 'saving the world' are only hubris, and will come to very little.
Chomsky defines class as: "Who gives the orders, and who follows them?"
One thing we surely have a lot of in America is rich assholes who are morally bankrupt and don't have anything constructive to offer the world except their money. And these, apparently, are the public's role models.
On issues that do not affect the pocketbooks of the "masters of mankind," the system can function as a democracy -- when it will. On issues that do impact the pocketbooks of the oligarchs, it cannot and does not function as a democracy, and the majority of politicians tend to fall into lockstep. What this means, among other things, is that policy and popular opinion often diverge radically. And that no one can do anything about it, most of the time.
I reckon that if a government (with the obvious candidates being the U.S. and China) ever established a permanent base on the moon, it would militarize very quickly. I don't believe either power would keep nukes out of the equation, either stockpiled on the moon or aimed there at an adversary. Being on the moon would be a strategic bonanza for any nation. So it's hard to imagine the enterprise being a peaceful mission for all mankind. So much for all that.
Given that there is a natural order of rank, would it not make sense to acknowledge and assert it? Instead of having chaos?
The safety to be found in modern civilization is one of its best features.
If anarchy were ever established, all that would happen is that certain parties would take the available power and abuse it.
The global population was too large at a billion. Now we're at almost eight, and on the way to about ten billion by 2050. It's a dramatically unhealthy number of humans, and one can see that we're wiping out and displacing the animal kingdom rapidly. We are in the midst of a great extinction, and humans are the cause. We have more than three billion people (almost half the world's population) below the poverty line, and the eight richest people on Earth have more combined money and control more resources than the 3.6 billion poorest. One can argue that it's a matter of availability of resources, and that we can support this many people at a reasonable standard of living. My question is: when?! How much longer will it take to get over three billion people to a reasonable standard of living? And we can't expect this standard of living to be as high for everyone as it is in the West. Statistically, if everyone on Earth were to live at an American standard of living, 4.1 Earths would be required at maximum efficiency to support that level of consumption. So -- when exactly are the resources going to be available? Very many of our problems stem from the burgeoning population. Virtually all of our environmental problems do. It's not deleterious for some people to live the way Westerners do. It is totally deleterious for everyone to live that way. So, do we work to reduce the population, or do we settle for an extremely sparse standard of living for ten billion people, and say fuck the environment? I also advocate limiting the number of offspring, and I would say one child (or none) would be optimal, and that there should be some incentive for people not to have children at all. We need to get serious. Way too many humans.
In the end, it is probably various extremes which do empires in. Inequality of wealth and power; overreach domestically and abroad (including militarily); debt; decadence; decay; stupidity, etc., etc. and the concomitance of and reinforcement between factors. Certainly, a process so complex must remain somewhat mysterious, but it seems constructive to point out the factors and manifestations we know about.
If guilt were to be assigned, then everyone would be guilty, not just those at the top.