Beyond Civilized and Primitive: Some Favorite Quotes

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this post-civilization anarchist theory stuff lately, and I’m really, really impressed by what I’m finding. It’s a newer philosophy of anarchism so there’s not too much out there on the subject yet, but here are some favorite quotes from a piece called Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

Americans think freedom means no restraint. So I’m free to start a big company and rule ten thousand wage laborers, and if they don’t like it they’re free to go on strike, and I’m free to hire thugs to crack their heads, and they’re free to quit, and I’m free to buy politicans to cut off support for the unemployed, so now they’re free to either starve and die, or accept the job on my terms and use their freedom of speech to impotently complain.

We like hot baths and sailing ships and recorded music and the internet, but we worry that we can’t have them without exterminating half the species on Earth, or exploiting Asian sweatshop workers, or dumping so many toxins that we all get cancer, or overextending our system so far that it crashes and we get eaten by roving gangs.

I think the root of civilization, and a major source of human evil, is simply that we became clever enough to extend our power beyond our empathy. It’s like the famous Twilight Zone episode where there’s a box with a button, and if you push it, you get a million dollars and someone you don’t know dies. We have countless “boxes” that do basically the same thing. Some of them are physical, like cruise missiles or ocean-killing fertilizers, or even junk food where your mouth gets a million dollars and your heart dies. Others are social, like subsidies that make junk food affordable, or the corporation, which by definition does any harm it can get away with that will bring profit to the shareholders. I’m guessing it all started when our mental and physical tools combined to enable positive feedback in personal wealth. Anyway, as soon as you have something that does more harm than good, but that appears to the decision makers to do more good than harm, the decision makers will decide to do more and more of it, and before long you have a whole society built around obvious benefits that do hidden harm.

I have a wild speculation about the origin of complex societies. The Great Pyramid of Giza is superior in every way to the two pyramids next to it — yet the Great Pyramid was the first of the three to be built. It’s like Egyptian civilization appeared out of nowhere at full strength, and immediately began declining. My thought is: the first pyramid was not built by slaves. It was built by an explosion of human enthusiasm channeled into a massive cooperative effort. But then, as we’ve seen in pretty much every large system in history, this pattern of human action hardened, leaders became rulers, inspired actions became chores, and workers became slaves.

Click here to read Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

And here’s a list of other articles written on post-civ theory:



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