Civilization is anything but inevitable. Its occurrence is in fact one of the greatest mysteries of the human situation. The fact that civilization accounts for less than one percent of human existence means that it is not one of our species’ defining features. It is a quirk, an accident of geography or climate or viral invention, or some unlikely combination of circumstance.
It is important that we divest ourselves of the teleological illusion that civilization is a natural outcome of our evolution, because until we do, we will continue to accept civilization and all of its concomitant suffering as natural and unavoidable, as part of the price we pay for being what we are.
The meme of inevitability is repeated constantly in the media. It is especially salient in discussions of technology and technological “advancement” (what, I wonder, is the ability to evaporate Afghani children with a robotic aircraft piloted by someone drinking Mountain Dew in an air conditioned trailer in Colorado an advancement toward?). It is also seen in the laissez faire approach to corporate exploitation, complete acquiescence to corporate privilege, and the unquestioned assumption that “needs” of corporate entities supersede the (real) needs of individual persons. The media propagate a malignant acceptance of the deterioration of the natural world even as they gleefully report on the latest environmental catastrophe, species extinction, climate change estimate, or industrial toxin. It’s just the price of progress, after all.
“Progress is inevitable. Can’t you see? It’s right there in the word progress!”
And for those few who do actually see, for those of us who are beginning to understand what we are really up against, the illusion of inevitability too often gets reinforcement from its most deadly ally: learned helplessness.
And so we have a battle on two fronts: once we conquer the illusion that the status quo is inevitable, we must find some way to convince ourselves that, against some very convincing indications to the contrary, we nonetheless have the power to change it.