Monday, August 19, 2013

Fear and Hobbes

Global empire runs on fear, and a general state of anxiety and uncertainty undergirds all civilized society.  Fear and anxiety keeps people in line and provides a substrate through which commercial advertisers, politicians, and government propagandists ply their power.

There is a fundamental irony at work here: a blindly accepted benefit of civilization is that it alleviates much of the fear and uncertainty that are assumed to be basic facts of life in non-civilized society.

Even the most oblique suggestion that civilization is not in our best interest is commonly met with an immediate and reflexive anti-primitive reaction. Regardless of how bad things get with civilization, the alternative is always much, much worse.

Blame Hobbes.

Modern civilization apologists, who invariably adopt a version of the Hobbesian approach, have an insurmountable logical problem that Hobbes did not. In Hobbes’ time, it was generally accepted that the world was only a few thousand years old, and that the human species was most likely a product of holy contrivance. Thanks (perhaps also ironically) to the findings of a product of civilization called empirical science, the world is several orders of magnitude older now, and the emergence of humans no longer requires divine forethought.  

And it’s that fact—that from the perspective of evolutionary time civilization is something brand new—that provides the logical barrier: how to account for millions of years of human flourishing in the absence of civilized order if life in the absence of civilization was rife with death and strife?

Even if we allow for a moderately-high birth rate (unlikely in band society), given the global population prior to the agricultural revolution, and the typical size of a hunter-gatherer band, humans would have gone extinct almost immediately through lack of replacement if death from infant mortality, predators, war, starvation, and disease was as ubiquitous as Hobbesian mythology suggests.

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