Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pro-civ ill-logic

Pro-civ arguments frequently have the same form as arguments for the existence of god made by theologians who are also true believers: start with the conclusion you want, and then work backward to find ways to support it.

The fact that humans are an adaptable species is sometimes used to dismiss the negative aspects of civilized life. The idea is that humans will eventually “evolve” in ways that make civilization a more suitable lifestyle. Unfortunately, evolution operates on a far broader timeframe than the lifecycle of a typical civilization.

But human adaptability is irrelevant anyway when it comes to questions of how people should live. Plantation slaves “adapted” to hard labor—and the ones who adapted the best were able (allowed) to reproduce and thus provide additional slaves who, because they inherited their parent’s genes, were likely to be able to adapt to a laborious life themselves. But that’s hardly an argument for slavery.

A related form of this argument is that although humans aren’t necessarily “meant” for civilized life, once it occurs we are adaptable enough to learn to live with it. It might not be the best way of life, but it works. What is invariably glossed over is that not all of us are living with it. Several people are being killed as a direct function of the normal operation of civilization even as I write this.

Too bad for them, I guess. And I need to stress that killing people is part of what civilization does—all civilizations everywhere.

Civilization most definitely doesn’t “work”—except in the short term for an increasingly small minority of elites.

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