Friday, July 2, 2021

On Medium: Have We Been Conned Into Civilization?

Read on about how we may have clung to civilization despite its drawbacks because of a theocratic con, which could make even our modern defense of the civilized venture faith-based.


  1. This reminds me of an essay by Tani Jantsang: Tree of Destruction in which she speculates that the beginning of large scale agriculture was triggered by a dire climatic shift around 10,000 years ago. She then goes on to explain how nearly all social ills -- war, famine, fascism, sexism, poverty -- follow naturally & ineluctably from the settled agticultural lifestyle. She's clearly coming at this from a marxist perspective which might make it all the more interesting or aggrevating depending on your own politics.

    Sticking to a marxist interpretation of history, civilization might be seen as necessary stepping stone to some higher, post-civilized state. Agriculture largely gave way to Industrialism & now industrial civilization is petering out with the exhaustion of fossil fuels into something that may be less hectic & exploitative, but better than what we had before.

    1. I don't see why this critical take on civilization needs to be associated with Marx or why it should entail that communism is better than capitalism. It's just how funny how Marx comes to mind so readily in this context. The long view or the meta-historical fact may be that civilizational "progress" is illusory or self-defeating, but this needn't imply anything about a Hegelian logic of history or about a socialist destiny.

      I'll have a look at that article. Thanks.

  2. Agriculture made it possible to maintain a larger population (more people being fed, comparatively lower mortality with fewer predators...), which resulted in cities. Probably the most intelligent tribes or tribes that experienced greater selective pressure for intelligence that became sedentary after figuring out how to domesticate plants and animals.
    Cities may have emerged from the agglomeration of different tribes, some attracted by the novelty of agriculture, others defeated in wars, transformed into subservient classes to the winners (those who discovered and implemented agriculture and then demarcating their possessions within the same shared territory).
    Another process that may have started the construction of a hierarchically pyramidal society was social homogamy or by marriages by the same class//profession, with consequences even in genetic or phenotypic terms. The "poor" seem to be the remnant of hunter-gatherers, physically virile but intellectually simple.
    The greater the population, the greater the genetic or phenotypic diversification.
    I know, wildly speculative.

    1. Those may be factors, but I'm not sure about your connection between the poor and the hunter-gatherers. Differences in intelligence or in types of intelligence may have been relevant, but I don't see why hunter-gatherers would have been generally less intelligent than city-dwellers. The cultural differences might have reinforced certain social divides.

      In any case, I don't know much about how the early cities or kingdoms interacted with the remnants of hunter-gatherers. I imagine that in most cases the latter stayed away from the settlements. They had to in following their prey.

    2. I thought about rural exhodus recently happened in many places in which the people who migrated from countryside to cities tend to work in laboral or modest professions and live in the poor neighborhoods. It's very evident at least in Brasil and in latin America.

      Humans who started civilizations aka cities or complex societies tended to be "smarter" than those who stayed in semi nomadic little communities.

    3. But how on earth could that be determined in the prehistoric context? How do we know who was more intelligent than whom? By measuring brain cavities in skulls?

      But yes, I can see that highly intelligent people might be less inclined to settle for a simple farmer's or labourer's life. Yet there was more novelty, adventure, and freedom in the nomadic, hunter-gatherer's lifestyle. On that basis, then, we'd predict that the more intelligent people would prefer the nomadic life to the drudgery of agriculture in sedentary societies.

    4. It is politically incorrect to say that civilizations are signs of greater intelligence: greater control of the environment, greater capacity for social organization...

      Of course, disregarding the problems caused by this.

      High intelligence is more related to the desire to achieve a higher standard of living, comfort, security and emotional well-being than living an adventurous life, more related to a creative personality.

    5. The possibility of choosing an adventurous life, even without a minimum of comfort and a life that is variable and safer, does not fit these contexts, even because the greatest intellectually stimulating novelties at that time were precisely human inventions from sedentarization and then from civilization.

    6. There are different kinds of intelligence, though. There's a stripped-down, instrumental, amoral intelligence that has to do with picking the most efficient way of achieving a goal. In that case, a master serial killer might be highly intelligent in knowing which weapons to use and how to avoid getting caught. Then there's emotional intelligence, and there's intelligence in a cognitive scientific sense that has to do with information processing.

      Who knows whether civilization will prove to be a testament more to intelligence than to vanity or gullibility? Intelligence was certainly needed to solve the many problems of living together in such large numbers, but that kind of intelligence may not be our greatest virtue.

    7. It is evident that human civilization has been shown to be more complex than just the maximum expression of perfect progress.

      I'm not going into detail here about the inherent complexity of the intelligence concept, but it's notorious that civilization, with all its shortcomings, is a demonstration of superior intelligence, of all kinds, but especially more than certain not-very-virtuous types, unfortunately.

      I have no doubt that civilization can also be regarded as a biggest monument of human alienation to the hyperrealism. But that would be a separate conversation.