As more and more people begin to show an awareness that civilization is in danger of collapse, we are still struggling with what I think is an important conflation of two different mechanisms as if they were the same. Civilization is indeed in danger of collapse. I agree with those who say it’s been collapsing for a long time, only it shows more in some places – the poorest places, the ones who have paid the price for the “benefits” others have “enjoyed.” The mistake comes when we think this collapse is the result of the failures of civilization, and that in its collapse we undoubtedly face the general explosion of what we’ve been led to believe are “uncivilized” behaviors, circumstances, and conditions.
I don’t think is true. First, Civilization, while collapsing, is not failing at its underlying aims. The collapse we see is not the result of mistakes, or accidents in carrying out civilization’s program, whether our critique is made from the right or the left. Civilization has succeeded. It’s meeting every one of its goals. The problem is, those goals, so well hidden behind civilization’s mythologies, always led inexorably towards just this kind of collapse. Every “high-point” in past civilizations has come to the same end, each one doing it more spectacularly than the last. Ours may well be the one that finishes the job.
The second point, that the opposite of civilized living is barbarism has resulted from our world-wide acceptance of the parochialism of certain aggressive Greek tribes who characterized their “foreign” neighbors as shaggy, unshaven speakers of gibberish who went around acting crazy and saying “Bar Bar” instead of speaking classical Greek, like any civilized and well barbered person should.
It doesn’t take too much effort to get to the bottom of this. Civilization’s propagandists have always lumped humanity’s less fortunate traits as belonging to their opponents, while holding any laudable traits as belonging exclusively to the “higher orders” which they alone populate. That by any measure “barbarism” has increased exponentially with the rise of civilization, usually at the point of the sword of enlightenment or salvation, is vigorously ignored as we willfully misunderstand whatever disputes fantasies we’d prefer to maintain.
So the goal of civilization, to aggregate power and enthrone the will to control, has led directly to the widespread embrace of fear and terror as both weapon and supposed refuge. These are wielded both to enlarge civilization’s domain and to deepen its hold over its internal victims. In the end everyone is terrified and cowering behind the rationalizations that only civilization can keep us safe.
Unless we can begin to unravel this knee-jerk connection, this confabulation of cause and effect, we can have no traction against the further successes of civilization. The day when we can speak of what we so tentatively call “Uncivilization” by some direct term, instead of with a vague term of negation; we will be somewhere further along the path to providing a way past this conundrum.
I don’t suspect we can ever break free, and discover that new language, without first digging out at least the most egregious examples of this bias within ourselves, and untangling our use of language from its web. This is just another way of talking about what is so important about seeing what we face as a cultural predicament with ramifications that threaten us across a variety of physical and non corporeal fronts, instead of insisting that the areas under threat themselves provide the only arenas from which to challenge our predicament.
Unless we can make this connection, and straighten out cause and effect, we will continue to find it hard to untangle the futile search for “answers to problems” that has always driven the technologically oriented program we call civilization. The hit-or-miss way in which we veer in-and-out of an understanding of this difficulty feeds our continued confusion, and guarantees that efforts will continue to slide inexorably back into habitual paths worn so deeply by civilization over such a long period – what we blithely call forever, in the common usage of civilized speech which per force must ignore the existence of any outside frame of reference. We will also continue to polarize, in our own minds as well as in our efforts to communicate, life; breaking it up into a series of alternatives that should be resolved by “fabricating consensus” as the term of art of the most “advanced” democracies has put it.
Civilization is the ultimate solipsism. It steadfastly maintains itself as the only valid, the only frame of reference period! It holds the primacy of idea over reality. It will go to any length to refuse to accept its own lack of validity, and use whatever means necessary to defend itself. Here is where our confusion comes to ground. It’s when we confuse civilization and its psycho-dramas for our selves, when we fail to see that we have an existence outside, or “beyond” its zealously defended bounds, we are fighting against our own selves in its defense, not our own.
In the end it’s a clear enough realization. That doesn’t make it any easier to hold onto. Our very preference for ease is a profound statement of our domestication. We have no conception of what another way of life might feel like. That’s why we face “wildness” with such anxiety and confusion. How do they do it? We direct our question not to the “creatures” we glimpse in passing themselves, we normally address it back to civilization. In that act, we fall back under its spell. It is always ready with an answer, always ready to turn existence into series of problems and offer a twelve step solution. In accepting its siren-call; we float back into its orbit, we maintain our civilized state of confusion, of confusion over the difference between collapse and failure.