Jump to content

Are the best years of our civilization still to come?


Altherion
 Share

Recommended Posts

It's really hard for me to visualize ourselves as more civilized than 4th Romans -- maybe not less, but not more -- when among the multiple upon multiple of uncivilized behaviors that are constants in the USA right now, and have been all long, we've got this:

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/30/fbi-says-hate-crimes-against-asian-and-black-people-rise-in-the-us.html

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/hate-crimes-hit-12-year-high-united-states-2020-fbi-2021-08-30/

When so many 'educated, literate' (huh!) people are taking horse deworming medicine instead of getting free vaccinations that protection against covid and are made for people, not animals. Are these people more civilized than Those who believed in blood letting?

That so many people go into schools to rip the masks off the faces of the teachers and abuse them.  Really?  You consider These literate, more literate than the average uneducated person in 4th century Rome?  Or the average peasant in the feudal fields of France?  Or the average Scots-Irish 18th century immigrant?

And that's just a bit of the civilization going on in the world. Ha!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 minutes ago, Zorral said:

It's really hard for me to visualize ourselves as more civilized than 4th Romans -- maybe not less, but not more -- when among the multiple upon multiple of uncivilized behaviors that are constants in the USA right now, and have been all long, we've got this:

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/30/fbi-says-hate-crimes-against-asian-and-black-people-rise-in-the-us.html

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/hate-crimes-hit-12-year-high-united-states-2020-fbi-2021-08-30/

...You're comparing to a civilization that relied significantly on slavery and you're complaining about hate crimes?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Imagine sitting there going 'are people eating horse-dewormer more civilised than those who believed in bloodletting' and thinking you did something clever when the horse de-wormers are a lunatic fringe-  vocal and perhaps sadly larger than we'd wish to admit, but a fringe belief- whereas bloodletting was the medical standard and that we now have a medical establishment that knows how to do medicine is a pretty big marker for civilisational advance.

Of course the US Healthcare system is terrible for people and definitely a mark down on the civilisation points, but blackmarking the entire world for that is a very America-egotistic way of thinking about things.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Altherion said:

The first couple of sentences outline a serious weakness of our system... serious, but not quite fatal. The trick is that the people with money and power can be brought around into doing the right thing by making it so that it benefits them too.

Sometimes, to an extent? But much too slowly, and certainly not in all cases.

2 hours ago, Altherion said:

The horse de-wormer people are also a problem, but they're not a new one. There have always been people who believe outlandish things and if you take of order 100 million people, you will find a wide variety of bizarre beliefs. I'm not so worried about this one because most of the time these are harmless and even when they are not, they're almost always outnumbered.

 

The most lunatic fringe might be a minority, but factions generally hostile to civilisation are frequently able to get more popular support than their opposition, with the aid of apathy and disenfranchisement.

2 hours ago, Altherion said:

The bitcoin miners are in the same category as the people treating covid with horse de-wormer: there always are and always will be people with a wide variety of beliefs each of which is very far from those which are held by their society. Very rarely, they turn out to be correct and are later hailed as visionaries who were ahead of their time. Much more often, their nonsense is forgotten by almost everyone.

The problem is it's not just nonsense, it's actively destructive nonsense - for bitcoin, waste of energy on a staggering scale, and less importantly computer component shortages; for anti-vaxxers, promoting the continued spread of a virus that has been a major disruption to the entire world for the last couple of years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Judging an entire civilization solely on how upper class men were educated seems pretty classist and sexist to me. We should look at society as a whole not only the leisure class. Plus, you are not making a fair comparison by comparing the Roman upper class to the US lower class. The US upper class are pretty much all going to get vaccinated and not use horse dewormer. See Donald Trump some of his followers might be going to feed stores to buy horse medicine but he himself got the jab. Finally the ivermectin stuff is a fringe belief you can't indict a whole society based off of the beliefs of what is likely to turn out to be under five percent of the population. I'm sure the Romans had all kinds of crazy beliefs circulating at under five percent in the lower classes that we don't even know about because of lack of record keeping. 

1 hour ago, Zorral said:

That so many people go into schools to rip the masks off the faces of the teachers and abuse them.  Really?  You consider These literate, more literate than the average uneducated person in 4th century Rome? 

So many? How many? Even in America I bet it's not that many. and again, you are comparing fringe to the average, let’s compare them to some Jewish radicals or something. Finally, this is again a very America centric comparison. America doesn't equal the world. I work in a Chinese high school with several thousand students and we've had precisely zero incidences of students ripping teachers masks off. I'd hazard a guess that Korea, Japan and other countries where masks where normalized have also had less issues. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most Romans believed in an absurd amount of gods, thought slavery was entirely fine, thought women had no rights, bought and sold elections all the time and considered shitting outdoors in a communal area to be the pinnacle of civilization.

Just stop this stupid 'Roman was the pinnacle' bullshit. Rome probably wasn't the pinnacle of civilization while it was doing well. 

The main reason I'd say that 'our' civilization has hit its peak is because it has been demonstrated quite well that things like democratic values, human rights, intellectual curiosity, justice are all not remotely necessary for a country to be at the top of the world, not by a longshot. And that's during non-crisis times (relatively speaking). All of those things are going to be curbed heavily when things start really going bad, because in crises having democracies leads you to having to listen to those people who think horse dewormer is good for treating viruses. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Monuments of the Early Caliphate at Dārzīn in the Kirmān Region (Iran)
Mehrdad Shokoohy
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
No. 1 (1980), pp. 3-20 (18 pages)
Published By: Cambridge University Press

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Awesome thread but I am missing two words and maybe that tells a story in itself. 

Solidarity and greed. We all know the black book of real-life communism. Time to write the black book of real-life neoliberal capitalism. It has as much blood  and civilization destroying shit on its hand as the former, just in a different, more devious, hidden way. 

The ideology behind neolib capitalism is not new, goes back straight to the beginning of the 19th Century (and one can argue back to the Calvinists and Puritans and their stupid, idiotic and self-serving predestination theory). But until relatively recently, I would say the 1970s, it was always more of an academic or fringe belief as a whole. Only with Reagan and Thatcher it got really mainstream. Unfortunately most people made the wrong conclusion that it was neolib capitalism which „beat“ communism and won the Cold War. And so its widespread implementation around the globe began in the 1990s. The magic words of the decade were „core competencies“ and „deregulation“. We all drank the kool-aid. For 40 years people around the globe but especially the West have been indoctrinated that „greed is good“, „greed is the base for innovation“. It’s so stupid and ridiculous but we fell for it. A society or civilization where each and everyone of us behave like the king or queen of our own little world cannot work and is doomed to fail. 

Bring back solidarity as a core value, bring back a „shut up, it’s not all about you“ attitude and things might get better again. We can see it with the vaccines, the basic argument of most people who dont want to take it always boils down to: I am young/healthy I don’t need it. Find the bug in the system. 

Anyway, this is why I feel the fight against climate change is already lost. We would need maximum solidarity to even have a fighting chance. But more than 40 years of „greed is good“ neolib capitalistic indoctrination won’t disappear over night. I do feel a shift, especially among the younger generations though I fear it’s a too little, too late situation. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 8/27/2021 at 9:59 PM, Altherion said:

This topic is inspired by @Arakan's post in the current US Politics thread which I thought deserves its own topic. Do people think that on the whole things are still getting better and, despite the obvious setback that is the coronavirus, the world will improve in the next few decades? I can see arguments for both possibilities and any answer is of course a guess or a feeling (unless you have a time machine), but it would be interesting to see how people feel about this now.

I can see arguments for both sides, but my personal view is that despite the climate issue and the widespread incompetence of our leaders, the world will continue to get better for most people simply because there are many very intelligent people everywhere working on practically every problem facing humanity. What do you think?

What metrics are you using for civilization? How are you defining it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

14 hours ago, DMC said:

For me, I took the OP to mean "our" civilization as "western civilization," which is the dominant (even hegemonic) civilization for quite awhile now.  And in that regard, I think it's pretty clear western civilization already hit its peak and is now on the decline.

Western hegemony is certainly on the decline, having reached its peak at some point during the end of the 20th century... but hegemony isn't exactly the same as civilization. Spanish hegemony peaked at the end of the 16th century, but I consider our current civilization far more advanced than that one. If you think that western civilization hit its peak and is declining I'd like to know by what standards or criteria.

13 hours ago, rotting sea cow said:

Most studies show humanity is now less free than several years ago.

Citation needed?

13 hours ago, rotting sea cow said:

20 years ago we had decentralized Internet and a relatively unrestricted banking system. Today, Apple and Google censor information and apps on our phones while Visa and Mastercard limit what goods and services we can pay for. Every year we give up more power and control over our lives to a handful of unaccountable corporate executives we didn't elect.

The alternative to this is Apple and Google being completely unaccountable for anything any individual uploads on Facebook or YouTube and Visa and Mastercard being completely unaccountable for anything their credit cards are used to pay for. This is a very liberal take (not one I'd share) and has its own serious problems.

14 hours ago, rotting sea cow said:

Unlike 20 years ago, we are now surrounded by surveillance cameras, which in countries like China use AI to make sure nobody can hide.

This is very anecdotal, but installing surveillance cameras in public spaces in Europe is extremely hard since the GDPR. In the village where I work local government wanted to install surveillance cameras to control fly tipping in a public space. We had to apply for permission from a regional body which finally denied it considering that the public benefit obtained from the surveillance cameras (less fly tipping) was not proportionate to the intrusion in individual privacy which would result in having surveillance cameras recording anyone entering this public space 24 hours a day. Any space where there are surveillance cameras operating has to have warning signals too.  

12 hours ago, Zorral said:

Technology is not interchangeable with the concept of civilized, any more than the concept of culture is interchangeable with technology or the concept of a people being civilized.  We have an entire culture right now, that is technologically advanced, and is anything but either civil or civilized.

Technology is indeed not interchangeable with civilization, but it affects it greatly. The printing press, the Internet, fast means of transportation... they allow us to disseminate culture and knowledge in unprecedented ways. An advanced society doesn't necessarily have to possess advanced technology, but in my opinion it should value culture, knowledge, science and research highly, and do its best to make all of these available to as many people as possible. A society that possesses a lot of knowledge which is horded by an elite of individuals would not be as civilized in my books than a society that possesses less knowledge but does its best to make that knowledge available to all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Mentat said:

Western hegemony is certainly on the decline, having reached its peak at some point during the end of the 20th century... but hegemony isn't exactly the same as civilization. Spanish hegemony peaked at the end of the 16th century, but I consider our current civilization far more advanced than that one. If you think that western civilization hit its peak and is declining I'd like to know by what standards or criteria.

I think you're more confusing yourself than anything.  Hegemony doesn't necessarily have to correspond with an "arc" of a civilization.  And even if it does, there's then no reason for you to turn that into comparing one civilization - "Spanish hegemony at the end of the 16th century" - with today's.  The comparison is not without, it's within.  Western civilization hit its peak and is in decline compared to itself.  What standards or criteria?  Aging population, delegitimizing of institutions, degrading social norms, eroding of cooperation and education, perpetuating polarization...take your pick.

Edited by DMC
Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 hours ago, Altherion said:

You can have both (although only up to a point) if you become more efficient. Furthermore, we're lucky in that in our economic system, becoming more efficient counts towards growth (e.g. if you insulate a house, that's still economic activity).

Well, yes and no. Not really. Transitioning might increase "growth" at first, but the point is obviously to reach de-growth, or at -the very- least stagnation.

"Growth" and the "gospel of growth" are a problem to begin with, as pointed out by many smart people (like Jason Hickel). Joseph Stiglitz wrote and talked a lot about the problems of GDP, problems that were -ironically?- pointed out from the start by Simon Kuznets himself.
The bottom line is that growth is NOT desirable to begin with. Economic growth is antithetical to efficiency and human wellbeing. Add to that the issue of planetary boundaries and the conclusion is that we don't want growth - at all.

The problem here then becomes the entire financial sector, because it is based on endless growth. Which is why we always come back to ending neo-liberalism.

11 hours ago, Altherion said:

I have very little faith in that either, but I don't think it's proven that we need an immediate reduction in the standard of living.

It's proven without a doubt, regardless of what you think, or should I say, of what you desperately want to believe.

I'll throw you a bone though. I actually agree that we don't have to reduce our standard of living too much, because transitioning means we can have an equivalent standard.
It just means that we have to switch from consumerism/materialism to a "care society." Basically, we must give up having new appliances/devices every other year, but in exchange we can all have socialized health care and education. And maybe even more socialized stuff, if we are so inclined.

But no, there's no other option. In fact, there's no other option because we delayed action for so long in the first place. If we'd started the transition around the 1980s, it might have been rather painless. Now it's too late, waaay too late. Every single year, every single minute we delay makes things worse, possibly for centuries to come.

I mean, it's really really well-documented at this point, so if you truly think otherwise, well, you're just wrong. Or, to put it differently, you're trying to go against thousands of very good papers on multiple inter-related topics. The latest IPCC report alone is over 3,000 pages long, and I would think it obvious that there's no way you can be correct and its dozens of authors wrong.

11 hours ago, Altherion said:

In other words, when the historians of that better world look back at history, will they say that humanity was on an unsustainable path for a century or two, but managed to correct course and thus arrived at where we currently are? Or will it be that humanity was on an unsustainable path for a century or two thus leading a massive collapse after which a bunch of dystopian stuff happened and it took a long, long time to go back to (and ultimately surpass) the standard of living of the early 21st century, but this time in a sustainable manner?

It's almost funny how you fail to see that there's kind of a false dichotomy here. That we won't necessarily have a massive collapse, but a very gradual one, that developing nations will collapse first, while Westerners will be relatively protected for some time. It's already happening, and it's why we build walls.
The "plan" as it is is to have at least a third of humanity wiped out.

11 hours ago, JEORDHl said:

This kind of optimism fascinates me, honestly. In respect to your background, and given the material issues @Rippounet discussed, what kind of technology do you imagine could head off the worst [or even least worst] outcomes? Carbon capture based, presumably, or what? 

Altherion has always been in denial. Also, as someone living in the US he feels insulated from the worst consequences of climate change and doesn't care much about the rest of the world. But his main mistake is this one:

11 hours ago, Altherion said:

There's a race between the crisis and technology needed to solve it without running afoul of various political concerns. It's not clear who will win that race.

I shouldn't speak for him, but Altherion thinks we only have to ensure things don't get too critical while we figure out a technological/technical solution. I remember he had a brilliant little youtube video about this.
The flaws in the reasoning can be summed up thus:
- Things are already at a critical stage.
It's already too late for the technological solution. The problem isn't even limited to climate change, it's larger than that. We're consuming way more than the planet can offer, and that would be true even if all our technology was magically green tomorrow ; worse even, many nations are still developing, something that "optimists" don't take into account. In other words, the technological solution can only work if all developing nations are wiped out - or close enough.
This is, I've come to realize, the deeper reason for the rise of the far-right in recent years. It's a weird pet theory of mine, but in history (as in physics, ha ha) you sometimes have the impression that the consequence precedes the cause -that's because people can be influenced by ideas they initially reject. It's a bit like atheists defining themselves through religion and God(s) without admitting it. Or a bit like people tried to reject Darwinism at first - only to embrace a peverted version of it. What we're seeing today is the far-right defining itself by a crisis that it doesn't exactly accept yet - but the terrible logic of all far-right theories should be easy to see. In a nutshell, all it takes is for all the brown people to die. The beauty of it is that no gas chambers will be necessary, because the planet itself will be the gas chamber.
- Implementing solutions often makes things worse.
I alluded to that earlier, but this is such a major issue it can be difficult to wrap one's head around it. Putting it simply, even if we had a magical carbon capture solution tomorrow, we'd still need resources to implement it. In other words, we'd still have to build carbon capture plants, which would have a significant carbon footprint, and then the plants would require energy, which would have to be at least relatively green, which means we need resources for renewable energy... etc. The magnitude of the technical issues alone is mind-boggling.
Or, to put it differently, we need solutions so efficient they need to be almost magical. And not only is our technology far from such a point, there's no guarantee we can reach that point before the end of the century. What people like Altherion just don't get, what they really don't want to admit, is that a technological solution to climate change would have to break the laws of physics.

The root problem is not understanding climate change. In all honesty, I didn't understand it either before reading about it. And for a time, I was in denial too. I just couldn't accept the idea that production itself is the root problem. Or consumption. Our Western way of life, our very way of thinking about ourselves and the world.
Jean-Marc Jancovici (a French engineer) tried to put it simply: for him it's all about energy. Every single moment we use energy, without even realizing it. Every single thing we buy has required a certain amount of energy to produce. Our computers, our phones, our cars, our meals, our water... Every little thing requires energy, to produce and/or use. And all the little things add up.
So Jancovici uses maths and proves that we'll never have the energy to sustain that kind of lifestyle. Just maintaining a reasonable standard of life (i.e. keeping the most vial aspects of our civilization) will require insane amounts of energy (and according to him, there's no decent alternative to nuclear energy at this point).
 

7 hours ago, Arakan said:

Solidarity and greed. We all know the black book of real-life communism.

[...]

Bring back solidarity as a core value, bring back a „shut up, it’s not all about you“ attitude and things might get better again.

Juxtaposing these two bits should highlight another - intellectual - problem. Something to do with the very nature of "communism" and how we view it.
IIRC Graeber calls it "primitive" communism. French philosopher Alain Badiou calls it "the idea of" communism. American developmental and comparative psychologist Michael Tomasello never names it, but writes of "interdependency, " "conventionalization," or "self-governance."
The big idea, I'll posit, is always the same: the collective is more important than the individual. Collective survival is more important than individual wants. Or, as you say, -collective- solidarity must trump -individual- greed.
The problem is that there's always a significant proportion of humans in any society that will defend some form of individual greed - and today, they're in power. That's why communist theory tends to lead to authoritarianism, why Marxism-Leninism perverted Marxism.
I believe there are ways around that, but maybe I'm an optimist. Anyway, here's some good Tomasello to think about:
 

Quote

 

The transformative process was conventionalization, which has both a coordinative component, as individuals implicitly "agree" to do someting in a consistent way (everyone wants to do it this way as long as everyone else does, too), and a transmitive component, as this way of doing things sets a precedent to be copied by others who want to coordinate as well. The result is what we may call cultural practices, on which individuals, in effect, coordinate with the entire cultural group via collectively known cultural conventions, norms, and institutions. In communication this means, of course, linguistic conventions, which serve their coordinative function because, and only because, they exist as "agreements" in the group's cultural common ground.

In terms of thinking, early humans imagined the world in order to manipulate it in thought via perspectival cognitive representations, socially recurring inferences, and social self-monitoring – which prepared them to coordinate with other specific individuals. But group-minded and linguistically competent modern humans had to be prepared to coordinate with anyone from the group, wtih some kind of generic other. This meant that modern human individuals came to imagine the world in order to manipulate it in thought via "objective" representations (anyone's perspective), reflective inferences connected by reasons (compelling to anyone), and normative self-governance so as to coordinate with the group's (anyone's) normative expectations.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, DMC said:

I think you're more confusing yourself than anything.  Hegemony doesn't necessarily have to correspond with an "arc" of a civilization.  And even if it does, there's then no reason for you to turn that into comparing one civilization - "Spanish hegemony at the end of the 16th century" - with today's. 

Right, It's hard for me to determine where some civilizations end and others begin, as I don't think they correspond perfectly with political regimes. Would you consider the British Colonial Empire pre-WW2 part of what is currently the British civilization? Regardless, my point is that hegemony and influence (specially when it's exerted by force or the threat of force) over one's neighbors is not a criteria I'd necessarily consider as a marking of a great civilization (unlike international cooperation).

3 hours ago, DMC said:

What standards or criteria?  Aging population, delegitimizing of institutions, degrading social norms, eroding of cooperation and education, perpetuating polarization...take your pick.

I'm not sure I'd agree with Aging population (it's easy to import outsiders into a civilization, if the will is there) or degrading social norms (as social norms evolve continuously), but I'd definitely agree with the other three. Are you familiar with any measurements of their regression? What would you say was their golden age?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, Mentat said:

Regardless, my point is that hegemony and influence (specially when it's exerted by force or the threat of force) over one's neighbors is not a criteria I'd necessarily consider as a marking of a great civilization (unlike international cooperation).

No, me neither.  I would use it as a criteria for the dominant civilization, however, which was my point.  I have zero interest in getting into a pedantic debate on which and what times in the last hundreds of years a certain country or countries constitute hegemony in terms of western civilization's dominance.

8 minutes ago, Mentat said:

Are you familiar with any measurements of their regression? What would you say was their golden age?

Well, in terms of delegitimizing institutions and perpetuating polarization, yeah, there's plenty of measures on that.  I'd..point you to google.  As for "eroding cooperation and education," that's not as simply demonstrated and is more nebulous, sure - as is "degrading social norms" - but there's plenty of evidence and research out there for them too.  I don't really think they need to be cited though, I think it's kind of manifest on a broad level.

What would I say is the golden age?  I don't know.  Not now.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Rippounet said:

The problem is that there's always a significant proportion of humans in any society that will defend some form of individual greed - and today, they're in power. That's why communist theory tends to lead to authoritarianism, why Marxism-Leninism perverted Marxism.
I believe there are ways around that, but maybe I'm an optimist. Anyway, here's some good Tomasello to think about:

Agreed. The iron law of organization always applies. And of course there‘s the problem of lazy people, even „intellectuals“ (Jordan Peterson), who call everything they don’t like or understand communism and socialism. I mean „cultural Marxism“ is the most stupid, trying to sound smart, term I ever heard in my life. Or the stupidity that „actually“ fascism and socialism/communism is basically the same, cause NSDAP you know. The stupidity of those people, it hurts. At least one should tell them that all former Eastern Bloc countries were actually very democratic cause all had the „Democratic Peoples Republic“ denomination in their official name. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 8/30/2021 at 12:24 PM, Mentat said:

That's a very odd measure of civilization. Wouldn't peak civilization be some point before the appearance of Homo Sapiens, then, rather than America just before the arrival of Columbus? Many large mammals went extinct in America as a result of the arrival of Homo Sapiens.

 

I agree that pollution is bad and that respecting the environment is a sign of civilization (and not one we're doing particularly well at). That said, respecting the environment is not the same as lacking the means to damage it significantly.

I only considered the period post ice age, the last 10,000 years iow.

I wouldn't restrict the consideration to animal extinction though, there's also the messy practice of how we've displaced and exterminated nearly every indigenous peoples in every global corner.

I would consider our peak a point in time where many indigenous peoples were still able to flourish, pre-Columbus to the Americas has been described as a period where communities, while not skirmish free, they were not dissapeared and displaced/replaced like we see in the aftermath of Euro conquest.

Another measurement beyond the health of the natural world could be the health of indigenous peoples. We are also certainly well in decline of any period where those populations have been able to thrive on any continent. Indeed many have been genocided. That's not a measure of advancement it's degradation and moral falling.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...