Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Civilization 101

If there’s one thing that distinguishes human life from that of other animals, it’s civilization … the development of ideas and cultures that change over time. The word civilization originally meant city-dwellers, since that was the mechanism by which ideas intermingled and spread. There are a few basic principles which seem to emerge in the context of civilization.
  1. The gradual increase in perspective, from family to tribe to city state, nation state and, eventually, the whole world. We have more or less steadily acknowledged, if not embraced, the idea that our globe is covered with people of different backgrounds, different adaptations to their environments, etc.
  2. The gradual increase in our understanding of how our world works, including how planets and other bodies move in space, how the earth itself changes, how different organisms, including people, live and survive, and what forces act on us and the world. This understanding has helped us treat diseases, improve food production, and even better comprehend our own behavior.
  3. The growth of self-government … the idea that policies should not simply be dictated by all-powerful rulers, but that the population in general should be able to influence and sway the actions of society.
If humanity faced extermination at the hands of some alien foe, these things would the best justification for our continued existence … our best accomplishments. Sure, it’s taken us millions of years and we’re still not very good at it, but at least we can spot these broad trends amid the chaos of human activity.

And if you don’t see the value of these accomplishments, if you don’t agree that equality, science and democracy are our most worthwhile endeavors … then you’ve flunked Civilization 101.

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