Running Headlong Into the Fire
What is the measure of a successful civilization? Is that even a valid question? Let’s discuss this, shall we?
When we look at the many civilizations around the world, we tend to measure their successes and failures against the society that we live in, and make a judgement call based on this assessment. We look at the ways people go about with their daily dealings with one another, how they trade and socialise, how they live with their families, and how they treat their pets and other animals. We make judgements based upon their cleanliness, sanitation, and their food handling practices. We even make judgements based upon what they choose to eat, or are forced to eat, in their environments.
Once could argue that a successful civilization is one where people are cohabitating in a relatively peaceable manner, without disputes over property and belongings. Most societies live up to this measure on the micro level, but what happens when we look at the macro level, where neighbouring societies infiltrate and seek to gain possession over a disputed bit of turf? The Gaza Strip is a good example of 2 relatively peaceable neighbouring communities in dispute over land, and therefore can be measured as unsuccessful against the first criteria. The wars being fought over “The Holy Land” are no longer about the land itself, but a struggle to overcome “the enemy”, with the original reasoning for battling being lost to obscurity, at least in a practical sense. (There are still those who claim to be fighting their religious war, but when asked about the specifics of the situation find themselves at a loss, having been drawn into the conflict by childhood indoctrination, an “us vs them” situation with no means of reconciliation.)
On a smaller scale, “gang wars” in cities such as Melbourne are not about “turf”, they represent the same lost argument of reasoning as that in Gaza, where it’s a “tit for tat” back and forth game of repayment and retribution. Most of the time these “gangs” are not running about killing one another, rather they live relatively normal lives, and occasionally are called to threaten, abuse or kill another individual. And it all falls within the microcosm of their society.
Another measure of a successful civilization could be to measure the relative well-being of its citizenry. While most societies struggle to supply their people with a safe and stable environment, many cannot rise to this challenge. Australia is a pretty good example of a country where most are living well, with their struggles coming from financial and job pressures. Most of us here have a high level of well-being, but it seems that this is not of sufficient import for our current government to warrant the continuation of many of the hard-fought financial support schemes, health schemes, or counseling services that we once took for granted. The same thing is happening in the USA, Canada, and Europe, where fiscal security is the underlying concern, sovereignty and border protection next, and the rights and needs of the citizenry running a poor third place. Well-being is the poor cousin of the dollar, and the interests of the large money-spinning corporations is the primary concern. The notion of a corporation having “personhood rights” is deplorable, but I fear it is the way of the future in many countries.
Countries in the “third world” can have a high level of personal well-being, even when the citizens live hand-to-mouth, in subsistence farming communities or fishing villages. Their infrastructure may not live up to that of the “first world”, they may not have government sponsored clean running water, electricity and sanitation, and of course no internet (we see internet as a human right these days?), but their level of personal happiness can be much higher than that in countries that “have it all”.
And then of course there are countries without the infrastructure, and that suffer because of the social and political climates of their societies. While the world population continues to grow, despite negative population growth figures (i.e. there is a less than 1:1 ratio of people being born on earth), these pressures are exacerbated by more demand, more need, and more people wishing to have “what the west has”. How can we measure the well-being of a person in a seemingly hopeless situation against our own when their situation seems irreconcilable?
The third criteria against which we could measure a successful civilization is that of wealth distribution. If the wealth is spread reasonably evenly among the people, without too many at the top with too much, and with as few as possible at the bottom end of the scale, people generally live happier and more peaceful lives. It is inevitable that there are those who own more, and equally as inevitable that there are those that fall through the cracks into poverty. But in the world today, we see that the wealth pyramid has a very broad base, and a very thin pointy top, meaning that there are far more in poverty with little or no means of support, and a tiny few who own more than the rest of the pyramid combined. This, again, is due to the corporatisation of our lives, the dependency we show to the existences of these corporations, and the fact that we have been convinced, en masse, that this is the way it has to be.
The fourth criteria of a successful civilization is how a society treats its people, particularly from a gender equality standpoint. A society that note only treats genders with equality, but also allows for genders to have access to the same quality education, healthcare, and public safety is a cornerstone of a society that has the best interests of its citizenry in mind. Any society that puts the interests of a corporation, religion, or other institution before this criteria is pandering for popularity or gain, and can therefore not be considered successful. A society that convinces its people, men and women alike, that women are secondary to men, that women are to be suppressed by what they are allowed to/not allowed to do, and that this suppression is to be seen as a virtue, is failing not only the 50%+ of the world’s population who are women, but all of us. It is inconceivable that, whatever the social, religious or cultural practice is that seeks the oppression of people based on gender, can be seen as successful in any meaning of the term. There is nothing virtuous about a society that admires the oppression of people.
The fifth criteria is one that has only surfaced relatively recently, but one that affects us all. How does the civilization deal with problems around the degradation of the planet’s ecosystems and climates? This may seem odd, given that it’s not uniquely about people, but the universe and the planet we live on is not about people; The planet as a whole is our home, and therefore is an issue of survival for us all. How, therefore, can the environment be seen as secondary to people? It seems to me that, again, corporate greed is at the forefront of the problems here, and those who should be pushing the rehabilitation of our planet are sucked into the game of money making, claiming that “without money there will be nothing”. Unfortunately that attitude is self-defeating, for without a habitable planet, there will be no “us” to enjoy the wealth. There’s no escape from earth, no matter how wealthy you are, so the attitude should be to preserve the planet, and find alternatives for the practices that are causing the problems.
I really have no answers at this stage, only more questions. It seems to me that, as a species, we are running headlong into the fire and trying to convince ourselves that we will all be okay, unburnt by the flames. The list above is by no means an utopian pleading for the future, and I make no claims to knowing how to fix this. But I feel these things, the hard questions, need to be asked, and answered honestly if we are to be a truly successful civilization.