Lacking a better term for it, I mentally think of my deep suspicion regarding civilization as “anti-social” because it is, literally, a distrust of society verging on the belief that maybe civilization will turn out to be a bad idea in the long run. In my darker moments I think that civilization may be a great big hack that was perpetrated by the power-hungry, and those seeking luxurious lives. It’s as if they invented the idea of “lets be a ‘people’ so that they could be king of ‘a people’ instead of just layabout greedy thugs.
Mark Twain is often mis-attributed as saying “Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool” but whoever said it neatly summarizes my attitude about civilization. Some ancient guy invented “government” when he suggested “you guys do what I tell you, and I’ll sit under this shady tree and watch you work” and someone asked “aren’t you going to help?” and the guy replied “how would you like a good ass kicking?”* The invention of government and authoritarianism would have been comorbid: secular humanists often argue that civilization is necessary for the protection of the weak, but … protection against who but other civilizations?
Any system built on authoritarianism or capture capitalism or force is going to attract the most rapacious of its members to positions of power – it’s just this great big opportunity to grift. Of course the reality is that civilization co-evolved with humans; they shaped it and it shaped them – but that doesn’t change my main point because it shaped them in some nasty ways and vice versa.
All of this is in my mind when I think about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and, well, the Washington set. Here’s a bunch of goobers who collectively would have trouble changing a tire, and they’re setting the direction of the greatest superpower that has ever existed. It seems like a stupid idea.
But what’s worse is that the system that co-evolved to manage that vast power has had trapdoors embedded in it, to allow the powerful to enrich themselves. It’s not called “corruption” but it absolutely is. I began to figure that out when I was just a kid and wondered “if this is a democracy, why is it ‘news’ how much money this or that political candidate has managed to fund-raise?” It doesn’t take a philosopher-king to realize that it’s systemic corruption. And, I recall wondering why there were so many politicians named “Kennedy” – it’s as if ‘nepotism’ doesn’t matter, either, once you have enough money to buy your worthless frog-spawn child a political office. In theory, nepotism would disqualify someone for a leadership role but instead we have Joe Biden’s kid selling paintings for $2mn a pop not because of any talent but because of who his dad is. And don’t get me started on anyone named “Cheney.”
This sums up one aspect of the corruption pretty well:
Now, let’s go back to expecting such a systemically corrupt system to respond effectively to the climate crisis.
Just how is it that a small number of people managed to convince 98% of the rest of humanity to work for them, while they, uh, “manage” their efforts and skim off the cream? [Hint: the system is also inherently violent]
“maybe civilization will turn out to be a bad idea in the long run” – when you read UNABOM Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto and it makes sense you’re probably getting a bit anti-social. [wp] (It sounds like a long blog-comment by Gerrardian; i.e.: it mostly makes sense but it’s so over the top it’s painful to read)
* I think of the inventor of authoritarian rule as King Thag. Thag was the first guy who realized that he didn’t need to ask people to do his work, he could just threaten them with an ass-kicking. Thag would almost certainly have been a proto-human and the inventor of “the tribe.” I mean, the idea had to come from somewhere, right?