Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Benefits of Civilization

Well, our 'civilization', and in particular that part termed 'Western', plus those bits of it that have spread to those places having benefited from it. That, ironically, means a lot of countries who once were 'colonialized' by the evil European colonial powers. And, yes, there was a lot of evil there.

I've been thinking about the benefits of civilization, because I was watching, as I mentioned before Legend of the Seeker, and here we have this essentially brutish bucolic world, where people do live short, brutish lives, are subject to the whims of tyrants and warlords, small and large, and so on. Plus there's magic, but let's ignore that for a moment.

Clearly, we don't live in that kind of world anymore—and never did, but let's ignore that for a moment as well. We're gonna be ignoring a lot of details for a moment.

Anyway, so I was asking myself, "Well, what really has our civilization brought us that really could be thought of as 'bettering' the lives of those existing here and now; as compared to the lives of those people, there and then?"

Well, the main one by far is this:

Health.

I know what many of you might like to say to that, but think about it: it's really all about health. Health, health, health.

Less disease, less violence, longer lives.

All this has been achieved through everything from medical science right through to civil engineering and certain political developments (which may or may not revert to something else, of course!). If you think about it a bit more, you'll find that ultimately, in terms of benefits to the individuals of our species, just about everything else we might come up with as 'benefits of our civilization' boils down to some sort of infrastructure development that supports increased human health.

I mean, as a thought experiment—and do exercise your imagination a bit, even if it hurts; but it's good for you, trust me!—just suppose that the world were such that the same effects could have been achieved with something like 'magic'. Suppose we didn't need hospitals and doctors and animal experimentation and medicines and all that kind of crap. Suppose the world were such that there were lots of 'Sareens', the healers in the Tethys series, who could not only cure any wound but also all disease with a touch.

Do you really think that the world would be, or could ever become, even remotely as we know it now??

I could envisage a novel based solely on the notion that all health care is magical and provided by individuals whose actual knowledge about what they're doing is as limited as the Sareens'—who just heal by wanting to heal and make whomever they heal healthy again. No need to know that the thigh bone connects to the knee bone or that neurogenesis is true or that high blood pressure needs to be brought down to avoid bad long-term effects.

It's likely, given increasing population levels—if we want to assume that—we'd have cities and urban infrastructures. But since we really would not have to worry about hygiene, should one really expect that anything related to that would be implemented, execpting maybe for the purposes of esthetics? We'd have transport technology and maybe have had a physical science of sorts that might have led to this:

Electricity and its distribution? Probably. The Health Industry, including drug manufacturers and snake-oil peddlers? Hardly.

Physics as we know it? I doubt it. Physics as we know it springs, to a very large degree from inquiry fueled by a desire to understand the universe in order to control. And, yes, I think the whole thing about it being driven by a spirit of inquiry into the nature of the universe, rather than more utilitarian promptings, is bullshit. And if the CERN super-collider appears to indicate otherwise, you might want to think about the simple fact that things often assume their own momentum, pushed on by people with limited and vested interests, which range from those profiting from the construction to those wasting endless research funds using the device and potentially snuffing us all out of existence.

You might want to ponder this some more yourself. The thoughts expressed above led to so many possible avenues of speculation and further 'suppose' scenarios, that I really don't have the time to elaborate.

But the thing I'm strying to work out is, whether there is truly anything else but 'health' that we might claim as a supreme achievement of 'civilization'. I can't see anything, really. For what else is there that is of a 'value' so distinct and grand that it has been provided to us by this civilization of ours?

We may have better evidence to support certain assertions—and as someone profoundly interested in the nature and mechanisms of cognition and everything else that goes on in my and other people's heads, I am acutely ware of this—about why 'human nature' is as it is, and why certain philosophies and views of what the universe is, were really based on ignorance and are simply false, and so on. But do we therefore actually know more about whatever 'human nature' is, and how much of that actually matters in our lives?

If I'm right in thinking that everything about us has the structure of 'narrative', and not just in terms of what it is at any gven time, but how it develops throughout a human life; then I really have just rediscovered, with maybe considerably more scientific justification, something that is an integral part of the lore of indigenous Australians. If that doesn't occasion a serious bout of humility, what will? What can?

And if this view is true, then ultimately we're just changing the narratives in use within the different groups, societies, nations. Some of these are useful, of course. See healthcare. Some aren't. See your average ideology; and of course every single monotheism extant.

So, I'm thinking—and I'm not a romantic pastoralizer—what if...

Yeah, suppose we could have all the health benefits arising from an essentially 'magical' practice. Better stuff even than we have today.

But, worst case alternative scenario...

Could I live without my civilization and its comforts? Without my trusty Mac? Without my books? Without electricity? Without being able to fly across continents to visit friends? Without good movies? Without takeouts? Without the ready availability of all sort of victuals; but having to depend on the local and the seasonal?

As long as the 'health' issues were solved for me and mine and everybody else—meaning there would have to be magical health care plus a functioning system of societal context that provides some kind of law and order, and preferably one that's no more slanted toward the rich and powerful than what we have now, highly imperfect as it is...

Well, yes, I'm confident that I could not just handle it, but it would be very cool indeed. And you know what? I think a lot of other people would, too. And not just your average 'throwback' weirdo!

And there would be a lot of folks, who wouldn't go for it as well. Funny, that. Or maybe not. People come in all different shapes and sizes and persuasions.

But in the end...in the end...meaning after they have figured out what's bullshit and what isn't...maybe...

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