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20 December 2006 @ 04:35 pm
Why we are doomed, Part 2: Civilization  
What does it mean to be "doomed"? If you are doomed, your future is significantly worse than your present, and there is nothing you can do about it. The entire reason that the present lives of those reading this community are relatively good is because of civilization. It is a sad irony, then, that civilization is not only the source of our good lives, but one of the things that ultimately make us doomed.

People (me included) often point out that where humanity first fucked up was in developing agriculture [Jared Diamond], which is what led to civilization, and, eventually, the most civilized civilization, Western industrial civilization with its global economy. But, as fried2styles said earlier today, "Would you really prefer to give up your books, birth control, music, toilet paper, and medicine? This whole 'noble savage' thing is cute, but absurd." Absolutely.

A civilization is, after all, an emergent property of a mass of humanity and their technology, so it is no surprise, really that it works as it does. Those who worship civilization tend to think of it as something that fixes the less noble traits of human beings. Not so.

Derrick Jensen's two-volume Endgame goes into excruciating detail on why it is that civilization sucks. A few of the 20 premises that he establishes in volume 1 and repeats in volume 2 are:
Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.[4]

Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.

Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.

Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crash—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.

Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
The previous essay can be found here: Why we are doomed, Part 1: Human Nature
fried2stylesfried2styles on December 20th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
(Exasperated exhale of breath...)

I'll save the detailed critique until we can talk about this in a "civilized" way(pun intended), that is over alcohol...

Really, that first premise is just laughable. What does he mean that "Civilization is not and can never be sustainable." This is worst example of begging the question I've ever heard in my life! How, pray tell, does he define "civilization"? Does he mean(at it's narrowest) one particular society functioning in one specific way, or(at its widest)humanity's general progress beyond living like apes?

Is Jensen one of those hypocrites who wants us to move back into the trees?
The Heretictheheretic on December 20th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
Probably. The idealist and rejectionists need to spend more time camping and stratching bug bites. They may change their tune after a few days.
lahermitelahermite on December 21st, 2006 12:42 am (UTC)
his definition is well documented here:


Sperm Production Unit 873peace873 on December 21st, 2006 04:23 am (UTC)
Step 1: Read the book.
Step 2: Converse intelligently about the book.
venuspluto on December 21st, 2006 06:59 am (UTC)
Here's something online that's just as blasphemous according to the Church of Science is God and Technology Will Save Us and the Techno-Industrial Empire Shall Live Forever and Ever and Ever:


(Anonymous) on December 21st, 2006 05:02 am (UTC)
The most thorough critique of civilization that I know of on the internet: http://anthropik.com/thirty
The Heretictheheretic on December 20th, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC)

I disagree with premise 5, however I'm aware that cops treat it as gospel. And not all jobs with a product at the end suck the life out of you. Some of them feel pretty good.

I disagree with Premise 6 because "this culture" is too vague. There are many cultures on earth. The Hollywood-NewYork Celebrity culture is only one of the many.

I disagree with Premise 7 as to degree of end product. I think we will be forced by economics to find the bottom of the technology floor and will eventually recover from there, assuming we don't fall into civil war and kill each other off. Or catch a human transmissable H5N1 plague. That would change the game rather fast.
lahermitelahermite on December 21st, 2006 12:47 am (UTC)
it's not just you that the life is being sucked out of, though. practically all our means of production are environmentally destructive.

i think, by "this culture", he's refering to civilisation. i just linked above to his definition of civilisation.

"forced by economics" if the planet degradation doesn't force us first. the latter being the bigger point and the bigger problem.
venuspluto on December 21st, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)
I disagree with Premise Seven
Human life is governed by certain sociological principles that tell us that once anabolic growth (complexity for its own sake) has reached a certain point, it must continue until it exhausts itself and is replaced by catabolic collapse. As more people become increasingly dependent on the growth of complexity, any attempt to destroy the system by a group of upstarts will be doomed to failure and may even strengthen the system's hand. ("You must let us suspend civil liberties so that we can protect you from the Evil Terrorists who are threatening Our Way of Life!")
The Peristaltic Testatorperistaltor on December 30th, 2006 08:32 pm (UTC)
Ah, no. Evidence against the absolute assertion of Premise One can be found in Jarod Diamond's Collapse, chapter 9.

If you quote Diamond, be sure to read all of Diamond.