CommUnity of Minds—Aric McBay writes: I want to help to create communities which are equitable, ecological, and sustainable. I also believe that we can’t do this within the machinery of industrial civilization. More to the point, that machinery is insatiable, imperialistic, and in the end, suicidal. Civilization is destroying itself along with the world. …
Let me be specific about what I mean by industrial civilization. For many people, the word civilization calls to mind words like “refined, safe, convenient, modern, advanced, polite, enlightened and sophisticated”. Of course, these words are the words that civilized people use to describe themselves. For example, if you look up the word “Christian”in the thesaurus, you will find words like “fair, good, high-principled, honourable, humane, noble, right, virtuous” and other words that Christians might use to describe themselves, but which hardly apply to the Crusades, the Witch-Burnings, or other such atrocities carried out by self-described Christians.
For a more unbiased definition of civilization, we can consider historian Lewis Mumford’s use of the word civilization “to denote the group of institutions that first took form under kingship. Its chief features, constant in varying proportions throughout history, are the centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labor, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak, and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor for both industrial and military purposes.”
Anthropologist Stanley Diamond cuts to the chase, and says simply that “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home”.
By “industrial”, I mean a society that is dependent on machines for the basics of life. A society that needs tractors to grow food, trucks to transport it, factories to synthesize fertilizers, and so on, is an industrial society. A society where people participate in the growing of their own food and other basics by hand would not be industrial.
Put the two concepts together and you get industrial civilization. This is a society with an extreme disparity of power, and where machines are built, and humans mechanized, in order to serve the needs of those in power. Since those in power want, essentially, to become more powerful, society is caught in the claws of powerful people who constantly seek to accelerate and extend the exploitation of human beings and the natural world. We can see the effects of this in the intense global destruction of the living world.
That the world is being destroyed probably isn’t news to you. You’ve probably heard that ninety percent of the fish in the ocean have been killed in the past fifty years, and that those remaining are significantly smaller. You’ve probably heard that the oceans are in a state of ecological collapse. And that phytoplankton, the basis of the biosphere, has decreased in global population by six percent in a mere two decades, and by as much as thirty percent in some areas. Populations of krill, the tiny animals just above phytoplankton on the ocean food chain, are down by eighty percent in three decades. You’ve probably read in the news that global warming will kill up to 37% of all species on earth by 2050 (and you’ve probably noticed that the estimates of these casualties from global warming seem to increase just about every week). In essence, you’ve probably noticed, even if you only read the corporate-owned newspapers, that the world is being ever more rapidly destroyed. If you’re paying attention, you don’t even need the papers to tell you this.
Many, if not most of us, realize that this rapid destruction can not continue indefinitely. A society which destroys the land will inevitably die, because all people, in the end, depend on the land for sustenance. (04/18/11)