Wednesday, March 10, 2010

defining civilization

It's interesting to consider our definition of civilization. Looking back at our history we know there have been mighty civilizations in the past but up until the 20th century it was still possible to physically distance oneself from whatever extant belief system or empire that was the current paradigm. Whether moving to a mountain cave, a forest retreat or, in more recent history, to a distant state. 'Go West' was a mantra for personal freedom.

Now there's really no place left to go. Not only do we have the problem of global warming but there are so many more of us expected to arrive in the coming century that the human population may just about double. We're not going to gain any relief from population pressures by moving into space. The only real and proven way of reducing a population is through education and empowerment of women. Wars, poverty and chronic diseases do nothing to enhance our lives.

It's time we grew up but the problem is we don't know what a grown-up civilization looks like since we've never met one and we don't yet qualify. If civilization means having electricity, the internet, good health care, microscopes, radio telescopes and the ability to travel beyond our planet's gravity well then I suppose we're getting there. We continually discover new things and new technologies that could make the world a better place, but we seem equally likely to put them to work for destructive ends as constructive ones.

All we can hope to do is effect small changes in the way we ourselves see the world but we do at least know what a grown-up civilization would look like. It would keep on growing in wisdom and compassion. It might be one that would move quite naturally into things like space habitats and moon bases and ships that would take us exploring the neighborhood beyond Earth. If it did come to pass that in some future time we met other explorers it would seem quite likely they'd once have been people much like us, although not necessarily in appearance. My guess is that we're going through an especially dangerous time in our history whose result could go either way. Maybe there are beings out there who have civilizations far more mature than ours who are watching and have their manipulator appendages crossed for us.

I posted this painting once before so you may remember it but it's one that seemed fitting. Now I'm going to work on something else and it may just be that children's story a few of you have suggested. It will take a while since narrative art isn't my strong point :-)


Spadoman said...

I love the painting. She is beautiful. I love the dark hair and the border around the painting is great to my eye.
A word or two about the thoughts expressed here;
You mention that maybe the development of electricity and other technologies have made the world a better place. I'm not so sure I am thinking that way these days.
Native people who inhabited this land around 200 years ago had lived here the same way for a thousand years. They didn't have "improvements" that made life better. They had their methods and lived a certain way. It seems that the last 2-3 generations have made all the technological advances that just made life busier and generated profit. The old way, everyone had what they needed. They didn't know that they wanted things like we crave material things today.
Both our thoughts could be a whole post, a whole debate. In fact, I agree that there isn't many places left to go, at least not many places to go and live with the electricity, internet, good health care, microscopes, radio telescopes, etc. Not many chop wood and carry water these days, but that spirit can exist and does to some.
Just sayin'. It's a big world. I think it depends on what we will give up in the way of perceived luxury.
Eventually, we will grow out of our diapers though, you're right about that.


Liberality said...

well all that plus we won't have a choice in the matter.

love that lady and her tigers.

lindsaylobe said...

All philosophers can do is to put forward questions and answers within a general theory that seeks to eliminate all possible negative consequences for everyone.

But so far no one in our history has as yet been able to do that. There are always exceptions -even to the golden rule ( do unto others ) since reciprocity assumes a universality where in practice what one person seeks to be done unto himself can be entirely different to another’s view in the same way as what makes one happy will be different within individuals.

Hence all we do is to think about the consequences of our actions to help achieve better results.

As I have remarked before your beautiful painting is both calming and creative.

Best wishes

susan said...

spadoman - Thanks. This one is from my mature phase and now I'm heading back to an immature one :-)

Overall, I agree with you and I'd certainly be happier living a nomadic lifestyle but here and now that's unattainable. It's true we can still find a few places off the beaten track but that is also growing more difficult with each passing day. We can't just move to an island in our own country because it will be owned by someone. If you can afford to buy an island or part of a mountain or whatever you won't necessarily own the mineral rights and you'll have to pay taxes and it might be against the law to put in a septic system etc.

What I mean by civilization is this thing we can't get away from now and it includes all the technology as a possible benefit whether we wish to use it or not. We're heading toward an unknown future with what we have now. I would just like it to be a better and healthier one for everybody.

liberality - Yes, I know. I should just get back to painting another picture or two and shut up about all this silly stuff none of us can change.

lindsay - It's certainly true that it's impossible for any one person to think their way through every eventuality from the point of view of even one other person, never mind all. Heck, we can't even do it for ourselves. It's true that all we can do is our best to be understanding and to try and make life a little better day by day.

I know you've seen the painting before and I thank you again for your kind compliment.

Elaine- said...

having tigers in your house was definitely a sign of a silly civilization :) but i don't know if it's as silly as ours when it comes to danger, we've gone nuclear for heaven's sake, and we need more trees :) ps. i am not sure if coco approves of the new dog or not, after coco died my husband and i kept 'seeing' flashes of her out of the corner of our eyes, but now that the new dog is here, coco is gone...

susan said...

elaine - Yeah, we're definitely teetering civilizationwise. I'd rather live with tigers than some of the maniacs we're surrounded by now :-)

You know, I think maybe Coco hung around just long enough to make sure the two of you would be okay.

Elaine- said...

that's a nicer thought Susan, than that she left with her feelings hurt, thanks for that, made me feel better...

Liberality said...

Susan-please share your thoughts more often. I find it fascinating that there are actually people around thinking about this subject at all. I mean, most people around here are all so busy just SURVIVING today's environment that they haven't the time or inclination to think about the future or the possibilities available to us as a species.

I do have to admit I tend toward being pessimistic of our chances considering our history.

Pagan Sphinx said...

I have my "manipulator appendages" all crossed for us. :-)

Nancy said...

Just catching up on a few of your posts. When you write, Susan, it is always interesting and I come away with so much to think about. I agree that we need to grow up, and I think there are enough people talking about it that maybe we will reach a critical mass and things will begin to turn. But until we begin to put people before mass destruction, nothing will change. As long as we allow funding for wars and pentagon toys, our country will remain mercenaries. Defense contractors need wars to justify their budgets. They wave the flag and thump their chests, just as they did thousands of years ago. It will take a massive paradigm shift which will only come about through one mind at a time. So keep pumping out the info - it makes a difference.

The water in space is such great news. Water is always an issue for me. One reason I live right next to a year-round creek and a giant body of fresh water? Probably. It's comforting to me to know I have water to drink if all systems fail.

As for spring in Portland - I'll be there next week and can't wait to get out of the snow. It has been on the ground here since before Christmas. Something that you may want to think about before moving....

Love the boots! :-)

Randal Graves said...

I tend to side with liberality on this. The train's barreling out of control and not much we can do about it.

Mary Ellen said...


I tend to side with liberality on this. The train's barreling out of control and not much we can do about it.

I know of a few guys out in Georgia who have their underground fortress and a shitload of guns and ammo who would say otherwise. Scary, eh? ;-)

Susan- I don't know, we've seen civilizations in the past that have collapsed and disappeared (i.e. the Mayans). Maybe that's the way it will be now...there will be certain areas around the world where whole groups of people just die out, either from natural disasters or man-made. But that doesn't mean everyone will disappear. Maybe that's just the way of the world...the old is replaced by the new?

Who knows? Maybe I should go take some shooting lessons and start digging my underground fortress now. I'd better grow enough pot to hold me for awhile, it could be a long haul. :-D

susan said...

elaine - I'm just sorry you lost her but I'm sure she bore you no grudges. The deeper reality is peace and harmony.

liberality - I appreciate your encouragement and I well understand how hard it is to survive in today's environment. Not only do we live with its consequences too but we both read far too much to be fooled into thinking the American empire is likely to either change or even continue much longer. It's far too top heavy and the population is generally not only not well educated but inclines toward jingoism. It's not a good mix for positive dreaming but this is the only home we have and there are better ways to go. I just like to mention them now and then because there are so many of you much more talented than I at pointing out the awful details.

pagan sphinx - I liked that image when it came to mind :-)

nancy - I'm glad you think so. The military industry is the single main manufacturing base left in this country and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. There's a huge cognitive dissonance between what Americans are told about the country and what its power structures actually do. Take the raid on Marja in Afghanistan for instance - told the place was a city of 40k people or more and in truth it's a few few farms at a crossroad. It makes me ill to see just how cheesy are the lies being spread when it's easy for us to learn the truth.

We have thought long and hard about the weather in Halifax and yes, it makes me nervous but the other reasons still hold true. btw: This is a great place for developing allergies :-)

randal - I agree with her too. I'm just saying it doesn't have to be this way and if there's anybody left after the great American train wreck maybe somebody somewhere will eventually figure it out.

nunly - I know a few people in and around Portland who have much the same sort of plans. Too much hatred and not enough common sense to see they're being manipulated is nasty in the extreme.

I don't think humanity will die out but what's very possible is that the best of our civilization could easily be lost. A few weeks ago I wrote about saving our knowledge base for just such an eventuality. Meanwhile, I'm investing in some grow lights :-)

Seraphine said...

"grownup civilization." heh.
it's so bad, we can't even pass financial protection legislation, much less basic climate change, healthcare, shareholder rights or consumer protection laws.
i don't have confidence in grownups anymore.

i love love love love your drawing, susan! i love everything about it- the hair, the gown, the lantern holder, the tigers (or are they lions? i get them mixed up, lions and tigers, they're tigers, right?)
(one time when i was about 8, i ordered a coke at a restaurant. i was so disappointed when they brought me a coca cola. what's wrong, they asked? i wanted a *white* coke. i didn't know the word for 7-up. i get confused easily).

susan said...

sera - Yeah, I know. What we've got right now is more like a snivelization. All those things you mentioned are what most people want taken care of but it's not what we're getting and our leaders are born front men.

I know you've seen this painting before but it makes me happy to hear you say so. I don't think you're very confused at all.

Now I have to go curl up with my blanket again - I've got a bad case of sniffleization. I only catch colds every 3-5 years but when I do it can get bad fast.

Seraphine said...

oh noo. i'm sorry you have a cold. i hope you don't get that stupid bronchitis that has been going around (and around and around). i was six days in bed and two weeks sick with it. and i've had people say they've had it on and off since october. it's nasty.
snivelization. I like that word. :)

MRMacrum said...

Being civilized is a state of mind. In my opinion, certainly not the accumulation of wealth and technology. Once we figure this out, then maybe we will be on our way to creating a grand civilization.

Spadoman said...

I keep coming back to look at the beautiful woman in your painting, (and to see if you've posted another article, drawing, painting or purse).
That's all.

jams o donnell said...

I can't help think but that the more civilised we become the more savage and uncaring we become too.

susan said...

sera - It burned through to my throat and chest within a short period but I'm recovering. Unless it's going to kill me I have no time for illness.

yes, snivelization © :-)

MRMacrum - I agree completely. Every time we pave something over we deny an infinity of possibilities.

spadoman - I'm happy you have faith in me to come up with something :-)

jams - I agreed with MRMacrum who said - 'civilization is a state of mind' . In general we've got far to go to clear our preconceptions.