I’ve been asked this question, because the title of my books is “Reclaiming Civilization”. Who, or what, am I saying civilization needs to be reclaimed from?
It needs to be reclaimed from several world views of cleverly-disguised misanthropy which, if they are accepted by a sufficient mass of people, including a sufficient mass of the world’s most politically powerful people, are likely to lead toward a future of widespread environmental destruction, entrenchment of poverty, entrenchment of the superconcentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands (as few as eight individual men, who own half the wealth of the entire world), and the proliferation of never-ending global wars.
Here’s an example of this world view, from a speech by Steve Bannon, former investment banker, former chief strategist to Donald Trump’s election campaign, and chairman of Breitbart News (like it or not, BN is one of the most influential news outlets on the web, well-funded and read by millions). When asked a question about how the West should respond to radical Islam, he said the west should take “a very, very, very aggressive stance” because:
Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.
(Full source of Bannon’s speech, including audio transcript, here.)
Looking at a pull-quote like this, you can see the language of war and battle and crisis, presented as if that language describes a revealed and inevitable reality. But in fact Bannon’s holy war is a product of the decisions of men: decisions that could have been different; decisions that, in some cases, can be reversed. There is nothing inevitable about anything in human affairs.
The word I’d like to use for a work of human artifice dressed up as a revealed reality is illusion. So, to answer my above question more precisely, it’s the illusions, like the ones which the war-mongers and hate-peddlers in our midst would like to foist upon us, from which I think civilization needs to be reclaimed.
There are better ways to think about civilization. It’s not all holy war and battle. It’s not all art and music and the glorification of this or that model of political order. It’s not all oppression and colonialism and empire, either. Civilization is people. It’s the ongoing, never-ending process of working out what it means to be human, not by discovery, but by invention. So I say it again: there are better ways to think about civilization. And if you’d like some help to find them, then here’s your book.