Civilization is defined as “the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced.” The word was adopted from the French word civilisé, meaning civilized, and from the Latin word for civil, civilis, which means “courteous, polite, and well mannered.” While civilization may be technologically advanced, is it courteous, polite, or advanced socially, morally, ethically or even logically? Two thirds of the world’s wildlife population has been killed off by industrial civilizations over the last 50 years.[i] In the Caribbean and Latin America, wildlife populations have plummeted by 94 percent and one million species are at risk of extinction. About 3 trillion trees have been down or destroyed by human activities,[ii] including 2 billion hectares of forest, an area twice the size of the US.[iii] Most of this destruction has occurred since the onset of the Industrial Revolution just a few hundred years ago.
Civilizations colonize, proselytize, rape, drug, plunder, poison, pollute, torture, imprison, enslave, and commit genocide and ecocide. Meanwhile, many in industrial civilizations have the nerve to call indigenous peoples who live in nature “savages”, and they seek to “civilize” them, which they use as a euphemism for forcing them to assimilate to industrial civilization or face extermination. Somehow, they see it as more “civil” to exploit, extract, and remove ourselves from nature almost entirely than to live in it. Other animals live in nature, but the cities we live in are almost entirely disconnected from it. Many people believe humans are superior to other animals. Others don’t even believe human beings are animals or understand that we share 99% of our DNA with primates because we have common ancestors. But for many reasons other animals are far from inferior. They don’t wage wars, commit genocide, or put others in cages. In many ways, they are more civilized than we. They graze, hunt, or forage for their food, whereas most of us raise it in cages, kill it, ship it hundreds of miles to cities, and pay for it with money earned primarily from other destructive means.
We think we are more civilized because many of us don’t see the suffering our lifestyles cause. We don’t see where the products we buy come from or how they’re made and are therefore disconnected and domesticated. We don’t see the hands of the children, slaves, and prisoners that make many of our products. We don’t see the wholesale destruction of the forest razed for the lumber to build our buildings and to make room for plantations, cattle, and strip mining. We think we are so advanced because we piggyback on the discoveries and inventions of our ancestors. The tools and science we rely on are the products of thousands of years of discovery and experimentation, and it’s easy to forget that. Most of us have no idea how the products we use every day even work. The totality of human knowledge is incredible but individually many of us are incredibly ignorant. We only think we’re smart because we can google search the answer to any question. This ignorance is used against us as many are led to embrace false dichotomies, either rejecting science entirely or accepting all scientific technology without regard for social or environmental impacts, despite the hard science behind these impacts.
Capitalist civilizations see Mother Earth as a resource to be exploited for profit, whereas most indigenous cultures see it as home to be respected. They see humanity as part of an interconnected web of life and ecosystems. Civilizations see dollar signs. They see humanity and themselves as somehow separate and superior, which allows them to rape the Earth for profit without thinking there will be any consequences, and if civilizations can’t learn from indigenous peoples, humanity’s extinction will be inevitable. Another ice age will come from civilization’s insistence on clinging to fossil fuels, our forests will be cleared for timber, our land will become radioactive from nuclear waste and bombs, our rivers poisoned by pesticides and other pollutants, and our mountaintops cleared for minerals. Industrial civilization is a race is to a world devoid of life. True wealth is the nature destroyed in the name of “profit” or fiat currency, which is mere cloth and linen colored with ink by the state that only has representative value enforced by state violence.
It is unlikely many members of industrial civilization will change their lifestyles because they are persuaded to do so. Many rely too heavily on the system and lack the knowledge and skills to live off the land without the market. They may only be forced to do so due to climate change, war, or other catastrophes. It may be more realistic to convince industrial civilizations to at least adopt greener technologies. While green energy capture and green infrastructure are less harmful, they are still harmful. The metals in solar panels and wind turbines must be mined, disturbing ecosystems, (unless metals we have already mined for other technologies are repurposed). No technological solution is without its own set of ills but less harmful technology is still better than what we have now. Many people who are very pro technology argue “we can’t go backwards” but who is to say a world more reliant on technology is a step forward? There are good, life-saving technologies. Many modern medicines, therapies, surgeries, and machines like mechanical ventilators in hospitals, for example, keep people alive who wouldn’t otherwise survive. The internet, as another example, allows people all over the world to connect, access an incredible amount of information, and learn in ways that were not possible just 30 years ago. But there is also a massive amount of misinformation on the internet and websites that promote genocide and fascism. And there are incredibly destructive technologies like fracking, offshore oil rigs, nuclear bombs, GMOs, synthetic pesticides, and the weapons industry as a whole, which finds new and unique ways to maim, kill, and potentially destroy the planet. Being “pro-technology” is a meaningless sentiment. I would argue we don’t have to choose between giving it all up or embracing all of it. We just need to be more mindful of what real progress might look like.
Major cities, the heart of industrial civilizations are monuments to capital. Almost nothing natural remains in big cities, just skyscrapers, million-dollar condos, apartments the size of closets only yuppies can afford, endless traffic, pollution, homelessness, mental health issues, police brutality, and violence. People are easier to control in cities because the streets are like grids. Chasing someone down for smoking a joint is a lot less difficult in the city than it is in a forest because there are more recognizable landmarks and street names. However, cities have greater numbers of civilians, which means protests and direct actions there can be more impactful, and because they are the hearts of capital, shutting them down has major effects on the rich and powerful. Ultimately though, city life is not healthy nor sustainable. ‘
Some think cities are more sustainable than living in rural regions because humans live in small apartments and “everything is so close” that they hardly need to travel. But just because they can walk to the grocery store or work doesn’t mean that’s sustainable. The food in grocery stores isn’t grown in them. Farms are far from major cities and the food must be shipped to get there, and there is a massive carbon footprint involved in this. To make food affordable and for farm owners to make a profit, many farm workers are exploited to put food on our tables. Hunting and gathering, of course, isn’t an option in cities either. City dwellers don’t have to travel because everything is brought to them, including energy. There isn’t space for power plants, solar or wind farms in cities, (much less space for each person to have solar panels on their home or apartment) so their electricity must be transported via high and low voltage transmission lines hundreds of miles, and this is not efficient as there is much energy loss in transit. Reliance on privatized electricity via the grid also allows monopolies like National Grid to grow, and it makes electricity a luxury and a tool that can be used against us. City living is only more sustainable than living in the suburbs for those who drive to the city for work and don’t grow their own food or harness their own energy. But rural living can be more sustainable than both. If homes were more spread out and each home had its own means of generating power, such as geothermal, solar, or wind, the energy produced wouldn’t have to travel at all. Homes with more land also allow families to grow their own food, which negates the need to travel for food or energy and it can even make typical 9-5 jobs unnecessary as there are far less expenses when producing everything at home.
Unfortunately, more and more people are living in cities as industrial civilization grows. 30% of the world’s population lived in an urban area in 1950. By 2018, more than half lived in urban areas and by 2030, 60% of us are expected to live in urban areas.[iv] Many people move from rural areas to cities seeking economic opportunity and the technological comforts of industrial civilization but ironically many end up living in ghettos or slums. In North America 82% of the population lives in urban areas. People here have, by and large, abandoned rural living and mechanized agriculture has taken their place. Many are forced to leave rural areas as industries push them out to develop and extract resources from their land. In some parts of the world, conflict and susceptibility to natural disasters push others to cities. Others move to be closer to schools and hospitals for healthcare[v] (though it is worth noting many infectious diseases and viruses are far more common and easily spread in denser populations, such as those in cities. Many health conditions are also created by the fast food, alcohol, legal and illegal drugs that dominate cities.) Some farmers leave rural life behind because the impacts of climate change, such as drought and more severe weather, make it very difficult to farm in certain parts of the world. Development of land and deforestation also destroys wildlife habitat, which means more wildlife seek food on farms instead of their homes in the wild, increasing the difficulty of farming all the more. The unsustainable ways in which many farm leaves the soil barren and thus many eventually find farming untenable. One way to reverse this transition of rural to urban migration may be to support small farmers financially, opting to buy from farmers markets and buying farm shares directly from farms instead of going to the grocery store. Wanting access to better healthcare and education is understandable and this is one benefit of cities. Denser populations have more doctors, hospitals, schools, teachers, and greater diversity among them. However, denser population come with the aforementioned costs, and many schools and universities indoctrinate students with nationalism, jingoism, and colonialism more than they foster creativity, empathy, or critical thinking. Some people argue dense cities connect more people. But truly strong, tightly knit communities are often small. There are just too many people in big cities to get to know everyone so many treat others with indifference and distrust in big cities because of this. There is no greater solitude than feeling alone surrounded by people.
Living off the land doesn’t have to mean cutting down any trees. In fact, it can mean the opposite. There are about 900 million acres of farmland in production in America, (about 25% of which is used to grow food for export[vi]). That means every family in America could live on nearly 9 acres of land, more than enough to grow food for themselves, raise animals, or hunt and gather, and they could farm in more sustainable ways by planting permaculture gardens or food forests, (fruit and nut trees) increasing biodiversity, carbon sequestration from trees planted, and composting food waste instead of tossing it in a trash can. This would be a better alternative to the massive 10,000-acre farms we have now that monocrop genetically modified crops soaked in pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Farmland here is privatized, of course, but we could also occupy land without paying for it. This transition would have to occur slowly if it did at all. As generations of people see the value in it, and our current homes and infrastructure in cities and suburbs break down, instead of putting more resources into repairing them or building more in the same place, many people could move to established farmland to build a home and a more sustainable, and mentally healthy lifestyle. Understandably, not everyone wants this lifestyle and would rather pursue other endeavors with their time. But if enough people did, then others could trade their own wares or services for the food their neighbors find, hunt, raise, or grow. About half of all habitable land on the planet is used for agriculture or grazing[vii] and due to the modern, industrial ways in which most farms operate, most farms don’t provide habitat for wildlife. But we could change that. Just by avoiding food waste by growing our own food, we could cut our need for farm land in half and reforest that land or allow it to regenerate. Living rurally off the land would also increase self-sufficiency, reduce people’s dependence on the market and the state, thereby decreasing corporate and state power, and make the populace harder to police as people would be more spread out. It also makes it easier to covertly block and attack oil and gas infrastructure as most oil and gas pipelines and rigs are built in rural areas where many don’t currently live. Resisting this infrastructure as, for example, the Wet’suwet’en People currently are on their territory in so-called British Colombia, Canada, is critical. They have faced constant harassment, arrests, and violence from the “royal” Canadian police simply for resisting TC energy (formally TransCanada Corporation) and their construction of the 470 mile long Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline being built through ecologically sensitive land owned by the Wet’suwet’en that was never ceded to Canada. If construction is completed and the pipeline becomes operational, it will poison Wet’suwet’en water and food sources. They are among countless other Indigenous Peoples defending their land and receiving the same treatment.
There is incredible natural beauty in the world, more than any one person could see or explore in a lifetime. There are 8.7 million species of animals, plants, and fungi on the planet and an estimated 86% of land species and 91% of marine species remain undiscovered.[viii] Natural places like Havasu Falls, the jungles of Madagascar, the Great Barrier Reef, the bioluminescent shores of Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives. and the Amazon Jungle have more innate value than anything mankind has ever made. None of that is worth exchanging for any kind of technology in the name of “progress” and “civilization”.