Against Civilization—really?

One of the fundamental ideas of our life, it seems to me—so fundamental that it is not so much an idea as a given, just the water we swim in—is that civilization is a good thing. Built into the definition of the word as usually employed are “ improved,” “refined,” “more highly developed.” Even “more fully human.”

The trajectory from “primitive” to “civilized” defines the whole direction of things. Or so we have been taught.

Now, in reading up on the “paleo” diet, I see that it goes way beyond that current fad. According to “Against Civilization” (edited by John Zerzan), a collection of essays by some serious academics and thinkers, civilization is about the worse thing that ever happened to us.

According to one, The Holocaust was not, as I have always thought, a cautionary lapse in civilization but rather the result of civilization, its very culmination.

Agriculture, (aka the “neolithic revolution”), associated with the end of primitive hunter-gatherer tribes and the start of amenities such as cities and governments (and setting us on the road to pizza, smart phones, and the proliferation of micro-breweries), is the “Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.”

Contrary to what I’ve always been told, hunter-gatherers were better fed, bigger, healthier, and more long-lived than the specimens produced by agriculture.


I must say that for one who has always thought himself an independent thinker and something of a rebel against mainstream tendencies, it comes as a bit of a shock to discover how thoroughly, apparently, I’ve bought into the self-justifying ideology of civilization. I confess I have a hard time imagining life without anti-biotics, in which you lose a limb for a small infection. In which it is sawn off without benefit of anesthesia.

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