John C. Wright on the nature of Civilization

John C. Wright knocks it out of the park (as usual) over at Every Joe with an article titled Defining Civilization: Women and Children First. Well worth the read.

A civilization whose citizens have lost the ability to admire its virtues, beauties, benefits and strengths is one whose citizens are losing the ability to defend that civilization. Before we pull stone from stone to dismantle the wall that separates civilized life from the chaotic bloodshed, cruelty, and misery of barbarism outside, it behooves us to examine the wall, and ask three questions of it: What is Civilization? How is it maintained? What can undo it?What do you think?

To define civilization is like defining an elephant: the thing is too big to take it at a glance. Nonetheless, by imagining its absence (for example by watching a Mad Max movie) we can see what it provides.What do you think?

In the absence of civilization, there is no law hence no property, ergo no man has any reason to check any craving for the land currently occupied by another, any fruitful plot or pleasant hunting ground, if he has strength enough to dispossess him. Personal chattel or cattle are even less secure, because a trespasser can carry them away without the effort of assaulting or, once in possession, holding the envied real estate.What do you think?

Where there is no law hence no rights, any stranger has just as good a claim to lands and chattel as the first possessor, if his strength is the same; and if the stranger be weaker, it is prudent to destroy him ere he grow stronger. The inhuman calculus of prudence says that it improves one’s safety to have a reputation for strength and brutality, so that potential threats might seek elsewhere for prey, and so that indecisive neighbors become allies or clients.What do you think?

Hence in this state of nature without manmade laws, your equals will invade to despoil you because they covet; the weaker because they fear you; the stronger because they do not fear you, for glory, or the mere pleasure of bloodshed.What do you think?

In such a state, labor is vain, because whatever is built or made may be taken; cultivating the earth is vain, because an invader may harvest what you sow, and drink the wine of your grapes; there is no trade nor travel by sea, because there is nothing to transport; no machines for moving or removing great weights; no works of canals, bridges, walls, fortress, dams; no draining of swamps, nor clearing of forest; no knowledge of distant places; no reckoning of times and season; no lasting nor reliable record of years past, hence no accumulation of lore and learning between generations; no medicine, no letters, no arts; and, above all, men live wretched and impoverished lives, and brief

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Also, don’t forget to pick up John’s wonderful collection of essays Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth and his new short story collection The Book of Feasts & Seasons