The Question Every Environmentalist Needs to Ask
We don’t have to forsake civilization, but we owe it to ourselves to consider it
“So you’re like, anti-civ now?” he asked me after I started ranting, once again, about agriculture. I laughed. Reddit always has a catchy term for everything, don’t they? In this case, anti-civ is short for anti-civilization, a position of critiquing human civilization itself and doubting whether settled civilizations are sustainable or desirable.
To answer the question, I would say, no… at least, not entirely. I’m not anti-civilization per se, but I am questioning the value of civilization. I am taking the question seriously, and the more I think about it, the more I think we all need to think about it.
Is civilization, as we know it, actually good for anyone? Or is it perhaps the fundamental problem, the poison responsible for the myriad personal and collective ills we face today?
If it’s not a question you’re used to considering, it might sound destructive, misanthropic or just plain stupid. What does that even mean, to be anti-civilization? What alternative is there, and why would anyone ever want it?
Well… as I’ve been learning lately, there are actually some pretty good reasons to think civilization itself is harmful. Our history is full of alternatives, alternatives which might actually be better for us than what we’ve got today. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the topic. Still, the more I learn more about it, the more I think anyone who cares about the health of our planet, and of our species on this planet, needs to take the civilization question seriously.
To begin, what are we talking about when we talk about “civilization”? According to National Geographic’s definition, civilization “describes a complex way of life characterized by urban areas, shared methods of communication, administrative infrastructure, and division of labor.” As far as we know, human civilization began in Mesopotamia roughly 10,000 years ago, as a large wave of humans shifted to settled, agricultural lifestyles and began building more complex, densely-populated cities.
What’s important to remember here is that not all human communities are civilizations. For the vast…