What Midwives Taught Me About Anarchism (Anarchism for Civilians series)

Lesson 3: Civilization does not make our lives better. Civilization robs us of the the good things in life.

What about all the benefits of civilization? Of large-scale, complex social organization? We’ve all been taught the story that the history of humankind has been a progression from barbarism to a civilization and from less civilization to more civilization.  And we’ve been taught that this is a good thing.  But what if it wasn’t?

Civilization is a term which is often used, but rarely defined. Civilization is the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of an elite class which coincides with the geographical concentration of people into cities, in order to produce and collect a surplus for the elites.[FN 1] The word “civilization” comes from the same root as “city”. The earliest states were city-states like Sumer and Babylon, Athens and Greece, Tenochtitlán and Iztapalapa, Venice and Florence.

It’s really impossible to pinpoint when exactly civilization began; It’s easier to think of it as a process, rather than a point in time. What anarchists call “the state” is the result of the process of civilization creating a class of people whose sole function is to govern others. This includes rulers like monarchs and aristocrats, but also professional politicians, bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, police officers, and soldiers. 

Though they’re often used synonymously, civilization is not the same thing as culture. When we think about civilization, we tend to think about things that we like—such as the arts, modern medicine, technological gadgets, and so on. But many of the things that we like, such as art and healing, existed before civilization and outside of states. And many of the lauded “improvements” brought by civilization were not really improvements, or else they were improvements which came at a terrible cost.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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