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Deconstructing Civilization

Deconstructing Civilization

Old paper mill, Oregon City, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“Our confidence in our ability to direct the course of events has been severely eroded by the experiences of the twentieth century. Several disastrous wars have occurred, against all efforts to prevent them, and even the United Nations has been almost totally unsuccessful in achieving the peaceful world that was its founding vision. We seem powerless to control crime, urban deterioration, overpopulation, the arms race, and nuclear proliferation. These experiences suggest that there is a grand dynamic in history that goes largely where it will and is highly resistant to efforts made to redirect it.”

Muddling Toward Frugality, Warren Johnson, 1979

It’s hard not to like George Orwell. And it’s hard not to admire Arnold J. Toynbee. But I didn’t expect to find myself disagreeing with both of them on an issue (let’s call it, thanks to Warren Johnson, a “grand dynamic in history”) that both Orwell and Toynbee clearly agree on.

Well, maybe I suspected that point of disagreement with Toynbee, the famous world historian. But not with Orwell, the fighter for Spanish democracy and the author of 1984.

It’s been over thirty years since I first read Toynbee’s Civilization on Trial, published in 1948. And one couldn’t help but feel—not just Toynbee’s accrued historical erudition—but the Nazi death camps and the American atom bombs behind the urgency of his writing.

In his book, Toynbee says explicitly that the “two congenital diseases of civilization” are “War and Class.” He goes on to say that “recent technological inventions of the modern Western middle class” have now made “Class . . . capable of irrevocably disintegrating Society, and War of annihilating the entire human race.”

Well, nothing to disagree with there.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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