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Civilization's Precondition - Freedom from Restrictions Imposed by Others

Civilization's Precondition - Freedom from Restrictions Imposed by Others

5 Mins
July 10, 2017

I love civilization. It’s a hard concept to define exactly and one from which many thinkers flee.


To me it means an environment of unfettered creativity - the cultural climate where an individual may reach as high as his or her own talents and abilities allow.

The results of this natural drive in mankind have been stamped all over Earth, from the life-celebrating Caves of Lascaux and the ancient ruins of the Greek Parthenon, to the god-like art and architecture of Renaissance Europe. Today’s wonders would make any person of these older times weep in awe had they but once glimpsed our glittering, burgeoning cities, our wondrous minicomputers casually carried around in our pockets—to say nothing of manned space travel. Instruments of exploration, like Hubble, beaming back beautiful photographs of other-galaxy nebulae hidden millions of miles away in the vastness of space have caused us to realistically wonder what other civilizations, possibly much more advanced than our own, may be flourishing while patiently lying in wait for the human love of creative discovery to find them.  They may be friends or they may be foes—or we may conceivably be the only life form that possesses the sacred seeds of creativity in this whole staggering expanse of universe.

There is still so much that lies undiscovered beneath the threshold of current human knowledge that one can honestly wonder what dreams may yet come. But at the same time we happen to share our tiny planet with some profoundly destructive forces—forces so bloody dark that they won’t be satisfied until they’ve blown a fair portion of the skyscrapers of Earth, along with their inhabitants, to oblivion.  These are the forces of nihilistic tribalism, the fearful medieval minds which won’t ever accept a ‘live and let live’ premise. Earth has seen their kind before many times; in fact over the timeline of life’s existence on Earth brute force has been Nature’s status quo - and also man’s.


Homo sapiens have roamed the Earth for around 200,000 years and for most of our temporal existence life has been “nasty, brutish and short…,” as the 17th Century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, was once moved to correctly conclude, “...no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death."

This woeful condition of mankind has been occasionally interrupted by small pockets of blossoming civilizations which sprang up under the development of philosophy, most notably the ancient Greeks and the early Roman Republic. But such civilizations were not the norm; even in their own time, they were an unusual aberration from developing man’s tendency toward merciless inter-tribal wars and savage sectarian feuds.

During the mid-20th Century, Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand, wrote:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe.  Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

Note that Rand did not describe civilization by its results, like architecture and technology, but by identifying the very wellspring of what causes it to come into being: social freedom, where the use of physical force is unlawful. Social freedom requires privacy from restrictions imposed by others, and so does creativity.  Does the poet throw herself into the throng of societal pressure and dog-eat-dog survival to produce universal thoughts of lyrical clarity, or seclude herself deep into nature’s heart to generate the pearls of her living experience worth sharing?  Does the scientific inventor innovate by long days fending off the demands of those only concerned with their gas bill, or does he spend long weeks in solitude tinkering with his ideas and experiments?

Civilization does not just allow for privacy from restrictions imposed by others, it demands it as a proper condition for human flourishing.

Ayn Rand also wrote:

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

The advanced civilizations of the West now find themselves under increasing attack from an antediluvian culture which has never managed to civilize itself—and therefore seeks to brutally damage that which stands as a living reproach to its boorishly religious mentality.  It is not going to leave us alone.  It has already invaded our privacy with its violence - too many times to count - but here is a short yet very incomplete summation: New York's Twin Towers, London's Underground, Madrid's commuter trains, a Bali nightclub, Charlie Hebdo, Fort Hood, Sydney's Lindt Cafe, Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, the Bataclan Theatre, Nice's Riviera, an Orlando nightclub, Brussels Airport, Sarona Market Tel Aviv, Rouen Church in Northern France.  For a more comprehensive list since 1983 go here.

If there do happen to be any civilizations either in our galaxy or beyond, which have survived a technological adolescence well enough to be quietly keeping an eye on us from a safe distance, you can bet that they harbor no wish to engage with troublesome Earthlings, despite our stunning creative powers, so long as it remains our crude lot to still have to contend with the primordial ideas which fuel religious violence on such an enchanting planet.

Olivia Pierson
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Olivia Pierson
Ideas and Ideologies