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J. Harmon Grahn — About "Post-Civilized" Possibilities


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Agenda for a "Post-Civilized" Humanity
As was made reasonably clear (I hope) in The Writing on the Wall #8, the emergence of "post-civilization" depends entirely upon the self-motivated emergence of "post-civilized" individuals. As summarized in § 4.3 Postscript of that essay, "What may be said with certainty is that if no one makes of himself a 'post-civilized' human, 'post-civilization' will never emerge on planet Earth — or in other words that, absent 'post-civilized' humans, 'post-civilization' will most probably take the form of a lifeless desert; and planet Earth, for the first time since the dawn of 'civilization,' will at last enjoy peace: 'the peace of the grave.' However, as long as we continue to hang around, that is not the only possible outcome."

Making oneself into a "post-civilized" human is something no one can do for anybody else; and it is something no one can be coerced into doing (or not doing), by any means, by anybody, or by anything. It is strictly a voluntary project, and its progress lies entirely and solely within the discretion of the individual "doing the work."

In consequence, those emerging humans who fit the description of being "post-civilized," in distinction from being "civilized," will in all other respects be richly various individuals. We will share in common only the essential quality of being responsibly self-governed — meaning in full command of our own creative imaginations — and the voluntary and mutual practice amongst ourselves of treating one another as we wish to be treated; and allowing one another the liberty we enjoy. It may be possible or necessary eventually to refine or improve these summary qualifications; but they may serve in their present form as points of departure for a provisional statement of the qualities that distinguish "post-civilized" humans from our "civilized" forebears.

Included in the "spirit" of these qualifications is the implication that aspirants to "post-civilization" need not harbor hostility to "civilization," or to consider it necessary to "overthrow," or otherwise oppose "civilization," in order to bring forth the emergence of "post-civilization." "Civilization" in all its forms is well along in the process of its own self-destruction, simply by virtue of being a tapestry of patterns that do not work. Patterns that do not work do not last, and require no further encouragement for their eventual disappearance. However, the failure and disappearance of such large patterns make urgent the emergence of patterns that may work in their place — if at least minimally coherent continuity is to be maintained between "what has been" and "what shall be."

The transition from "civilization" to "post-civilization," like the birth of an infant, is certainly a "ticklish operation," and "success" can never be considered certain, at least until the transition is unambiguously settled. There are numerous facets to this process, which we will attempt to highlight here — with the provision at the outset that not all items on the agenda are necessarily obvious; and we anticipate that additional items will make their appearance here, as and when it becomes evident that they require attention. We shall enumerate these more or less in the order in which they occur to us; which is probably not in the order of their relative importance; or the order in which they may eventually be addressed — which is likely to be more nearly coincident than sequential:

  1. Name. This may be among the last items on this agenda given focused attention; yet it is clear that the provisional interim name, "post-civilization," is not adequate. It is like the name of the often most popular candidate for election to political office: Not The Incumbent. "Post-civilization," bearing any label, may become a condition of human life before an appropriate name for it — that does not derive from its failed antecedent — is decided upon, and approved by a consensus of its constituents.

  2. Governance. Among "civilized" humans, "governance" by means of coercive power is universally believed to be necessary, and is one of the primary reasons for the emergence and presence of all "civilizations" throughout history. This was so initially, because the first "civilized" humans were incapable of governing themselves; and those who accumulated the coercive power necessary to fill this vacancy have ever since believed it to be in their interests to encourage this incapacity by every available means. This arrangement does not work, however, because no volitional being can possibly be governed by another volitional being — for the same reason that no driver can pilot any vehicle in traffic, other than the one whose steering wheel he holds.[1] Volitional beings may be attacked, terrorized, slaughtered, or enslaved by other volitional beings more powerful than themselves. Yet no volitional being can be governed by anyone, or anything, other than itself: for that is what volition is. Volitional beings, such as small and adolescent children — and all humans in the early stages of evolutionary development — who have not achieved the capacity to govern themselves, require some form of guidance, or mentorship. As described in The Writing on the Wall #5 § 2.2 Wealth and Power, among primitive hunter-gatherers, this "mentorship" was initially provided by the limited availability of food within their range. When inventive early humans developed the techniques of agriculture and animal husbandry, and learned how to produce their food themselves, they obviated this "natural mentorship," and swiftly encountered the far less benign oppression of the more powerful among them upon the less powerful: the condition which produced "civilization." Those among us who aspire to "post-civilization" face the challenge of mastering the ability to govern ourselves, obviating our need for any form of coercive "governance" by others.

  3. Money. It may be observed here that money, a medium of commercial exchange among "civilized" humans, is entirely a human invention, with no counterpart anywhere in nature, as may be observed on planet Earth. Throughout nature, a rich and dynamic "commerce," or an intricate fabric of exchange, is observable everywhere; yet nowhere in nature may be observed a medium of exchange similar to the human invention, money: a commodity of little or no intrinsic value, exchangeable for any and all goods and services valued by humans. Among "civilized" humans, throughout "civilization," and throughout "civilized history," money is probably the most potent and ubiquitous single instrument of coercive power in the formidable arsenal of the powerful "1%," in dominance over the less powerful (less "wealthy") "99%." Full and adequate development of these observations, and their consequences, will require the careful consideration of many creative minds, in developing an alternative approach — that works — to the vital exchanges necessary among humans, and between humans and Cosmos at large. Countless examples throughout nature suggest, but do not certify, that this is possible.

  4. Energy. In the "civilized world," energy — in particular the energy required to turn the wheels of industry and human commerce — is closely related to money; and the production and distribution of energy, as of money, has been co-opted as the exclusive prerogatives of the "1%." Yet in The Writing on the Wall #7 § 4.3 Implications, footnote 51, the equivalence between matter and energy expressed in Einstein's famous formula E = mc² is worked out to show that "one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds of atoms (such as dirt) contains, in extremely dense, compact form, 24,970,000,000 kilowatt-hours of electromagnetic energy." Energy, in other words, is the most abundant stuff in the universe, because it is what the universe is made of. Exclusive access to energy only by the "1%," and available to the "99%" only in exchange for an arbitrary monetary price, is as lopsided and unbalanced a condition as would be the preemptive exclusive "ownership" by anybody of the air we all breathe. It is a condition that cannot last, because it does not work. Therefore, high on the "post-civilized" agenda is making the energy necessary for the exercise of human creativity freely available, in balance with its limitless and universal abundance. This is not a matter of alleged "physical impossibilities," but of freely shared human know-how, and technologies within reach of the unfettered human imagination.

  5. "Education." This, like "civilization," is another of those words that requires enclosure within quotes: because in the "civilized world," "education" is an instrument of power in the hands of the powerful; not, as advertised, an instrument of endless exploration and learning for people everywhere. As an instrument of power, the aim of "education" is creation of a dependent, ignorant, docile human population who believe what they are taught, show up on time, and do what they are told, with minimal back-chat. Its aim certainly has nothing to do with stimulating the curiosity, creativity, and insight of students — although there occur at infrequent intervals a few widely dispersed pedagogues who do pursue some of these aims, against the overwhelming counter-current of the "educational system:" which takes undeserved credit for their innovative creativity, and keeps them to a minimum. A "post-civilized" counterpart to "education" will identify itself with an entirely different name, be conducted along entirely different lines, and achieve entirely different results.

  6. Learning. This is a "pull" endeavor, motivated, initiated, and sustained by the learner; in distinction from the "push" endeavor of so-called "education:" which is motivated, initiated, and sustained through the "educational system," by the interests of coercive power that steer "civilization." Learning is at all times driven and paced by the spontaneous interests of the learner; fruit of which is the learner's cumulative, unique, and lifelong reward. Learning encourages uniqueness, creativity, and invention, and can only occur in an environment of unfettered liberty; whereas "education" encourages uniformity, stifles creativity and invention, and produces somnambulant slaves.

  7. Industry. All living things on Earth are involved in industry. They take things from Nature, and turn them into other things, useful to themselves; and they do this on a massive, global, "industrial scale" that even now dwarfs the scale of human industry. So industry is not a human invention; nor is it peculiar to "civilization." However, "civilized" industry is sharply distinguishable in one particular from all forms of industry that developed — and persisted — prior to human "civilization." "Civilized" industry has never been balanced, and has consequently never been sustainable; and it is now coming to the end of its sustenance on planet Earth; whereas what we may call "natural industry" is balanced, and sustainable. Every byproduct of "natural industry," which is discarded because it is not useful to the industry that produces it, contributes in some way to other "natural industries." Nothing is wasted; nothing produced by "natural industry" is absolutely useless to all other "natural industries." This vital quality is conspicuously absent from "civilized" industry: with the result that everything on Earth that is mined, harvested, or otherwise acquired for the purposes of "civilized" industry, is inexorably turned into waste products that have no use to anything on Earth. A prototypical example of this is radioactive nuclear waste; but it is only one of the more spectacularly useless, toxic byproducts of "civilized" industry, among countless others. Consequently, the process of "civilized" industry is the accelerating conversion of the entire planet into a mass of indigestible, toxic waste, incapable of sustaining life of any kind. High on the "post-civilized" agenda is the reversal of this trend, and adoption instead of patterns following the ubiquitous and timeless examples of "natural industry."

  8. Entertainment. Mentioned here, only because it occupies such a prominent place within the fabric of "civilization," entertainment, as conducted among "civilized" people, will probably have a negligible place within "post-civilization." People fully engaged in their own and one another's unfettered creative endeavors have neither interest nor time for activities with only "entertainment value," or relevance only for purposes of diverting attention, and alleviating boredom. "Bread and circuses" are well established instruments of coercive power, vital to the unbalanced functions of "civilization;" but will be of small interest to a "post-civilized" humanity ignited by the universal joy of limitless human creativity.

  9. Context. Every thing brought into focus by the directed attention of anybody occurs within an evidently limitless context consisting of everything else, "omitting no detail, however slight." Directed attention has the unavoidable effect of isolating its object by ignoring most of its context, thereby creating within the imagination of the viewer a lopsided and partial perception. In the nature of things, such partial perceptions cannot be avoided, and cannot be made whole; but they may be acknowledged, or not, at the discretion of the viewer. One of the defining qualities of "civilization" is the tendency among "civilized" people everywhere not to acknowledge, or even to have awareness of the partiality of their perceptions — with the consequence that innumerable individuals, having innumerable different and seemingly contradictory perceptions, tend each to insist that their perception of things is "the way things really are," and that contrary perceptions are "wrong." Naturally, this is a pattern that does not work, and is a formula for mutual self-destruction among "civilized" humans — now well advanced. Therefore, the defining qualities of "post-civilization" must include the cultivated habit among "post-civilized" people of acknowledging, and making deliberate allowance for the infinitely diverse partial perceptions of all perceiving beings.

  10. Quality. In his book, The Timeless Way of Building,[2] Christopher Alexander describes something he calls The Quality Without a Name. There is a central quality, Alexander writes, which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named. The quality Alexander is trying to describe exists in varying degrees in everything we see, or touch, or create, or experience in any way; and its presence, or absence, determines, perhaps in a "transdimensional" way, the extent to which anything we create works, or lives in harmony within its context. This mysterious quality is naturally applicable to architecture: to the rooms, gardens, buildings, and towns we create for human use; as it is applicable to the patterns of all things. And so, it is naturally applicable as well to "civilization," and to "post-civilization."
    The fact is [Alexander writes] that the difference between a good building and a bad building, between a good town and a bad town, is an objective matter. It is the difference between health and sickness, wholeness and dividedness, self-maintenance and self-destruction. In a world which is healthy, whole, alive, and self-maintaining, people themselves can be alive and self-creating. In a world which is unwhole and self-destroying, people cannot be alive: they will inevitably themselves be self-destroying, and miserable.[3]
    In The Writing on the Wall #8, § 2 The "Secret Ingredient", I emphasized the vital importance of love to patterns that work. "As I imagine it," I wrote, "the Cosmic Scheme is an exquisitely crafted 'filter' for selecting, gestating, and nurturing the quality of love: for the practical reason that love is essential to all systems that work; and without it, nothing works." It is possible that in writing this, I may have committed the error of attempting to attach a name to what Alexander has identified as the quality without a name; in which love may have a part, but is not the whole. In exploring uncharted ground, it is difficult to "get everything right" on the first attempt. As I believe Albert Einstein once remarked, "If we knew what we're doing, we wouldn't be calling it 'research'."

Additional items may be needed to flesh out a comprehensive Agenda for a "Post-Civilized" Humanity. If so, nourished by the creative imaginations of aspiring "post-civilized" humans, they may make their appearance here in due course. Meanwhile, the above items may provide enough to gnaw on, for the time being, for those having visions of the next phase of human evolution in Cosmos.

The intent here is the creation of a cumulative series of essays, presentations, creative works of any kind, authored by those who are interested, addressing, briefly or at length, in any order, the ten or more items on the agenda above; and/or appending additional agenda items not listed, that should be; and addressing them as well.


1. Thus it may truthfully be said that the most important part of any automobile is "the nut that holds the wheel."

2. Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building, Oxford University Press, New York, 1979.

3. Ibid., p. 25.

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