Class Warfare Blog

November 25, 2020

Not a Fan of Civilization?

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 11:53 am
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I am currently working my way through Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan and I find the going slow . . . not because it is difficult but because it is impactful and I have to digest it a few pages at a time. I will be providing a full read review but I thought I might tantalize you with a few excerpts (italics all mine).

* * *

Historically, in settlements where the surrounding environment offered opportunity for subsistence living, people had to be coerced into joining civilization. Scott describes the brutal subjugation as “anything but a benign, voluntary journey toward civilization.” In fact, large portions of these early civilizations were not participants; they were property, “taken en masse as prizes of war and driven back to the core or purchased, retail, as it were, from slaving expeditions selling the state what it most needed.” What these early states “most needed” was cheap human labor to keep the wheels of civilization turning: workers to plant and harvest crops, armies to conquer and hold new land, slaves to dig canals and cut roads. This insatiable hunger for human labor also helps explain why most major religions so insistently and violently oppose nonreproductive sexual behavior—a major source of human suffering in civilized societies.

* * *

Seen as a way of compelling rapid population growth in order to fuel the growth of civilized populations, this otherwise bizarre prohibition of nonreproductive sex begins to make sense. Humans are in effect being bred as a source of cheap, disposable labor, like horses, oxen, or camels. Forcing the reluctant to join expanding empires wasn’t restricted to biblical or classical times. In The Invention of Capitalism, economic historian Michael Perelman explains how the economic noose was tightened around the necks of anyone who tried to opt out of the civilizational enterprise in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. “Rather than contending that market forces should determine the fate of these small-scale producers, classical political economy called for state interventions of one sort or another to hobble these people’s ability to produce for their own needs.” It wasn’t enough merely to be civilized yourself; everyone else had to be civilized, too.

* * *

This state of affairs could not be permitted. Men had to be made poor enough that they’d be forced to join the desperate throngs in the mines, armies, and factories. A London police magistrate named Patrick Colquhoun articulated the widespread view that poverty was integral to the health of civilization: “Poverty… is a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.”

* * *

And make no mistake, people are still being dragged into the market economy. Multinational corporations routinely expropriate land in poor countries (or “buy” it from corrupt politicians), force the local populations off the land (so they cannot grow or hunt their own food), and offer the “luckiest” among them jobs cutting down the forest, mining minerals, or harvesting fruit in exchange for slave wages often paid in company currency that can only be used to buy unhealthful, industrially produced food at inflated prices at a company-owned store. These victims of market incursion are then often celebrated as having been saved from “abject poverty.” With their gardens, animals, fishing, and hunting, they had been living on less than a dollar per day. Now, as slave laborers, they’re participating in the economy. This, we’re told, is progress.

* * *

From foragers being forced off land they’ve lived on for centuries because they cannot produce deeds of ownership, to eighteenth-century Scottish Highlanders who preferred to tend their sheep, to today’s college graduates saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they’ve landed their first job, nonparticipation in the market economy has consistently and effectively been eliminated as a viable option. To those who suggest we should “Love it or leave it,” I’d suggest that neither option is—or has ever been—a realistic possibility. It’s as if people are being forced into casinos at gunpoint, where they lose everything, generation after generation, and then they’re told they’ve got a gambling problem.

PS All of these came from just a three page segment!


  1. Read it…found it fascinating


    Comment by maryplumbago — November 25, 2020 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  2. This may be true with the vast majority of early civilizations, with one big exception — the one in the early Indus Valley (as in Mohenjo-Daro). No big temples, no mansions,no ruling class, no warriors, and every home just about equal in status. They even developed some sort of writing, but as yet it hasn’t been deciphered. I wonder what we will be able to learn if someone figures out how to decode it. What can these people from long ago teach us?

    On Wed, Nov 25, 2020 at 12:54 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

    > Steve Ruis posted: “I am currently working my way through Civilized to > Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan and I find the going slow > . . . not because it is difficult but because it is impactful and I have to > digest it a few pages at a time. I will be providing ” >


    Comment by gfbrandenburg — November 25, 2020 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

    • One of the things most people do not realize is that these early “cities” didn’t last all that long. Ur was born and died three times in about a century. The Mohenjo-Daro civilizations lasted a while and then disappeared for reasons not yet known. What pops up later, of course, are the civilizations as described. It is kind of like bad money driving out the good.


      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 27, 2020 @ 12:08 pm | Reply

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