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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Get Rid of Civilization (p. 601)

From chapter "Coming Home"

This book began as an exploration of hate in the Western world, and it ends, really, with the end of life on the planet. The problem, as near as I can see it, is the valuing of the abstract over the particular: of production over life; of economic (and other) systems over living beings, be they humans, or rivers, or polar bears; of our preconceptions of what n***ers or Chinese or Irish dogs are supposed to be, instead of this black man, this Chinese woman, this Irish man, complete with his or her own cultural and personal histories, with desires and hopes and fears; of photographs of women over the women themselves, of the bodies of women over their whole beings, bodies and minds and hearts and sorrows and joys; of truncated conceptions of our own capacities, based on what we have been allowed to express over who we really are. The problem is, simply, that of seeing ourselves and others as instruments to be used, instead of people to be enjoyed in relationship.

What I propose as a “solution” to this problem of the ascendancy of abstraction is a return to the particular. I support an anti-system to promote a falling in love with the particular. To love this particular tree, that particular person, this glint of sunlight off this dragonfly wing, and, insofar as is possible, to perceive each of those around us as subjects. This is not a simple plea for us to all just get along. I’m not suggesting we replace abstract hate with a love just as abstract. That’s pointless, absurd, meaningless, and, in the end, impossible. I am not an abstract being. I have fingers, flesh, bones. I love this person. I do not love that person. Nor am I suggesting we simply step away from violence. I’m suggesting that there is a difference—all the difference in the world, really—between real fights between real people—even when real blood is spilled—and killings based on preconceptions. What I’m suggesting is a return to our humanity.

If we are to do that, the first thing we must do is to see the inhumanity of our current system for what it is, and we must speak about it. If the first rule of a dysfunctional family or society is Don’t, the first rule of a functioning society is Do. Talk about it. Speak out, like Ham, Noah’s curses be damned.

Of course, it’s not so easy. It’s all very fine for me to say how much joy it brings me to listen to birdsong, but my enjoyment, or anyone else’s, is irrelevant to the suffering of others, to the degree that it does not compel me to shut down the source of the other’s misery. Having fallen in love with our own lives, and the lives of those around us—even our honored enemies (though not McNamara and his likes who, by their actions, show themselves to be willing to exploit)—the next step is to get rid of our whole inhumane system, to quit valuing production over life, and to physically stop those who do. The next step is to bring down that which originated in conquest abroad and repression at home. The next step is a planet liberated from the destruction; the next step is the end of civilization.

Get rid of civilization? I can hear you say. That’s your solution? The hatred that characterizes so much of our system—the hatred I’ve described and analyzed in this book—is not a product of biology. People are not fundamentally hateful. Our hate is not a result of several billion years of natural selection. It’s a result of the framing conditions under which each of us are raised. It’s a result of the unquestioned assumptions that inform us. If we want to stop the hate, we need to get rid of the framing conditions. Until we do that, we’re bound to fail. So, yes, that is precisely my solution, we need to get rid of civilization.

Maybe that seems absurd, to you. It doesn’t, to me. It just seems like a lot of work, done by a lot of people in a lot of places in a lot of different ways. But I’ll tell you something that does seem absurd to me: the possibility of allowing this inhumane system to continue.