The Civilization Causality

March 17, 2013

On March 4, 2013, David Brooks of The New York Times wrote in one of his luminous Op-Ed columns about situations that might be called The Brutality Cascade. As examples of the situations, he used the practices taken by some in sports to win and education to get into a chosen college. He went on to suggest that the most brutal player in such competitions gets to set the rules and that such cascades could be exercised in charting political policies by forsaking civility to brutalism and compromise to absolutism.

His column seems to have emanated from his observation that many Chinese “see global economics as a form of warfare, a struggle for national dominance.”

In mitigation, he points to two possible solutions: 1) trying what might be called friendship circles to establish norms of legitimacy that should govern competitions and ban cyberactivity against citizens and private companies, and 2) play by the standards of brutality cascades.

The parable that all nations and people behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives is often attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.

Exactly when people started to try all alternatives may not be known and will probably be never easy to find out. It is also not clear, at least to this writer, if and when all peoples will have exhausted all the other alternatives. However, we can fairly argue that the collective trajectory of humanity’s progress has long been towards behaving wisely and civilly.

As Stephen Greenblatt wrote in his book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, early humans overcame brutality and became civil. In Epicurean terms, they struggled to soften brutally hard existence.

As the National Science Foundation funded documentary about ancient Greece suggested, people started to debate ideas in this Mediterranean region nearly 2500 years ago. Greece’s Classical Civilizations followed the start of debating ideas. According to the documentary, which is dubbed “a tribute to early Greek explorers whose ideas still light our world,” “so mighty was that one great burst of light that its afterglow still lights the world.”

In a November 20, 2011, Op-Ed published by The New York Times, Professor Yan Xuetong wrote from Beijing about ancient Chinese virtue drawn from its ancient political theorists. He wrote that China’s ancient theorists agreed that the key to international influence is political power that is led by morality; he asserted that moral norms guide the ultimate winners.

We can fairly argue, therefore, that Epicurean terms, ancient Greece’s civilization, and the conclusions of ancient Chinese political theorists appear to be in consonance with the observation of Sir Winston Churchill. We can also fairy argue that the history of humanity’s collective progress is that of the waning down of brutality cascades and development and continued outreach of civility. More importantly, as David Brooks also points out, it is very hard to get out of brutality cascades; it has never been easy.

This makes the defense of civilization all the more important, which is not easy, either. However, its rewards for the collective far outweigh the burdens of defending it, which means that humanity can’t afford to make it the causality. To the extent that civilization is derived from the description of what it means to become civil, its trajectory ought to be irreversible in and of its own right.

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