I’m a big picture kind of person. That’s what makes it possible for me to pass the same painting in a hallway every day for three years before noticing it’s there, yet able to tell you who the president of Zimbabwe is.
Looking at civilization as a whole, my theory is that the whole basis for civilization is addiction. You’re probably pooh-poohing me already, and coming up with arguments refuting this seemingly preposterous assertion–arguments like “Civilization is the highest form of human evolution. It allows people to contribute their individual talents and abilities for the benefit of all.” Or “Without civilization, we would all still be separately inventing the wheel.” But just hear me out.
Around the world, people have been herded from the relative poverty of small self-sustaining farms to a better life in cities. Currently, more than half of the global population live in urban areas. Why? Of course, benefits such as electricity, running water, refrigeration and employment are factors, but I contend that an even bigger factor is addiction.
When we think of addiction, we usually think first of tobacco, drugs and alcohol. However, there are many more addictions, like pornography, sex, caffeine and shopping. With each new technological advance, the list of potential new addictions increases. For example, we now have gambling, video game, and even plastic surgery addictions. Further, government profits from those addictions, both in terms of high taxes on alcohol and tobacco, and cornering the market on gambling through lotteries.
Recently, a few independent researchers have conducted some experiments that reveal that civilization itself is largely responsible for addiction. The newest theory is that caged rats don’t become addicted to cocaine because it’s an addictive substance– but because they are caged. Any caged animal, including humans, resorts to addiction when their freedom to pursue other options is removed. Poverty is the physical cage in which the majority of humanity exists. However, addiction is synonymous with dependence. While some may manage to escape poverty, very few escape dependence. That means most financially dependent upon their employers. That dependence creates other types of dependence.
The more money one makes, the more active addictions one is able to maintain. Hoarding becomes a way of life as people scramble to buy things they don’t need to make themselves feel better about what they are doing for money. They also make themselves feel better by telling themselves that they are deserving of more than others due to their superior work ethic or talents and abilities. The truth is that they receive more in exchange for their active participation in maintaining a system based on exploiting the poverty of others, thereby guaranteeing continued profits for their corporate owners.
All of this has led me to the conclusion that civilization is based on addiction—whether it is addiction to power and privilege, to substances, or to material possessions. Any civilization that denies the equal right of every person to the bounty that nature provides is a sick and destructive one. This is why we are poised on the brink of extinction, which can now be accomplished with the mere push of a button. It is on this brink that we quiver in collective fear, performing like puppets for those who hold the strings, which is land provided by nature upon which to exist.
Each day, another headline announces another river contaminated, another forest destroyed, another species in danger of extinction, all for private profit. Maybe somewhere in the universe, on a more advanced planet populated by cooperative nomads, we are on a list of endangered species, too.