The Thin Veneer of Civilization

I am deep into a set of books by Yuval Noah Harari that contain such enormous ideas, I cannot fathom how I will summarize their impact on me. Sapiens is a look back at the history of our species, and Homo Deus is a look forward at where our species might be headed. One of the major themes is that so much of what we believe is just what we as a species have agreed to believe. Those joint beliefs – the basis for civilization that we prize so highly – are increasingly vunerable as we struggle to know what is reality, and what is fiction. Faith in the future is necessary if we are to survive as a species.

As I digest the ideas that Harari puts forward, I have a propensity to notice things on the periphery of this topic that I might have otherwise missed.

This week one of those peripheral items put itself forward in the form of a comment by Douglas Rushkoff during a Commonwealth Club interview in 2016. He mentioned The Dark Mountain Project, a “network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself.” I thought the writing on their site was very engaging. Here’s a short excerpt from The Dark Mountain Project Manifesto:

” … a simple fact which any historian could confirm: human civilisation is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.

Once that belief begins to crumble, the collapse of a civilisation may become unstoppable. That civilisations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.”

If it helps you see beyond the day-to-day marketing manipulations coming from our called leaders in every sphere, if you are feeling bombarded with too much information about things you know just do not matter in the long run, if you sense you are spending your career working on things that no one really needs and you hate being beholden to meaningless corporate productivity metrics, if you agree with Edward Abbey that “better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion,” you might want to follow The Dark Mountain Project blog.

I’ll be there.

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