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Civilized Civilized
by Jan Sand
2006-11-21 09:05:49
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In my edition of Webster’s Encyclopaedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word “civil” has ten definitions. The majority deal with the relationship of a citizen to a formal state. Only two define the relationship of the individual to society in general.

The word “civilized” cuts a bit closer to the bone indicating that to be civilized denotes a distance from savagery. The definition of “savage” leans more heavily on personal behavior. A savage, in the dictionary, is barbarous, crude, enraged, brutal, cruel, rude, boorish, and bloodthirsty. Not necessarily, I assume, simultaneously.

In the world today, nations are classified as developed or developing providing a standard for evaluating where a nation stands in the world economy. But there are also requirements for social creatures to live and prosper in their community. And further requirements for the social entity to exist peaceably and have prospering relationships amongst its neighbors.

Although there are statements in various national documents and proclamations by international organizations as to what might and might not be acceptable human standards of behavior, there is no firm scale where a nation may be indicated as civilized or not, or hopefully, how it might be progressing towards civilization. If there were such a scale it might be surprising where a nation currently seen as developed might stand concerning being considered civilized.

The biologist Marc Hauser theorizes that there is an inherent mental capability for goodness hard wired into the nervous systems of social creatures and it is not necessary for social indoctrination for this capability to be installed. He developed this idea from ideas out of the primatologist Frans de Waal who studied the social relationships of monkeys and concluded that their social order was determined by their nervous system architecture, much in the manner that the linguist Noam Chomsky proposes that human language capability arises from human brain structure.

Hauser worked with very small children and observed that what they determined as good or bad behavior was embedded in their genetic structure. If this is true it is difficult to reconcile the wide varieties of behavior to what is assumed to be a single underlying standard.

From the inception of recorded history and even back into the foggy phantasms which we know as myths and sagas down to current events there is no hiatus of interhuman punishment and torture and bloodshed. And for the bulk of this time many participants in these violent activities have been held up as ideal human beings whose superior capabilities in this area are to be admired. It has been noted many times that those institutions that proclaim themselves in the forefront of improving human morality are most frequently responsible for the most reprehensible human behavior.

So where does all this leave us?

Let us suppose that we could concretely lay out a list of human behaviors that were unacceptable in human society. For starters my list would be:

1. The torture or killing of any human being or the deprivation of that human of the necessities for staying alive and healthy and fulfilling his or her maximum capabilities in society.
2. The forcing of a human or the encouragement of a human to participate in activities contributing to conditions in the first group.
3. The dehumanization of any individual or group of individuals because of race or skin color or philosophical belief or age or sex or nationality or physical or mental incapability.
4. The degradation or destruction of the world environment which provides a basis for the maintenance of all life, human and otherwise, on Earth.
5. The unnecessary mistreatment or torture of any other form of life on Earth.

Each of these provisions, under present conditions, is not capable of being fulfilled by any culture at present and there are many qualifications for each that requires endless discussion. Nevertheless, the thrust of the basic intentions is clear. If each country was to be provided with some sort of monument, in what might be a plaza, devoted to the progress of civilization, so that the attainments and lacks of each country were to be on open display and each culture could be placed on a scale to compare to the attainments of other cultures, shame and pride of attainment might in some manner contribute to a better and more civilized world.

It should be possible to have an annual revision of the monuments in a kind of moral Olympics to provide competition for world improvement. Perhaps this is an idealistic enterprise that can never be realized but it might swerve the world away from the incessant horrors in which it is now indulging.

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