Then what is the answer? –
Not to be deluded by dreams …
I. A Narrative
Before the advent of civilization as we know it, human lives were
nasty, brutish, and short. We lived, in fact, more like animals,
unable to exert any control over our environment, fearing death and
privation at every turn. We had only what nature supplied in its raw
form, wild animals and uncultivated plants for food and clothes,
caves for shelter, broken stone for tools.
In this natural state, we ourselves were brutal and violent. The
strong could prey upon the weak, might made right, and there was no
other law. We had no incentive to develop higher culture, because we
were always consumed with protecting ourselves and anything we might
produce could easily be taken away.
At some point there was a shift, and we decided to settle in one
place. We took control of our food by
managing it through agriculture and domestication, and we took
control of ourselves through laws and social contracts. This made us
safer and more willing to cooperate, and so we were able to innovate
in art, technology, and society. We multiplied. We began to dream of
grander edifices than the small buildings we had made. And certain
men among us rose up as talented leaders around which we could
Of course there was still danger from less civilized persons. So we
built walls to surround our living space, and we built massive
buildings to house the people, and to demonstrate that we could.
We had created the first city, and in it there bustled all the
activity expected from cities. We made further laws to govern it, we
divided up our labor to be more efficient and masterful, we brought
the fruits of our agricultural labors into the city to trade. We
invented writing to keep track of our possessions and who owed what
to whom. Soon, in the natural course of things, we created money,
debt, and taxes. We had the time and space to develop high art, to
further refine our architecture, to deepen our studies of the
mysteries of religion.
We prospered. We were safer, better fed, more productive, happier.
Seeing how we lived, the less civilized began to emulate our way of
life. In this way, civilization spread, out of the fertile crescent,
around the Mediterranean, into Europe and Asia.
As more of us joined the ranks of the civilized, we developed higher
and higher technology. We sailed around the globe, began the project
of exploring every dark corner. We often encountered people living in
squalor, naked, as animals essentially, like the stone age people we
once had been. Though they had to give up some of the older ways to
which they were accustomed, it was clear that our high technology was
the wave of the future rolling in. Though there were sacrifices to be
made surely, in the broader flow of history they were necessary to
allow for forward progress.
Over a few centuries, technology and social systems developed apace.
The inherent value of every human life became apparent, and we worked
to bring the products of modern culture to everyone. We began to
conquer war, disease, and famine. Around the world, people were
living longer, healthier, happier lives. We performed incredible
feats of science and engineering, gaining insight into the unseen
building blocks of the universe, its vast expanses. We began to dream
of taking our civilization to other worlds.
here we are. We are the height of the human project. There have
certainly been some hiccups along the way, some engineering problems,
some steps backward. But technology has advanced so quickly in recent
times, we have things now that would have been unimaginable fifty,
twenty, even ten years ago. That technology will surely permeate
every part of life, and iron out any kinks.
We’re on the cusp: all this time, civilization has been steadily
advancing, making life safer, happier, more just. If we can just
stick it out over this hump, everything will be perfect.