Freedom Digital Library


Civilization and Beyond


"Dear Friends"

25 May 2004
Dear Friends,

It's time I sent you all another note. This one is titled, Civilization and Savagery.1

Here's a quote, to preface the essay that follows:

Culture strives to establish a boundary between itself and barbarism. The manifestations of barbarism are called "crimes." But existing criminology is insufficient to isolate barbarism. It is insufficient because the idea of "crime" in existing criminology is artificial, for what is called crime is really an infringement of "existing laws," whereas "laws" are very often a manifestation of barbarism and violence. Such are the prohibiting laws of different kinds which abound in modern life.

The number of these laws is constantly growing in all countries and, owing to this, what is called crime is very often not a crime at all, for it contains no element of violence or harm. On the other hand, unquestionable crimes escape the field of vision of criminology, either because they have not the recognized form of crime or because they surpass a certain scale. In existing criminology there are concepts: a criminal man, a criminal profession, a criminal society, a criminal sect, a criminal caste and a criminal tribe, but there is no concept of a criminal state, or a criminal government or criminal legislation. Consequently the biggest crimes actually escape being called crimes.

    – P. D. Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe.


Civilization and Savagery
by J. Harmon Grahn

My Dictionary defines "civilization" as An advanced state of cultural and material development in human society, marked by political and social complexity and progress in the arts and sciences. Yet I have repeatedly written elsewhere that humanity has never experienced a genuine civilization on Earth.2

Well, adhering strictly to the Dictionary definition of "civilization," I am obviously mistaken; for humanity has certainly experienced many societies which may accurately be described as having achieved "an advanced state of cultural and material development ... marked by political and social complexity and progress in the arts and sciences." Nevertheless, in what I have written, and in what follows, I hold stoutly to the position that what the Dictionary defines as "civilization" has nothing whatsoever to do with civilization, as I use the term.3

The singular quality that distinguishes civilization from savagery and barbarism is simple, unambiguous, and succinct:

A civilization consists of a population of civilized humans. A civilized human is one who in no way imposes, or attempts to impose his or her unsolicited will upon that of another. Defensive responses to the unsolicited imposition of will are not inconsistent with being civilized. Pre-emptive use of force4 is the opposite of civilized behavior, and is the defining mark of savagery and barbarism.

Full stop. Savagery and barbarism consist of all human behaviors contrary to or inconsistent with the above definition of civilization. Is there anything unclear here? Did I leave anything out? I don't think so.5 This is the sum of my thesis. What follows is elaboration.

Civilization and savagery constitute a choice of human behaviors. This choice is at all times and in all circumstances available to each individual human. An individual may choose one, or the other, but not both, in every situation involving a decision. Naturally, every decision, including the circumstance that prompts it, is unique, and gives rise, potentially, to an infinite spectrum of consequences that may range from the sublimely civilized to the abysmally barbaric, as well as countless nuances in between. Choices that in any degree tend toward savagery are universally characterized by the exercise, to some discernable extent, of pre-emptive force,6 as broadly defined.

Moreover, there is ample wiggle-room in this perception. One is not irrevocably a savage just because she or he made a savage choice in a particular instance. One tends toward civilization as one makes civilized choices, and toward barbarism as one makes barbaric choices. The effect is cumulative, and is not reversed by a single "error" contrary to one's chosen trend. One's choices are no one else's business anyway, except insofar as they have the effect of pre-emptively imposing one's will upon that of another; in which case, unless they are amended and appropriately compensated, they amount to acts of war, and the outcome, never favorable to anyone's interests, is otherwise anyone's guess.

It has been customary in human discussion to extoll the "virtues" of "civilization," and condemn the "vices" of savagery and barbarism. Such biases cloud the issue, for savagery and barbarism obviously "work" in an overwhelming variety of non-human settings. In the wild, predators stalk, hunt, and devour their prey, which if not the exercise of pre-emptive force, is I-don't-know-what; and prey species employ countless strategems for evading, or otherwise dealing with their predators. The contest is "morally neutral," for it is part of "the Way of Life" in the wild. Humans too are part of "the wild," and our heritage and antecedents are doubtless savage and barbaric. I do not myself consider this either a "bad thing," or a "good thing." It simply is. This is what we have been, not only in our remote past, but up to this very hour and minute. So?

So, the question facing us now, and at all times is, "What shall we become?" Shall we remain savages, or shall we embark upon an adventure we have never experienced before in this world? Shall we at last become civilized? This is a question each of us must answer for her or himself, and no one can answer it for anyone else. Each of us does answer it, too, every moment of every day, every time we decide to, or not to exercise pre-emptive force, in any of its many masquerades, in relation to our peers.7 This is the defining litmus test for civilization and savagery. Simple. Clear. Unambiguous.

The question each of us faces is not about what any of us "should" or "should not" do. The question is about what we want. Do we want to continue living on a savage planet? at perpetual war with all our fellows? predators and prey stalking and evading everywhere we live, work, play, waking and sleeping? Or do we prefer to live in a world in which we are at peace, with ourselves, with our peers, and with all the world, and all its inhabitants?

None of us can answer these questions for anyone but ourselves; each of us can, and must, and does answer them for him or herself. The world we live in and experience from moment to moment is a direct reflection of the choices each of us have made, up to and including this very moment. That is, your experience is a direct reflection of your choices; my experience is a direct reflection of my choices. In this sense, each of us lives on a different planet, inhabits an "alternative universe," each of which is a reflection of Who We Have Been, Who We Are, and Who We Are Becoming, right here, right now.

Stripped of all the rhetoric and theatrics, the dilemma each of us faces does not require "rocket science" for its solution. We are not called upon to walk on water, or achieve some sublime state of metamystichood that utterly transcends "ordinary human experience." What you are, and what I am, just as we are, feet-on-the-ground, warts and all, are entirely adequate for making the choice, again, and again, and again, between civilization and savagery.

What it comes down to, as I have written many times before, are two statements, or "directives," that apply at all times to you, no matter who you are, no matter what you or anyone else says, or thinks, or believes:

a) Do... whatever you like.

    If your choice is for civilization,
b) Allow... all others the same liberty.

That's it. If your choice is for savagery, you need only abide by "directive" a) above; with the consequence that if "whatever you like" includes imposing your will upon that of your peers, be prepared for war, for by so deciding, you have provoked it. The moment you, by action or inaction, in overt, or in clandestine, subtle ways, obstruct the liberty of your peers to do whatever they like, you declare de facto war upon them, and provoke resistance and / or retaliation of unpredictable nature. You are at war, and the outcome of war can never be reliably predicted.

This is the state of affairs in every so-called "civilization" (i.e. in every society that can be described as having achieved "an advanced state of cultural and material development ... marked by political and social complexity...") that is now, or has ever been. Every nation on Earth is at perpetual de facto war with its population, for every nation on Earth is an economic, political, military, religious, and cultural mechanism meticulously and deliberately engineered explicitly for the purpose of obstructing by pre-emptive force, overtly and covertly, the liberty of its so-called "constituents" to do whatever they like. There may be many cleaver and persuasive arguments justifying why this is "necessary."8 Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is precisely what nations do now, have always done in the past, and will probably go on doing, so long as they are given support by their populations. Is this your choice?

If so, then carry on; but do not imagine you are thereby choosing civilization. The choice of pre-emptive force, and consequent war, is always and irrevocably a choice for savagery and barbarism, no matter how "advanced [the] state of cultural and material development," or how spectacular or swift the "progress in the arts and sciences." There are many barbaric savages in the world today graced by exquisitely sophisticated taste in the arts, letters, and music, and with extraordinary command of the sciences. If they employ pre-emptive force to achieve their ends, they are nonetheless barbaric savages.

The choice for savagery is invariably prompted by fear, particularly fear of "death," and as I have developed elsewhere, fear is entirely unnecessaary to an enlightened human.9 Does an individual leaf on a summer tree fear the coming of autumn, when it transmutes into glowing gold, drops away from its parent tree, and "perishes" as a nourishing mulch, in preparation for yet another distant spring? I think not, because all living things have been designed10 to live in exquisite harmony with all other living things, and in the cycle of Life, there is nothing to fear. Only humans (and perhaps some other large-brained sentient beings, here and "elsewhere") have been designed with a capacity for discovery of "the secrets of Life," and with the capacity for fear before such discoveries are made. So-called "barbaric savages," then, are simply humans who have not yet made these vital and liberating discoveries, and are consequently ruled (for a time) by fear. "This too shall pass."

Thus, if our choice is civilization, neither you nor I have any legitimate means of influencing, nor any legitimate interest in the conduct of those who choose barbaric savagery instead.11 That, and the consequences of their choice, is their business; our business consists of the choices we make at every decision juncture we encounter. Do we choose civilization, or savagery? allowance, or pre-emptive force, at every decision point? These decisions can often be "tough calls," for by habit, and deliberately malicious social organization (barbaric savagery), there exists the constant, and often entirely unperceived bias skewing our decisions toward barbarism, and away from civilization. This bias is not easily resisted if we are not aware of it, and may not be easily resisted even when we are. Yet if our choice is civilization, resist it we shall; and we shall find ourselves in consequence gradually emerging from the toils of savagery into the clarity and liberty of true and unbridled civilization.

Therefore, whatever your choice may be, this moment, here and hereafter, may you be Blessed with Love, Wisdom, and Abundance, Forever. So be it. And so it is.

This essay is followed by a sequel, Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme, "Dear Friends," 6/20/04 edition.


Civilization and Beyond


  1. Civilization and Savagery – 5/25/04;

  2. Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme – 6/20/04;

  3. The Tribal Ideal – 7/2/04;

  4. Leavers and Takers – 8/6/04;

  5. In the Hands of the Gods – 8/18/04.

  6. The Gods & the Law of Life – 9/9/04.

  7. The Metaconsciousness Myth – 9/22/04.

  8. A Pact With the Devil – 10/14/04.

  9. A Metaconscious Mosaic – 10/27/04.

  10. More About Metaconsciousness, Part I – 2/5/05.

  11. More About Metaconsciousness, Part II – 3/20/05.


1. Note that this essay was written before I had comprehended the identity of civilization and savagery; so in this essay I treat them erroneously as opposites. Note also that links in subsequent footnotes link not only to the cited reference (when on-line), but specifically (usually) to the part of the reference relevant to the context of the cite. Also, the number of this and subsequent footnotes is a link to the paragraph in this essay upon which the footnote elaborates.

2. See, for example, my 6/2/98 essay, "Civilization and Anarchy," as well as numerous sequels, from that day to this.

3. Presumably, this is the same sense in which Mahatma Gandhi interpreted the term when, during one of his trips to England a reporter is alleged to have asked him, "What do you think of Western Civilization?" "I think," was the Mahatma's reply, "it would be a good idea."

4. The unsolicited imposition of will invokes the exercise of pre-emptive force. See "Dear Friends," 12/15/03 for a discussion of the "morality" of pre-emptive use of force, including its broad definition.

5. See the essay series, Civilization and Beyond, of which this essay forms a part, for discussions of some of the elements left out of this definition of civilization.

6. See "Dear Friends," 2/15/04 for a discussion, among other things, of some of the finer shades of pre-emptive use of force.

7. We're all peers, because we all share the same Source. See the Freedom Digital Library Draft Vision Statement, paragraph 4.1. for elaboration.

8. "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." – William Pitt, 1759-1806.

9. See, for instance, "Dear Friends," 2/15/04, including footnote 3, for extensive elaboration on this point.

10. Ibid.

11. See Toward the Sovereign Integral, particularly footnote 9 for elaboration.

"Civilization and Savagery" copyright 2004 by J. Harmon Grahn. Copying and redistribution, in whole or in part, are permitted in any medium provided this notice is included.

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Love, Peace, Joy, Now,


Civilization and Beyond