Friday, May 18, 2007

Basic Precepts [I]

It would be unfair, I think, to jump in and start commenting on current events without giving you, Gentle Reader, some idea of what beliefs I have that underscore that commentary. So I plan a series of Basic Precepts posts in which I try to convey a sense of the ideas that inform my thinking.
Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end. For when fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life.
This is the first paragraph of The Story of Civilization by Will Durant. It is as good a summary of what man has been striving for over the last centuries, but it is long. For me, civilization is more succinctly defined as the actions and institutions we have created to reduce risk.

From earliest times, all of the most basic inventions of humankind have been designed to reduce risk, from the finding of permanent shelter to the reliable production of food to division of labor to the creation of communities and so forth. Society itself, and all its derivations, exist primarily to give a sense of security to all people who fall within the group (I am not unaware that the creation of weapons, to choose one example, increased the risk to outsiders - the notion of community as "common" is something we struggle with today).

Therefore, everything that we do today as a society that increases risk to sizable segments of that society needs to be examined closely. When an administration suggests putting Social Security at risk, making it market-based, we should question the wisdom of that thinking. When we go to war without a clear idea of our objectives. long- and short-term, it is fair to wonder why. When we allow jobs and careers to be sold to the lowest bidder without an understanding of what will replace them, it is necessary for us to identify what this increase in risk will accomplish.

The greatest single gift that has been bestowed upon us is the civilization that we inherit and the desire to increase it (and become more inclusive as to its application). It is a grave concern when we reject that gift.

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