No, We Are Not Civilized. Or, Why the 21st Century is Still Stuck in the 12th (The Persistence of Middle-Ages Mentality in the Modern Age)

Hans Rosling has shown us that the world is getting better. We have by far the greatest proportion of humanity moving out of absolute poverty that we have ever had. At the same time, Stephen Pinker proves that, remarkably, we are also becoming less violent as a species. We have the internet to exchange ideas, and hundreds of thousands of social justice and environmental movements are springing up demanding a better world.

But in so many ways, we are still enormously backward. So medieval, in fact, that I do despair sometimes. How can we be simultaneously becoming so enlightened and still suffer from these plagues to our collective progress:

  • There are human beings who think it is acceptable (and morally justifiable) to stone, rape, crucify, maim and torture other human beings.
  • Parents and schools think nothing of indoctrinating their offspring with the same mumbo-jumbo they were indoctrinated with. No matter how patently ridiculous.
  • There is still widespread fear that independent ‘off-the-book’ thinking is inevitably dangerous.
  • We still demonize those who think too differently. Unless they make lots of money. In which case they are heralded as ‘mavericks’.
  • A tiny fraction of families still own most of the land and have most of the wealth. (And seem to insist on breeding exclusively with one another.)
  • People from particular backgrounds and of certain skin hues are still more likely have to eke out a difficult existence and to be accused (and convicted) of all manner of crimes.
  • Justice for the well-heeled is seldom the same as for the downtrodden. (Mainly because it is fought for and dispensed by the well-heeled.)
  • There are more slaves now than there ever were. They just aren’t where they used to be.
  • We are still inclined to believe what our overlords tell us. Except now they call themselves The Media. Or Government.
  • Child labor is still a tragic necessity in too many places.
  • We are still impressed more by pomp and circumstance than by substance.
  • We still believe that we need gatekeepers of knowledge to impart to us what we need to know in manageable ‘lay person’ sized chunks.
  • Science still seems like raw occultism to too many.
  • We are still so fascinated by magic that many of us wonder if it’s real. (It isn’t. Magic is simply a combination of intensive behind-the-scenes preparation and the exploitation of our brains’ quirkiness.)
  • People hurting each other in sports and on reality tv is considered popular entertainment.
  • Nature, it seems, is still there to be plundered and to be the ‘dominion’ of man.
  • Millions still do not have enough to eat and live in squalor.
  • In general, knowledge is not something to be quested after, treasured and shared.


We simply can never call ourselves a civilized species while these things persist. No matter how far we think we’ve come.


About Sean Hampton-Cole

Fascinated by thinking & why it goes wrong➫ (Un)teacher ➫iPadologist ➫Humanist ➫Stirrer ➫Edupunk ➫Synthesist ➫Introvert ➫Blogger ➫Null Hypothesist.
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