by Christopher Ryan
reviewed by Matt
Have you ever wondered about the idea of progress, about whether life is better today than it was a generation ago, or fifty generations ago, or five hundred generations ago? Christopher Ryan explores these themes in depth. Civilized to Death challenges the Narrative of Perpetual Progress (NPP) in its many iterations. The civilized define themselves over and against the non-civilized, even giving the word "civilized" entirely positive denotative and connotative powers. "It would be hard to overstate how much the dual demonization of the natural world and of human nature have shaped the modern sensibility. Politics, economics, foreign policy, criminal justice, our beliefs about the nobility of work, questions of how and whom we love, how we choose to give birth and opt to die--virtually everything we think and do rests on the conviction that the untamed and uncivilized are dangerous, merciless, evil and 'other.'" Ryan also gives examples of how civilization's cheerleaders ignore its many detriments: "the greatest bait-and-switch that ever was...as it convinces us to destroy the free things we need so an overpriced inferior copy can be sold to us later--often financed with the money we've earned hastening the destruction of the free version." Exploring pro-civilization thinkers such as Hobbes, Malthus, and Dawkins, Ryan carefully debunks some of their major claims. Especially given the devastation to the world's ecologies and the accelerating damaging effects of climate change, questioning the Narrative of Perpetual Progress that civilization preaches is highly necessary. With a blend of anthropology, psychology, history, and storytelling, this book gives us an engaging and evocative read.