Christopher Ryan — Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress


Most of us have instinctive evidence the world is ending — balmy December days, face-to-face conversation replaced with heads-to-screens zomboidism, a world at constant war, a political system in disarray. We hear some myths and lies so frequently that they feel like truths: Civilization is humankind’s greatest accomplishment. Progress is undeniable. Count your blessings. You’re lucky to be alive here and now. Well, maybe we are and maybe we aren’t. Civilized to Death counters the idea that progress is inherently good, arguing that the “progress” defining our age is analogous to an advancing disease.

SKEPTIC – Science Salon

Prehistoric life, of course, was not without serious dangers and disadvantages. Many babies died in infancy. A broken bone, infected wound, snakebite, or difficult pregnancy could be life-threatening. But ultimately, Ryan argues, were these pre-civilized dangers more murderous than modern scourges, such as car accidents, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and a technologically prolonged dying process? In Civilized to Death, Ryan makes the claim that we should start looking backwards to find our way into a better future. Ryan and Shermer also discuss:

  • human nature: peaceful or violent?
  • humans: spectrum or binary?
  • what hunter-gatherers were really like and why it is so hard to know
  • hunter-gatherers and…children, women, the elderly, sex, religion, politics and economics
  • how egalitarian were hunter-gatherers?
  • why hunter-gatherers don’t think of work as “work” in the way we do
  • the lottery test: if you won the lottery would you work at your job, live in your neighborhood, live your life?
  • was civilization the biggest mistake humans ever made?
  • the “Big Gods” theory of religion vs. the communal theory of religion, and
  • how we can learn from our ancestors to lead more balanced and healthier lives.