About Civilization and Strangulation

Abstract: This article argues that it is not civilization that leads to prosperity, but creativity. Civilization is an old-fashioned political concept that reflects a strangulation of dissident views that is so typical for the culture that has dominated Australian society in its recent past. Civilization is a concept that goes hand in hand with control by the Government and such control in many respects constitutes a barrier for creativity to flourish, indeed, a strangulation of creativity. The article looks at the situation in Australia, where many like to see school present old-fashioned intolerance and nationalism as 'our civilization'.

A. What is 'Civilization'?

What is 'civilized' seems to be obvious for most people. For most, being 'civilized' simply implies respecting the Law. For many, however, 'civilization' also implies being able to mix with people from 'the upper class', as opposed to farmers, cowboys, vagabonds and other people who they see as lacking proper education and standards of behavior. They regard fancy dress balls, polo-games, fox-hunting and the changing of the Guard at the royal palace as the epitome of civilization. Many people in Australia still look at the lifestyle of the British royal family as the yardstick for civilized behavior and they believe that the Queen should have the final say in all legal matters.

But what are the moral standards of a 'civilized' person? Are polo and hunting not cruel to animals? Are all these royals with their titles, palaces and uniformed servants not glamorizing the privilege, arbitrary rule and associated oppression and exploitation of the past? Does the posh accent and lifestyle of 'the upper class' not merely express a nostalgia for colonial times that are better forgotten?

For republicans, 'civilization' generally implies respect for civil rights, for the law and for the principles of democracy and equality. Opinions on what is 'civilized' appear to differ strongly depending on whether people support the monarchy or prefer a republic. This makes 'civilization' a highly politized concept and it is hard to discuss topics such as the 'national Anthem' without stirring up a political debate.

Ironically, few people have problems seeing changes to Australia's flag as political moves, yet they do not regard the general concept of civilization as a political issue. The irony is that most people regard democracy and political discussion as an important aspect of civilization, yet they refuse to open up the concept of civilization itself to debate.

B. A question of Education?

Few people find it hard to describe what 'civilization' is, yet few people accept that their ideas of civilization reflect one out of several political views. The reason for this may be that the general public appears to be rather ignorant about politics in general and especially about Australia's Constitution, its Courts, Parliaments and related issues. The recently released report by the so-called Civics Expert Group noted that 62% of Australians polled were lacking in knowledge on what a republic would mean. The survey also found that just 18% of Australians had some understanding of the contents of the Constitution. The report further noted that our system of government relies for its efficacy and legitimacy on an informed citizenry. It further said that without active, knowledgable citizens, the forms of democratic representation remain empty.

To 'remedy' this, the Civics Expert Group recommended large-scale public and community education; in particular by the re-introduction of 'civics' lessons in the school curriculum across the compulsory years of schooling. It suggested that the Federal Government might need to contribute some $60 million over three years on curriculum development and teacher training costs alone.

The recommendations have been welcomed by both monarchists and republicans. Monarchists generally see civics education as a useful tool to promote patriotism and respect for 'our' system of government and for law and order in general. Republicans, on the other hand, like to promote the view that Australia already has most of the characteristics of a republic and that the Constitution can be changed by means of a Referendum to formalize this.

Although opinions differ as to what should be taught as 'civics' at school, most people see education as an essential element of civilization. It can be expected that children will be taught at school that one becomes civilized by attending school and learning that obedience for the law is the key to becoming a good citizen.

C. Government is a Culture

As discussed, most people believe that 'civilization' is above politics. They accept that political discussion can lead to changes in the law, yet they believe that obedience to the law and to Australia's system of government in general is what makes someone 'civilized', is what makes a 'good citizen'.

This kind of 'civilization' is linked to a culture of government brought into Australia by colonization. For a long time, aboriginal people were not seen as 'civilized' and only in the late 1960s were they formally made citizens. In 1984, 'British subjects' were for the first time referred to in the law as Australians. There now are over a million 'foreigners' living in Australia who are eligible for citizenship, yet who do not take it up. Many of them are British migrants who arrived before 1984, without even requiring visa. This year the federal Government will spend $3 million on a campaign to encourage such people to take up Australian citizenship, without pointing out the complications for property, inheritance and tax, and the possible loss of their original citizenship for them and their children. Similarly, people who are born in Australia and take up another nationality lose Australian citizenship and associated rights, e.g. access to public positions in Australia.

At the same time, the number of foreign tourists, students and people visiting Australia for business purposes or to see relatives seems to grow each year. While borders are opening up, while companies go global, the Government hangs on to the old-fashioned concept of citizenship. Migrants may now pledge allegiance to Australia, instead of swearing allegiance to a (foreign) Queen, when becoming Australians, but this merely changes this civilization from a colonial culture into a culture of nationalism. So, will this intolerant and nationalistic culture now be presented within compulsory schooling as 'our' culture and as the ultimate in tolerance and 'civilisation'?

D. Strangulation of Views

It is hard to see the planned 'civics' lessons as anything else than institutionalized indoctrination, than a strangulation of other views and cultures. History lessons have traditionally pictured Australia's colonization by British soldiers and convicts as a glorious event. The proposed 'civics' lessons may promise to give more emphasis to democracy, tolerance and diversity. But citizenship is still likely to be presented as a privilege, as a ticket to public positions, focusing on the right to vote, while eulogizing the fact that voting is an obligation and that citizens can be forced to participate in jury duties, in a census, in military conscription, etc. Even worse, they are likely to eulogize the dictatorial nature of government in general and convey the idea that the essence of civilization is the Law, written in English, that prohibits any other opinions.

'Australian civilization' as it is likely to be taught to children at school, reflects a culture of the past, a mentality of this is my land and you better not touch it! National government and its laws are restrictive, they say what people should not do.

But in today's world, wealth does not lie in the amount of land one controls, but in the information one has access to. Information can cross borders with the speed of light and can be used by a number of peogle at a number of places in the world simultaneously. When applied to the modern 'information society', the old-fashioned ideas about government, national identity and the law lack relevance and substance. When applied to information, this 'civilization' shows its real face, the face of strangulation.

Dictators typically prohibit views that are not identical to their own views. The culture of government is basically dictatorial, even if it is an elected dictatorship, as its rule is imposed backed up by military force, rather than chosen from a number of options by consent.

Few people will disagree that dictators are intrinsically evil, as they impose their views by force. The hypocracy of 'civics' lessons is that they strangulate alternative views by indoctrinating kids that the Government is not dictatorial and presenting this singular viewpoint as the only acceptable one in 'our nation' and in 'the modern and civilised world'. Government is a vulture culture out to kill people's minds to prevent them from focusing on Optionality.

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