As a new school year begins I find myself freshly enthralled with All Things Law. I won’t bore you with the details of each of my classes, but I will share my International Law prof’s opening question:
Do civilizations tend to become more civilized?
At first blush it seems that civilizations obviously progress towards more civilization. After all, we’re reading blogs on an absurdly-complicated system of wires and human cooperation.
But defining progress as technological advancements seems tautological. We tend towards better technology, therefore we define “advanced technology” as “progress.”
But isn’t it true that civilizations like Mesopotamia and North Africa are among the oldest on earth? Mesopotamia appears doomed to perpetual civil war without any sovereign vested with the power to declare or terminate war. North Africa suffers from such stringent desertification that inhabitants wonder how deep the water table runs beneath their parched, nearly-uninhabitable land.
Modern America, on the other hand, enjoys relative solidity as one of the great newcomers to the civilized scene. With a few years of dominance under our belt, we’re now screaming for reform and complaining that the end is nigh for life — the elements of life, in fact: our ability to maintain our own health! — as we know it.
Indeed, if we define “progress” as economic health, the freshest newcomer, the European Union as defined by its collective currency, holds a prominent position.
Age and chaos aren’t necessarily related — see, e.g., Japan — but, while I raised my hand in class today to support the proposition that nations tend towards progress, now I’m not sure at all whether that’s true.