5 Things That Should Be Obvious to a Civilised Society
We call ourselves “civilised,” yet we are nothing but. Day after day, the neverending news cycle reminds us of our societies' failings, the governments that lead them, and the people who comprise them. However intelligent and cultured we may think we are, we cling to preconceived notions that prevent us from moving forward.
Conservatism has no place in today’s society; progress is what we must all strive for to overcome the challenges that lay ahead. We have treated our fellow humans, our planet and its flora and fauna for centuries, as disposable stores of work, energy, food, and tradable value.
We judge a civilisation's grandiosity by its ability to seize and control resources, people, and animal lives. We ascribe merits on might. We enforce through violence a status quo that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
Yet, many amongst us do not believe these actions to be respectable. Many see a better world and hope for it. We look at our governments in despair and disarray, but this is not enough. It’s about time we hold them accountable; it’s about time our leaders accept and enact what most of us see as self-evident.
These five ideas should be apparent to the civilised mind, yet they still aren’t accepted, let alone enforced.
Let’s change that.
#1 Human races don’t exist
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “the genetic difference between individual humans today is minuscule — about 0.1%, on average.”
We fight wars and hate on each other for a 0.1% difference that, more often than not, translates to a slightly higher concentration of melanin in the epidermis. To what end?
Social systems that treat race as an objective human characteristic are fundamentally flawed. In the 21st century, people should be judged by the content of their character and the virtue of their actions, seeing that, genetically, we’re all the same person anyway.
Bill Bryson wrote it best in Body: “Race is one millimetre deep. That’s all that race is — a sliver of epidermis.”
#2 All living beings deserve legal rights, respect, and dignity
We have known for decades that mammals are capable of cognitive and emotional intelligence. We can teach primates sign language and interact with them. Cetaceans form complex social structures — each pod has its distinctive dialect — and demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence.
These characteristics are often presented as a kind of circus freakshow. “Look at how smart these creatures are,” most articles will write failing to draw the obvious conclusion: animals are as cognitively and emotionally active as we are, and they deserve legal rights, respect, and dignity.
Intelligence is not restricted to mammals, though. Parrots have demonstrated self-awareness and the ability to create language; ants have navigational skills that far exceed those of humans; butterflies have memories from their caterpillar lives.
Intelligence is not restricted to animals at all. Recent research on social and collaborative behaviours demonstrate that plants and trees work together to maximise their wellbeing; far from being competitive loners vying for resources, trees form synergetic groups and help one another.
#3 Renewable energy is the future
With fossil fuel, we rely on a source of energy that (1) is finite, (2) is non-renewable within a human-life timeframe, and (3) will only get harder to extract as we move forward.
Yet, we are surrounded by abundant, infinite, renewable sources of energy. Recently, I was engaged in a debate over solar panels and electric vehicles. The person I was talking to said that the efficiency was too low, and that production of an EV polluted the planet more than running a standard diesel engine. Their conclusion was that the future was oil-based. Of course, this person works in the automobile industry.
A civilised society shouldn’t be asking what the current cheapest, most efficient source of energy is. It should ask what’s the best, long-term solution for the environment and humanity. We know that costs will go down dramatically over time through innovation and optimisation (two things we humans are excellent at).
More importantly, faced with the existential threat of climate change, cost shouldn’t be an issue at all even if we’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars of investment and government incentives. These are nothing compared to the cost of a global catastrophe bound to hurt billions of people.
#4 The rich should pay more taxes than the poor
The idea that we can all be rich one day has been etched so deep in our collective minds that many are willing to forego benefits today in the hope that when they make it big, they will pay a bit less in taxes.
This phenomenon can be best observed in America, but it is true of the entire Western world. It is the ideal underpinning the American dream; it is also capitalism’s greatest lie. American individualism also encourages people to succeed “on their own,” a result of which is the idea that your success should not benefit others. “I didn’t work hard si that a lazy bum could get his unemployment benefit,” someone might say.
The truth is, the vast majority of us will never be wealthy. We’ll never make it big and become Jeff Bezos. The system wants you to believe that you can, though. It makes it easier to take away social benefits and to lower taxes on the wealthy.
Tax policy is always discussed in terms of percentage to obfuscate the scale of the amounts considered. Conservatives will clamour when someone suggests a top income-tax bracket in the 80% or 90% range. On the face of it, it seems exceptionally high; too high perhaps. But let’s ignore percentages and look at absolute values.
If one retains only 10% of one’s earnings above $1M (for example), a person earning $20M a year would still net $1.9M from this highly-taxed revenue. It is a low percentage, but $1.9M a year is plenty for a lavish lifestyle.
The question we must answer as a society is “how much is enough,” because, let’s face it, there is a point where one has enough money.
#5 Billionaires are a symptom, not a desirable feature
A corollary to point #4 is that billionaires, far from being a desirable feature of society, are a symptom of a broken tax system and a failed government. One person should not be able to amass so much wealth. Money never trickles down; it is hoarded.
Beyond generational wealth, current billionaires are building imperial fortunes that transcend time and space. Elon Musk is worth North of 200B dollars. If he invested it all in a 0.5% savings account, Musk would still net $1B a year in interest.
I can already read the comments: “his wealth isn’t liquid, it’s tied to Tesla’s share price,… Billionaires are cash-poor”, and to this, I say: “cut the c — p.” If you genuinely believe Elon Musk is cash-poor, you don’t know a thing about how the banking world functions. First, he can use his shares as collateral for a personal credit line in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Second, he can liquidate a small portion of his wealth each year, and his family will never have to worry until the sun explodes.
So much money concentrated in the hands of so few people is not an opportunity; it shouldn’t be interpreted as a chance; it is not something we should desire. This accumulation of wealth is a form of theft, and it should not be allowed.