I once read that Margaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist, was asked what would have been the first signs of a civilised society. “A broken leg bone that had healed”, she replied. When nature is rough and we are in survival mode, we don’t have the luxury of sitting with and caring for individuals who can’t keep up with the pack.
For me a civilised society is one that looks after its weakest members. I don’t say this as a bleeding heart but from a strictly logical perspective – none of us knows what is around the corner, and if we have no time to care for others who are wounded, you can bet we’re not taking the time to care for our own wounds, and some part of us will be worrying who we may have to leave behind….or indeed will we be the ones left behind?
When we are wounded – and I believe in these times we are all running with wounds – we act out of a place of fear. Fear distorts everything; fear allows us to be manipulated and to excuse our worst behaviours while at the same time amplifying slights we feel from others; fear makes us selfish; and short-sighted fear prevents cooperation, compassion and creativity.
I used to think of economics as akin to physics – its laws cannot be changed but it hurts if you fall. Something substantial shifted in me when I learnt a little more about economics and how this thing we are constantly told to protect actually works… What a giant con but oh, how it instils fear!
So to me a civilised society must be one in which everyone feels safe, and that means we have to learn to share fairly; it’s one in which our basic needs are guaranteed to be met. A society where we are not measured by an economic theory that is broken; one where we know that should we break a leg, the pack will not be forced to leave us behind. And that won’t just benefit us, but our pack too.