The price of civilization

I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, with respect to several different things.

I believe that there is an inherent price to civilization, to respect for human rights and the rule of law: letting the other person take the first shot. And even more than that, once the other person has taken the first shot, measuring one's response to respect human rights as much as possible and acting with the minimum amount of force required to resolve the situation.

This is a very real price, because the first shot can injure or kill people. The measured response can give the other person a chance to repeat their crime, or even escalate. And yet, I think that this is a requirement of civilization, that being civilized is actually more important than human life.

It doesn't feel to me like US residents always think of this that way, even if you replace the word "civilization" with "freedom" as is common in the United States (without really that much change in meaning for this discussion). Sure, if phrased as "would you die for freedom," this is a strong part of US culture and the local spin on history, and in that context people are quick to say that freedom is more important than human life. But when faced with the harder question of dealing with a potential threat to freedom that already exists, the answer seems to change.

It is more important to not attack another without provocation than it is to ensure that they don't hurt you. It is more important to follow the laws of civilization than it is to prevent crime or death. We know that, at least in the short term, simply summarily executing anyone arrested for a crime would drastically lower the crime rate. We don't do that because that's not the way that we want to lower the crime rate. Because there are other things more important than less crime.

This country will have to learn to apply this to terrorism as well. There are more important things than preventing terrorism. There are standards to which we should hold ourselves that mean that acts like 9/11 cannot always be prevented. They will happen again. More people will die. And in part that will be true because we want to retain our freedom. Because we want to continue to be civilized, and not descend into a cycle of suspicion and violence that could well prevent attacks, but which would lead to other, even worse things.

The price of civilization is holding ourselves to a higher standard. The price of civilization is to make it more difficult to stop evil because we refuse to be evil. The price of civilization is to not extend self-defense to possible threats, only clear and immediate danger. I hope the United States is willing to pay it.

Posted: 2003-03-27 19:41 — Why no comments?

This is cogently put.

Another way of putting it, for my money, is 'are we better than our baser selves.' It's a scary prospect, but it's the difference between being animals or civilized human beings.

My vote's for civilization.

Posted by E. Burns at 2003-03-27 20:47

That first sentence of the 5th paragraph really says it all. But you're asking a government (in this case ours, though I'm seeing less difference between the governments of the world) to act like an informed, civilized person would. Without a political agenda. I can't see that happening. What would be refreshing, though, would be for more of the individuals within this country to see the truth of what you say and personally act on it by granting or their withholding support appropriately. I wonder if it would make a difference?

Posted by Sandy Allbery at 2003-03-29 17:36

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04