We think of ourselves as civilization accomplished, but I’ve come to believe that we’re not even close to civilized yet—rather, we’re just barely out of our infancy as a species. Civilization means “an advanced stage of social development and organization,” and while the present is nearly always more advanced than the past, “more advanced” is not the same as “advanced.” I think so far we’ve been confusing technological advancement with civilization, and the former is significantly easier to achieve than the latter.

A civilized society would be one in which heat waves didn’t cause mass deaths, the Olympics didn’t cause spikes in homelessness because people are kicked out to make way for new venues that then fall to ruin, and we weren’t casually burning the planet out from under our feet. Civilized society wouldn’t divide itself into utterly arbitrary groups for the purpose of declaring some superior to others and abusing every group but its own. If we were civilized, everyone would have full and equal representation, the concept of patriotism would become obsolete, and not one single person would believe they had the right to say what should be in or on another person’s body.

Films always depict futuristic societies as super-urban, but I can imagine a combination of increased technology and a return to nature. I think a wise, self-aware civilization would understand that we’re part of the earth, and we need it in our everyday lives. Picture the sleek shiny skyscrapers surrounded by redwoods, intermingled. We’ll have such better transportation that we won’t require all the acres of concrete; picture some sort of hover vehicles that run above tracks in the ground, not oppressive, clanky metal but smooth, beautiful, flush with the ground.

Everyone’s needs are met, everyone has housing and schooling and employment, because what else is the point of any of this. Working is not about meeting survival needs or even making money—it’s about doing something worthwhile, something you care about. Everyone’s not serene and futurey all the time, they’re still human, but they’re civilized humans—they aren’t cruel or petty, or at least they recognize and control their inner tendencies toward those things (that’s how I know we aren’t civilized yet, because most of what we do is based on animal instinct rather than rational or compassionate thought). They discuss ideas, learn, travel, create things, have experiences. No one has to struggle and waste their whole life because of meaningless restrictions others place on them. Everyone lives, rather than just surviving.

I can imagine what civilization would look like, and it is absolutely beautiful. I wish I were going to have the chance to see it made real.

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