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What’s the Point of Civilization?

History is filled with tragedies and triumphs long forgotten. What’s the point of fighting for civil rights and justice if it’s always going to be the same? What’s the point of civilization?

Watch animation video inspired by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice

Extract from Ancillary Justice from Anne Leckie

“But what’s the point?  I mean, I understand why we‘re going back to Athoek.  That makes sense to me.  But farther ahead than that…  At first this all just seemed unreal, and it still does in a way.  But the Lord of the Radch is coming apart.  And if she comes apart, so does the Radch.  I mean, maybe she’ll hold herself together, maybe she pull these pieces back together again.  But, begging your forgiveness, sir, for my speaking very frankly, but you don’t actually want that, do you.”

“I don’t,” I admitted.

“And so what’s the point, sir?  What’s the point of talking about training and promotions as though it’s all going to just go on like it always has?”

“What’s the point of anything?”

“Sir?” She blinked, confused.  Taken aback.

animation of meteorite destroying dinosaurs
The tragedy of dinosaurs extermination

“In a thousand years, Lieutenant, nothing you care about will matter.  Not even to you—you’ll be dead.  So will I, and no one alive will care. Maybe—just maybe—someone will remember our names.  More likely those names will be engraved on some dusty memorial pin at the bottom of an old box no one ever opens.”  Or Ekalu’s would.  There was no reason anyone would make any memorials to me, after my death.  “And that thousand years will come, and another and another, to the end of the universe.  Think of all the griefs and tragedies, and yes, the triumphs, buried in the past, millions of years of it.  Everything for the people who lived them.  Nothing now.”

Ekalu swallowed.  “I’ll have to remember, sir, if I’m ever feeling down, that you know how to cheer me right up.”

There is no point. Choose your own

I smiled.  “The point is, there is no point.  Choose your own.”

text animation displaying choose your own point
Choose your own point

“We don’t usually get to choose our own, do we?” she asked.  “You do, I suppose, but you’re a special case.  And everyone on this ship, we’re just going along with yours.”  She looked down at her plate, considered, briefly, picking up a utensil, but I saw that she couldn’t actually eat just now.

I said, “It doesn’t have to be a big point.  As you say, often it can’t be.  Sometimes it’s nothing more than I have to find a way to put one foot in front of the other, or I’ll die here.  If we lose this throw, if we lose our lives in the near future, then yes, training and promotions will have been pointless.  But who knows?  Perhaps the omens will favor us.  And if, ultimately, I have what I want, Athoek will need protection.  I will need good officers.”

“And what are the chances of the omens favoring us, sir, if I may ask? […]”

“When you’re doing something like this,” I said, “the odds are irrelevant.  You don’t need to know the odds.  You need to know how to do the thing you’re trying to do.  And then you need to do it.  What comes next”—I gestured, the tossing of a handful of omens—“isn’t something you have any control over.”

You can read more on Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie here. Yes, science fiction can help to understand better what’s the point of civilization…



Soundtrack for 'What's the Point of Civilization'?
The tensed bass line was influenced by Tchaikovsky' Symphony No 5 and its drone-like sections, while the violins and piano were inspired by Glinka and Rachmaninoff