I believe it's good that we have a rambunctious society, filled with individualistic and opinionated people. Serenity is nice -- we all need some -- but to hold it up above all other values has become a cheap cliché. Serenity alone never brought progress. Hermits on hilltops never solved a problem.

The adversarial process -- the tug and push of contrary views -- helps us to improve, both as individuals and as a culture. Criticism is the only known antidote to error -- elites shunned it, and their evasion spread ruin across history. We do each other a great favor (though it's not always appreciated) when we help find each others' mistakes.

And yet...

And yet, it also seems to me that we'd all be a lot happier, and better off, and more capable of dealing with criticism if each of us were to remember, now and then, to say the following phrase:

"I am a member of a civilization."
(IAAMOAC)

This is more true now than ever, as we enter an edgy century of transition.

Our society has many flaws, but if you ponder history and cantankerous human nature, it's astonishing how far we've come. (Wouldn't our ancestors have wanted us to be better?)

We don't say IAAMOAC often enough.


David Brin is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. (The Postman inspired a major film in 1998.) Brin is also known as a leading commentator on modern technological trends. His nonfiction book -- The Transparent Society -- won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. Brin's newest novel Kiln People explores a fictional near future when people use cheap copies of themselves to be in two places at once. The Life Eaters -- a graphic novel -- explores a chilling alternative outcome of World War II.