What Makes a Civilization 'Civilized'?

When we first launched our boat and started visiting different island nations we asked ourselves this seemingly straightforward question: what defines a civilization?

The more we thought about it, the harder it became to define what, exactly, compromised a civilization and which among all the possible factors were the true essential elements which would apply regardless of era, culture, geography, environment and political structure.

Now, nearly a 1,000 days later, we have a much better idea.  You really have to live without something like civilization to be able to see what it is you are really looking for.   You have to crawl out of the water, as it were, to be able to actually see it.  Funny, but true.

We don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish. ~ Marshall McLuhan

So, after some thought, some scary encounters and many stories swapped with other sailors, here are the essentials, in priority order:

  1. Functional government (I hate to admit).  Dictatorship can work (hate to admit this even more).
  2. Underlying culture of respect for others, primarily the right to be left alone.
  3. Garbage/sewage collection and handling.
  4. Economic framework that rewards initiative and punishes sloth.
  5. Safe water supply.
  6. Basic roadways.

That's it.  Just try adding to the list.  Everything else we can think of amounts to frosting on the cake.   Tasty, perhaps, but not essential.   Yet, remove any one of these six and just try and live for a while.  You'll soon be climbing the walls with frustration.   Can you survive?  Sure; human's don't need to be civilized to persist on the planet.  But you won't be living in a civilization, you'll be back where we started: in the jungle.