I am enjoying this dialogue as well. We definitely have significant disagreements about what constitutes slavery as well as the value of civilization. I wrote and article on Rousseau, which I believe you read. The man was a genius and my article on him was an exploration of a thinker I both hold in high regard but also have serious disagreements with. Rousseau’s critiques of civilized society offer much in terms of ideas to explore and do include shortcomings of society.
You bring up an interesting point about the ‘positives’ of civilization — indeed, many would not be missed if we had no knowledge of them. Indeed, there is much artifice in society, as Rousseau noted in his exploration of the idea of amour-propre as fundamentally corrupting. I would argue, though, that civilization has offered more good than ill overall (to an overwhelming degree). In short, I can agree that society is too frivolous in many respects and, as Nassim Taleb points out in his books, allows for people to transfer risk. Taleb does not see this as a problem of society so much as a problem resulting from ‘specialists,’ many corporate executives, and bureaucrats, those who do not suffer from negative consequences of bad decisions. Taleb evokes Hammurabi’s law code (“eye for an eye”) not because he literally wants to re-implement that specifically, but because it was a stable and symmetrical legal system whereby those who committed crimes suffered for them. In an era of bailouts and very questionable behavior by top banking executives, I understand skepticism/hostility toward these entities and agree with many critiques of crony capitalism to the extent that they criticize specific problems with deception and risk transference.
I would argue that the history of civilization, while littered with crimes and follies, is one which has ultimately increased the quality of life for individuals. Hobbes was generally right about the state of nature.
With regard to slavery, I would emphasize two things:
(1) the abolitionist movement begun in the Enlightenment West and was a product of civilization. Questions about human rights emerged from the English Common Law tradition and led to a gradual expansion of equality of opportunity for greater numbers of people.
(2) I would not consider working for wages to be slavery. The fight for a minimum wage muddies this picture because the arguments for minimum wage have nothing to do with economic realities (i.e.: they do not reflect the value of labor for a given occupation). People for a minimum wage often fail to differentiate between the value of the individual and the value of labor. Additionally, people have a choice whether to work a particular job. Working for a company is not a fundamental right. Arguments for a living wage are more intriguing but unlikely to yield much, except if we move toward greater regionalism — better to have regional power houses (such as Pittsburgh and Denver) than a handful of mega-cities where many cannot afford to live.
Briefly on global warming: Global warming may get us in the end (or the supernova of the sun in five billion years if we have not colonized other solar systems, or a multitude of other things). The best hope, I would argue, for solving major environmental problems is to look to great entrepreneurs like Boyan Slat. Expecting too much from government will mean any impact will be too little and far too late.
I would be more interested in hearing more about your approach to justice.