Define the term 'civilisation'

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by Xylene, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. Roman Banned Banned


    Cooperation, in our typical lexicon, merely means "working together". What if you were stranded on a desert island and the only way to get off was by working with your hated enemy. Does that count as cooperation?
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  3. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member

    If someone were really unwilling to cooperate, they wouldn't.
    That's what prisons are for.

    I don't get where you get this 'only a few' from.
    Are you referring to prisons?
    As in the prisoners outweigh the guards?
    If so, the guards aren't all the cooperation involved (which is why a prison is not a civilization). You have millions of taxpayers cooperating. You have groups for prisoner rights. You have groups for anti-prisoner rights. You have governmental agencies. You have farmers growing food for the prison. You have import outfits shipping toiletries.

    You underestimate the amount of cooperation required to do the 'simplest' think in our society.

    Shame on you.

    That food on your table is a direct outcome of the cooperation of millions of people.
    And you think you bring home the bacon.

    Depends on the issue under discussion. While discussing civilization on pure terms, we're not judging the moral value of said civilization.

    Pretty much.

    You're just focusing on the few dissenters. Do you feel you are an unwilling participant in our civilization? Being forced into it?
    You know what really forces you into it?
    There's the food on your table for one.
    But even more important is your social addiction.

    You must obey your culture's mandates.
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  5. top mosker Ariloulaleelay Registered Senior Member

    I like Derrick Jensen's definition:
    “I would define a civilization much more precisely, and I believe more usefully, as a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts—that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from latin civitatis, meaning state or city), with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”

    Along the same lines as Jensen, here's some others:
    Lewis Mumford:
    "...the group of institutions that first took form under kingship. Its chief features, constant in varying proportions throughout history, are the centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labor, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak, and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor for both industrial and military purposes.”

    Stanley Diamond:
    “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.”

    and a link:
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2005
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  7. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member

    Or how about Durant's?

    CIVILIZATION is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end. For when fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life.

    Certain factors condition civilization, and may encourage or impede it. First, geological conditions. Civilization is an interlude between ice ages: at any time the current of glaciation may rise again, cover with ice and stone the works of man, and reduce life to some narrow segment of the earth. Or the demon of earthquake, by whose leave we build our cities, may shrug his shoulders and consume us indifferently.

    Second, geographical conditions. The heat of the tropics, and the innumerable parasites that infest them, are hostile to civilization; lethargy and disease, and a precocious maturity and decay, divert the energies from those inessentials of life that make civilization, and absorb them in hunger and reproduction; nothing is left for the play of the arts and the mind. Rain is necessary; for water is the medium of life, more important even than the light of the sun; the unintelligible whim of the elements may condemn to desiccation regions that once flourished with empire and industry, like Nineveh or Babylon, or may help to swift strength and wealth cities apparently off the main line of transport and communication, like those of Great Britain or Puget Sound. If the soil is fertile in food or minerals, if rivers offer an easy avenue of exchange, if the coast-line is indented with natural harbors for a commercial fleet, if, above all, a nation lies on the highroad of the world's trade, like Athens or Carthage, Florence or Venice- then geography, though it can never create it, smiles upon civilization, and nourishes it.

    Economic conditions are more important. A people may possess ordered institutions, a lofty moral code, and even a flair for the minor forms of art, like the American Indians; and yet if it remains in the hunting stage, if it depends for its existence upon the precarious fortunes of the chase, it will never quite pass from barbarism to civilization. A nomad stock, like the Bedouins of Arabia, may be exceptionally intelligent and vigorous, it may display high qualities of character like courage, generosity and nobility; but without that simple sine qua non of culture, a continuity of food, its intelligence will be lavished on the perils of the hunt and the tricks of trade, and nothing will remain for the laces and frills, the curtsies and amenities, the arts and comforts, of civilization. The first form of culture is agriculture. It is when man settles down to till the soil and lay up provisions for the uncertain future that he finds time and reason to be civilized. Within that little circle of security- a reliable supply of water and food- he builds his huts, his temples and his schools; he invents productive tools, and domesticates the dog, the ass, the pig, at last himself. He learns to work with regularity and order, maintains a longer tenure of life, and transmits more completely than before the mental and moral heritage of his race.

    Culture suggests agriculture, but civilization suggests the city. In one aspect civilization is the habit of civility; and civility is the refinement which townsmen, who made the word, thought possible only in the civitas or city. For in the city are gathered, rightly or wrongly, the wealth and brains produced in the countryside; in the city invention and industry multiply comforts, luxuries and leisure; in the city traders meet, and barter goods and ideas; in that cross-fertilization of minds at the crossroads of trade intelligence is sharpened and stimulated to creative power. In the city some men are set aside from the making of material things, and produce science and philosophy, literature and art. Civilization begins in the peasant's hut, but it comes to flower only in the towns.​
  8. devils_reject Registered Senior Member

    Civilization starts from the bed rooms of kings and head of states and passed on to the rest. Civilization is a collection of memes we create to keep the propaganda train of the society on full steam, on full steam ahead to another head or destination. By all acoounts and purposes civilization is a necessary disease, encroaching the individual mind and promoting insanity. On civilization.
  9. valich Registered Senior Member

    "A group of people living together" that act civilized, that cooperate with each other, and that form specialized trades that benefit the whole and make life easier for all.

    No more "individual" hunter-gatherer groups.
  10. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member

    Can you say circular?
  11. valich Registered Senior Member

    What do you mean?
  12. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member


    You're saying this:

    "Civilization is a group of civilized people..."

    You're using the term to define itself.
    It doesn't get much more circular than that.
    The question of 'what is civilization' is the same question as "what is it to 'act civilized'?"
  13. valich Registered Senior Member

    Agreed. Civilization is the process of becoming civilized: a rational ordered state of cultural development. Circular definition.
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Yes. The essence of civilization is the building of cities. The first cities were quite small, just a few hundred people, yet they provided what is necessary for what has become known more abstractly as "civilization" to fluorish:

    First and most important: Specialism and division of labor. The people who have the most talent for farming do all the farming, their production per capita is much higher than if everyone did it. Ditto for animal husbandry, making clothes, building houses, throwing pottery, etc. Which means: It no longer requires the entire population to provide for everybody's basic needs. Therefore cities produce...

    Second: A surplus. There's an excess of crops, meat, clothes, housing, and pots. There are people left over. Some of them are very good at teaching, so each subsequent generation has a little more knowledge to work with. This is a key difference from the past, when people were able to just barely pass on what they knew without any of it getting lost. Some of them are very good at healing, so people live longer, become wiser, and have even more to pass on to the next generation. More children survive, boosting the population. This was a good thing 7,000 years ago when every tribe lived with the very real chance that they could be annihilated by disease, famine, or rampaging woolly mammoths. Some of them are very good at music, sculpture, storytelling, and the other arts and crafts. Therefore cities experience tremendous advances in...

    Third: Culture. There is enough surplus labor that gifted people can devote their lives to it. Suddenly cities are home to people whose job is to be a poet, songwriter, sculptor, painter, actor, etc. And also...

    Fourth: Science. Some people are very good at understanding how the universe works and figuring out how to make it work for us. At first this is focused on making better bread, breeding fatter hogs, developing stronger thread to sew sturdier clothes, building larger buildings and seaworthy boats. But science begets technology and the idea of making better tools pops up.

    Somebody wonders what would happen if you figure out a way to make a hotter fire. It destroys everything anyone throws into it, so somebody tries tossing in a rock which happens to be a chunk of copper ore--one of the ones with the lowest melting point. Next thing they've got pure metal and the craftsmen are going ga-ga over it.

    The next city a couple of hundred miles away is near a field of nickel ore. This part is critical: copper ore and nickel ore are formed by different conditions and are never found together. It takes cooperation for two cities to blend their copper and nickel technologies together to create bronze! Copper is nice for jewelry, ornaments, and light-duty houseware, but bronze is really strong stuff! You can make shovels and knives and hammers and all kinds of amazing new things out of it. Suddenly you're living in...

    Fifth: The Bronze Age. Hallelujah, the Stone Age is over! Bronze Age technology revolutionizes agriculture, buildings, transportation, even art. The surplus becomes enormous and so do the cities. The leaders no longer know everyone personally, so formal governments are created. Barter no longer works for complicated multi-party transactions between citizens who don't know each other personally, so economics is developed and some form of accounting and currency is invented.

    Eventually cities become so big that people come from great distances to live in them. Trade fluorishes and the "citizens" of various cities travel to other "cities" and develop social contacts that never existed in the tribal days. For business purposes, for cross-training, for artistic performances, for love, or just for wanderlust and fun, people migrate to places they weren't born in, aided by wheels and saddles and devices for carrying food and the many possessions that humans now own. Cities become homes to people who are not only not closely related as in the tribal days, but not even distantly related. People from different ethnic groups. Next thing, cities have...

    Sixth: Diversity. People, whose ancestors regarded with suspicion the folks from the next camp down the river, are learning to get along with people who look different, speak different languages, and have different customs.

    This is civiilization. Surplus, division of labor, technology, formal education, government, cooperation, economics, free movement of people, and the ability to live in harmony with folks who are different.

    Yes, technology allowed us to invent better weapons so we can have wars. We still don't always entirely get along with those other folks who look funny, speak strange-sounding languages, practice odd customs, and don't pray to our gods. Sometimes we start killing each other. But when the killing is over we always go back to getting along and advancing civilization again. At least we always did that until the Abrahamic religions came along.
    That's overdoing it. A church would signify the difference between a village and a city. It means there's enough division of labor for someone to dedicate his life to being a priest, enough surplus to devote the resources to building a church, and enough sense of culture for people to want to come listen to the priest talk. Chinese cities had temples. Their faiths were never as ostentatious as Chrisitianity so they didn't feel the need to build very many temples elaborate enough to qualify as cathedrals.
  15. valich Registered Senior Member

    You state a beautiful definition of civilization until this. Now why do you have to add this at the end and ruin it?
  16. valich Registered Senior Member

    You state a beautiful definition of civilization until this. Now why do you have to add this at the end and ruin it? Church is like pollution to civilization.
  17. Xylene Valued Senior Member

    Could I suggest you get hold of a copy of Lewis Mumford's book, 'The City in History', and also the book by Frederick Forsyth, 'The Pillars of the Earth', if you want to know the point (or social value) of either institution (the city or the Age of Faith) for the building of civilisation.
  18. valich Registered Senior Member

    You could suggest it, but do I have time to read it? No. Anything you'd like to summarize about it?
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Because the Abrahamic religions are at odds with civilization and constantly threaten to destroy it. They bring out the worst in us, the tribalism.

    Civilization has arisen spontaneously and independently in only six different times and places on this planet. They are precious treasures, each with its own unique point of view on the universe, its own artistic motifs. The Christian nations annihilated ONE THIRD of the six: the Inca and Aztec civilizations. I don't believe there's anything that Christians or the Christian community or the leaders of the Christian churches can ever do to earn forgiveness for those cosmic atrocities. Some things are just unforgiveable, and the fact that those people are taught that this is not true is damn scary.

    And don't get on my case about how nasty the Aztecs and Incas were so their people deserved to be rescued at gunpoint. Those were very young cultures because they got a late start. "Western" civilization was just as nasty in its infancy. If the New World kingdoms had been allowed to survive, who knows--maybe in another millennium or two they'd be just as advanced and enlightened as we are and invent their own SUVs and nuclear weapons. And clear-cut their own rain forests.
  20. Xerxes asdfghjkl Valued Senior Member

    You know this sounds strangely similar to Christian accusations of the Jews for killing Jesus. The Incans/Aztects were not strong enough to defend themselves, so they were usurped. Big whoop.

    Arab civilization might not exist without Islam. Same with Europeans and Christianity. Both religions will be shed off gradually.
  21. valich Registered Senior Member

    Isn't this turning into a debate against religion or religously influenced civilization vs. civilization itself?
  22. Spectrum Registered Senior Member

    Is it when people are civil to each other (rather than being military)? Perhaps a civilised living is peaceful (I'm British too).
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2005
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Sure. Except for the fact that the Incas and Aztecs were real and they still have millions of descendants to attest to it, whereas the probability is 99.999999 percent that Jesus is a fairy tale.
    This is fodder for the "Prime Directive" thread. Humans didn't even arrive in the New World until about 13,000BCE (estimates vary) so they got a really late start on their way up out of the Stone Age. The Incas and Aztecs were still in the Bronze Age when the Europeans arrived, whereas the Europeans not only had iron alloys but gunpowder. That isn't defeating a weaker opponent in a fair fight, that is being a bully, something which is not just tolerated but rewarded in our Mesopotamian-descended culture. Saying that two entire civilizations deserved to be destroyed because of the historical accident that they were three or four thousand years behind us in development is remarkably oafish. Macho football talk. Does that mean that if the Klingons discover Earth next year, we will deserve to be treated that way? Is it really just dandy to destroy a culture that might have given us wonderful music, art, literature, maybe even new sports, just because we can? That's basically what you're saying. They didn't even attack us. They didn't even attack the invaders. Our violence against them was completely unprovoked. The same damn thing we just did to Iraq.
    And that would be bad because...? I didn't get into it but the Muslims did the same thing to North Africa that the Christians would do a thousand years later to Central and South America. Remember that awe-inspiring civilization called Ancient Egypt? That was one of the six original ones, it was not an offshoot of Mesopotamian civilization. It sprang up independently. The Muslim Arabs destroyed it, their crowning achievement being the destruction by fire of the world-renowned Library of Alexandria. (There is some debate over this but I find the evidence points overwhelmingly to it being done on the orders of Caliph Omar of Baghdad.) And they went on to do much the same thing that our ancestors did to the Indians. They took over Egypt and marginalized its people out of their own country. The current inhabitants of Egypt are Arabs, not descendants of the Cushitic people who built the pyramids and wrote hieroglyphics. The last remnants of that people are in Ethiopia.
    Read your history. The adoption of Christianity is largely responsible for the downfall of Rome. It's a miracle that outposts of a stultified Christian Rome managed to survive the waves of attacks by Germanic tribes, it could easily have gone the other way and Europe could have been dragged back into the Stone Age. The surviving kingdoms such as France and England still had to endure a thousand years of ignorance and squalor during which Christianity was the only permitted source of ideas--we refer to that heyday of Christendom as the Dark Ages. It wasn't until the Reformation, Renaissance, and Englightenment loosened the hold of a stagnated Christianity that civilization actually began to advance in Europe. We might today be living in a world 600 years beyond Star Trek if Emperor Constantine had not decided to turn the Roman Empire into a Christian state.
    And on that lovely day, civilization will get back on track. Let's hope the Christians, Muslims, and Jews don't manage to blow up each other, themselves, and all the rest of us before then. It's not looking good so far.
    No, you've got it backwards. The word "civil" is derived from "civis." It means "behaving in the manner of a citizen." In other words, a civil person is one who acts like they live in a civilization.

    I haven't been able to craft the right Google search argument to find out where, when, and why the words "civil" and "military" acquired their current status as antonyms.

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