Monday, July 7, 2008

Civilized, Smivilized!

Now, in this modern world, modernity has gotten a bad name.

And the precursor to the term modern (like its successor developed is destined to), civilized, has also been criticized, both its existence as a value and its value as a virtue.

The term civilized once justified horrific, horrific acts and so it's easy to say let's throw it away... and yet civilization as a concept does have a value. There is an essential difference

(not necessarily good or bad, but which might actually be, depending on how you want to debate things, but that's a question of philosophy not necessarily history (although there are plenty of history/philosophy hybrids, and while history is never purely objective, we should recognize the difference between an effort toward an objective history and not attempting the objectivity in a history/philosophy /opinion project)

between the Roman Empire as a society or the ancient Germanic peoples as a society, and while it is different from the difference between the ancient Persians and the ancient Scythians as societies, it is related to that difference and related differences.

That's a very vague way of saying things, but my basic point is that between civilizations you can make out categories based on some quality that divides those societies traditionally called civilized and those traditionally called non-civilized.

So let us now re-take up the topic. We must be careful of the mistakes of the past such as Euro-centrism or Sino-centrism, but we can also learn from the past. The greatest problem with previous attempts was the vagueness of the term and its association with the values and virtues of the areas called civilized. Let us then explicitly say what we mean and not claim to represent the past meanings of the word but try for a new definition which while aiming for the same subject does not necessarily mean the same thing as previous usages of "civilized."

After all this you might say, well get to the heart of the matter already.

Okay, fine then, bully.

Now I am valuing civilization as a matter of society, not necessarily of economy or state-structure, although these might be a consequence.

While as I said I am not trying to define the same intuitive concept that was used before, but as I also said, I am dealing with the same essential subject. So let us examine the commonality of those societies that match fit the intuitive concept.

Rome, Persia, Han China, Maurya India, all fit a certain level in the intuitive concept of soceity, and there greatest commonality is you have there people living together in greater density and with more durable traditions of living together as well as a stronger connection with older previous worlds (this is separate from being old unto itself, after all Roman society is no where nearly as old as Persian, but it connected with Greek). Also, essential to this are traditions of cultural production, and material production, moreover even the exceptions in this regard have refined reasons for this or refined compensation methods.

So then let me try to sketch up some categories.

Most basic civilization level - familial tribes - there is a direct family or personal connection between all members of even the largest social units. There is no great tradition of people dealing with other people and so new contacts must be improvised. Basically isolated hunter-gatherers.

Next - formal tribes - there might still be some uncertain kinship connections, but social ties are more based on common traditions than direct relations. Still such traditions are not widespread. While there are large cultural units based on long-standing traditions, they are mostly only between people who have networks of direct or regional contact. There is little conception of the world outside the region or lifestyle. More developed tribal units, some light farmers or rotating farmers. Early Central Asian nomads.

Next - ritualized tribes - cultural traditions reach indefinitely and widely. People know how to deal with each other and outsiders, and there are set rituals of interactions. Later Central Asian nomads.

Next - basic cities - still without deep interconnection, but there are concentrations of population that act as cultural centers of the surrounding area.

Next - developed cities - cities and small societies know how to deal with each other and have rituals of interaction and both peaceful and war-like relations within their cultural zone.

Next - political regions - societies have regular social organizations, regular distribution of assets, know how to deal with outsiders for a long while, usually some degree of literacy or something similar.

Next - high culture - There are rituals of great production and traditions of reasoning about actions and culture. Thinkers and specialized epics

Next - old culture - long tradition of cultural succession and relation. Centralized culture centers

Next - world culture - interconnected fully with their surroundings, dominating any surrounding lesser cultural areas and ritualized interaction with other equal civilizations. Interacting cultural centers.

Next - world-spanning culture - exporting culture and exchanging culture. Massive cities that act naturally as and also interact with cultural centers.

Next - integrating culture - developing not only from their own development but through the development of others. Metropolitan areas around cities.

Next - semi-globalized culture - a single culturally connected region among all people who have had some contact with others in this region, there are still barriers to full exchange, but these barriers can be transmitted. Metropolitan regions connecting many cities. Current world.

Next- fully globalized culture - all knowledge is accessible, all distance can be traveled, barriers between cultures are no greater than internal barriers, easily connected transport between continental metropolitan areas and some relatively easy transport between all metropolitan areas. Post-industrial world.

So there's some preliminary definitions, do they need adjusting? Yes. But still I think the categories are useful. They measure something very real in a society's changes. And when comparing cultures and mapping out historical changes this can be very valuable indeed.

And if you think differently say so, or be a bum. Bummmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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