Introduction to the Study of Civilization

Introduction to the Study of Civilization


Here are some brief points about what we mean by
civilization, what we call civilization or better yet, we could call it the
miracle of the city that first occurred about 5000 years ago simultaneously in five
different areas of the world: Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India and the Americas. Well
actually for technical purposes the Americas would come a little bit later.
The first two, Mesopotamia and Egypt, would be the the grandparents of the Western
world. All five of these developed roughly independently for a very long
period of time, but despite that independent origins, independent
developments, they all shared certain common features, and if I was to outline
some of these features of what civilization is, I would probably select these that
I’m going to name. And the first would be settled agriculture or/and the
domestication of animals, both of which allowed man to reside in one place and
eventually from which came point 2, urban life came, not nomadic wandering but
settled urban life. The third characteristic would be writing, the ability to record
information. The fourth would be something that
historians called monumental architecture or the sudden desire to
build big buildings be it the Empire State Building or the World Trade Center
or the pyramids or the Tower of Babel. But suddenly the desire to build a
large-scale architecture is a sign of an emergent civilization. Trade would also
be another characteristic of civilization because once you had
settled down you had a surplus of agricultural produce and now you entered
into trade with other communities. Religion, an organized form of worship of
something, would be yet another characteristic of civilization, and
finally a legal or judicial system coupled with a government, a means of
controlling a population, a means of deciding questions. If you want to go
beyond these characteristics and ask for a definition of civilization there’s
a couple different possibilities. A rather technical one would say that
civilization is the settlement of men upon an area continuously inhabited and
possessed, who live in buildings, continuously inhabited, with a common
rule and a common city. Now that’s a bit wordy, right, pretty complicated. In much
simpler terms, civilization means city. The root word of civilization, the civitas,
means city, and you know if anybody ever asked you what a civilizationi is; it’s city
life above all. I personally like to think of civilization as a mastery of
self and environment, a mastery of self and environment by man. And after all the
first civilizations in the West in Mesopotamia and Egypt arose because
people had to cooperate to master the environment, to master the desert, to
master the nearby rivers. The mastery of environment allowed cities to be built. The mastery of self allowed government existence, and that enabled the environment
to be tamed and cities to be built because now you cooperate. You had a
government. So the two of them, mastery of self to allow government; mastery of
environmental to allow cities are very much intertwined, and that’s really at the
root of why civilizations have eventually emerged.

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