What is civilization by Will Durant

Excerpt

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.

Physical and biological conditions are only prerequisites to civilization; they do not constitute or generate it. Subtle psychological factors must enter into play. There must be political order…some unity of language to serve as medium of mental exchange. ,Through church, or family, or school, or otherwise, there must be a unifying moral code, some rules of the game of life acknowledged even by those who violate them, and giving to conduct some order and regularity, some direction and stimulus.Whether through imitation, initiation or instruction, whether through father or mother, teacher or priest, the lore and heritage of the tribe — its language and knowledge, its morals and manners, its technology and arts — must be handed down to the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from animals into men.

The disappearance of these conditions — sometimes of even one of them — may destroy a civilization. A geological cataclysm or a profound climatic change…the failure of natural resources, either of fuels or of raw materials…a pathological concentration of wealth, leading to class wars, disruptive revolutions, and financial exhaustion: these are some of the ways in which a civilization may die.

For civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation, and any serious interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end. Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization…

 

Full text

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.

Physical and biological conditions are only prerequisites to civilization; they do not constitute or generate it. Subtle psychological factors must enter into play. There must be political order, even if it be so near to chaos as in Renaissance Florence or Rome; men must feel, by and large, that they need not look for death or taxes at every turn. There must be some unity of language to serve as medium of mental exchange. Through church, or family, or school, or otherwise, there must be a unifying moral code, some rules of the game of life acknowledged even by those who violate them, and giving to conduct some order and regularity, some direction and stimulus. Perhaps there must also be some unity of basic belief, some faith — supernatural or utopian — that lifts morality from calculation to devotion, and gives life nobility and significance despite our mortal brevity. And finally there must be education — some technique, however primitive, for the transmission of culture. Whether through imitation, initiation or instruction, whether through father or mother, teacher or priest, the lore and heritage of the tribe — its language and knowledge, its morals and manners, its technology and arts — must be handed down to the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from animals into men.

The disappearance of these conditions — sometimes of even one of them — may destroy a civilization. A geological cataclysm or a profound climatic change; an uncontrolled epidemic like that which wiped out half the population of the Roman Empire under the Antonines, or the Black Death that helped to end the Feudal Age; the exhaustion of the land or the ruin of agriculture through the exploitation of the country by the town, resulting in a precarious dependence upon foreign food supplies; the failure of natural resources, either of fuels or of raw materials; a change in trade routes, leaving a nation off the main line of the world’s commerce; mental or moral decay from the strains, stimuli and contacts of urban life, from the breakdown of traditional sources of social discipline and the inability to replace them; the weakening of the stock by a disorderly sexual life, or by an epicurean, pessimist, or quietist philosophy; the decay of leadership through the infertility of the able, and the relative smallness of the families that might bequeath most fully the cultural inheritance of the race; a pathological concentration of wealth, leading to class wars, disruptive revolutions, and financial exhaustion: these are some of the ways in which a civilization may die.

For civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation, and any serious interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end. Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization.

Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul. As family-rearing, and then writing, bound the generations together, handing down the lore of the dying to the young, so print and commerce and a thousand ways of communication may bind the civilizations together, and preserve for future cultures all that is of value for them in our own.

Let us, before we die, gather up our heritage, and offer it to our children.

http://www.willdurant.com/civilization.htm

We’re All In This Together

The Commons Moment is Now – How a small, dedicated group of people can transform the world—really by Jay Walljasper, CommonDreams.org, January 24, 2011- Introducing the Commons Paradigm -
There are emerging signs that market fundamentalism has passed its peak as the defining idea of our era….a group of activists, thinkers, and concerned citizens around the world who are rallying support for the idea of a commons-based society…These commoners, as they call themselves, see possibilities for large numbers of people of diverse ideological stripes coming together to chart a new, more cooperative direction for modern society…
In the truest sense of the word, the commons is a conservative as well as progressive virtue because it aims to conserve and nurture all those things necessary for sustaining a healthy society…
Now is the time to introduce a decisive shift in worldview. People everywhere are yearning for a world that is safer, saner, more sustainable and satisfying. There’s a rising sense of possibility that even with our daunting economic and environmental problems, there are opportunities to make some fundamental improvements. Everyone deserves decent health care. The health of the planet should take precedence over the profits of a few. Clean water, adequate food, education, access to information, and economic opportunity ought to be available to all people. In other words, a commons-based society. Let’s transform that hope into constructive action.

Five Lessons in Human Goodness From “The Hunger Games” By Jeremy Adam Smith
YES! Magazine, Posted on AlterNet.org, June 28, 2012

How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010

 

The Social Animal by David Brooks, New York Times, September 12, 2008  …Barry Goldwater, “The Conscience of a Conservative” Goldwater’s vision…celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe. The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong. Over the past 30 years, there has been a tide of research in many fields, all underlining one old truth — that we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion…What emerges is not a picture of self-creating individuals gloriously free from one another, but of autonomous creatures deeply interconnected with one another…

A Matter of Life and Debt by Margaret Atwood,Op-Ed Con­trib­u­tor, New York Times, Octo­ber 22, 2008we’re delud­ing our­selves if we assume that we can recover from the cri­sis of 2008 so quickly and eas­ily sim­ply by watch­ing the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the bro­ken moral bal­ance that let this chaos loose. Debt — who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid — is a sub­ject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fair­ness, a sense that is embed­ded in all of our exchanges with our fel­low human beings. But at some point we stopped see­ing debt as a sim­ple per­sonal rela­tion­ship. The human fac­tor became diminished…The whole edi­fice rests on a few fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples that are inher­ent in us.We are social crea­tures who must inter­act for mutual ben­e­fit…Is there any bright side to this? Per­haps we’ll have some breath­ing room — a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our rela­tion­ship to the liv­ing planet from which we derive all our nour­ish­ment, and with­out which debt finally won’t matter.

Reweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades Most of us agree that D.C. dynamics have got to change for the U.S. to solve the real challenges we confront and to retain our leadership role in the world. Political leaders and the media are failing us on so many levels…all Americans have a great deal in common. But our understanding of politics, economics, science and even basic facts is increasingly disparate. We cannot afford to continue on this path. A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civility…While the traditional media loves fights, the new and emerging social media loves connections. We can leverage the wisdom and creativity of crowds to find win-win solutions to our common problems. We can scale our efforts to tens of thousands of conversations, giving individuals the power to begin to reweave the social fabric of our communities…

The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wal­lis, Huff­in­g­ton Post, Novem­ber 9, 2012The results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion showed how dra­mat­i­cally a very diverse Amer­ica is chang­ing; peo­ple are long­ing for a vision of the com­mon good that includes every­one.…peo­ple of faith aren’t going to be entirely happy with any polit­i­cal leader, and they shouldn’t be. Many of them feel polit­i­cally home­less in the rag­ing bat­tles between ide­o­log­i­cal extremes. But they could find their home in a new call for the com­mon good — a vision drawn from the heart of our reli­gious tra­di­tions that allows us to make our faith pub­lic but not nar­rowly par­ti­san. That requires a polit­i­cal engage­ment that empha­sizes issues and peo­ple above per­son­al­i­ties and partisanship.…Whether gov­ern­ment is serv­ing its bib­li­cal pur­pose of pro­tect­ing from evil and pro­mot­ing good, is more impor­tant than ide­o­log­i­cal debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of end­less growth to an ethic of sus­tain­abil­ity, from short-term prof­its to longer term human flour­ish­ing, from the use and con­sump­tion of the earth to stew­ard­ship and cre­ation care? Pro­tect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be con­sis­tently applied to wher­ever human life and dig­nity are threat­ened. The fail­ure of stri­dent and par­ti­san efforts by peo­ple like Franklin Gra­ham and Ralph Reed to nar­row those issues in the final stages of this elec­tion was very evi­dent and sig­nif­i­cant. More and more Chris­tians, espe­cially younger ones, now believe our con­gre­ga­tions will be finally eval­u­ated not merely by their cor­rect doc­trines, but by whether their mis­sions are serv­ing the “parishes” of this whole world; here and now, not just for the hereafter. The pre­req­ui­site for solv­ing the deep­est prob­lems this coun­try and the world now face is a com­mit­ment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the com­mon good.…


 

Who’s correct about human nature, the left or the right? by Ed Rooksby

Guardian UK, November 20, 2010
 
Most conservatives see it as ‘common sense’ that humans are selfishly competitive – but things looked different pre-capitalism
 
Terry Eagleton: ‘It is only through being the means of your self-fulfilment that I can attain my own, and vice versa.
When the political right confront the left in debate, the arguments of the former usually boil down to a simple underlying idea: that the left’s “grand projects” of social change are incompatible with human nature. Those on the left, in this view, do not understand – or cannot bring themselves to accept – the grim reality in relation to the fundamental determinants of human behaviour. Human beings are essentially selfish, greedy, competitive, individualistic and generally unpleasant. This nature, furthermore, is fixed and immutable.
 
Rather conveniently, we happen to live in the kind of social order that is most in tune with our natural inclinations – a capitalist free market economy. In fact, for conservatives, capitalism is not really a discrete “system” at all; it is simply the natural and spontaneous state of things.
 
Almost all political ideologies, in fact, are based on a specific understanding of the nature of humanity, whether this is explicitly formulated or simply implied. The plurality of modern political ideologies implies a plurality of different conceptions of human nature – which implies, in turn, that the conservative understanding of human nature is contested. This is something that many conservatives have difficulty in accepting.
 
It is simply self-evident for most conservatives that human nature is unquestionably the way that they say it is (this is a defining feature of conservative thought in general, bound up with its broadly positivist assumption that one can understand the world through simple observation and application of “common sense”) – and this tends to dictate that their conception of human nature is articulated at the level of mere assertion. Human nature just is egoistic, selfish and so on. Such an approach obscures the historical specificity of their view of human nature.
 
The modern right’s understanding of human nature (and thus the broader political doctrine founded on this conception) first emerged with the birth of liberalism which was itself bound up with the emergence of capitalism. In fact modern conservatism is really a form of liberalism. The formation of the Conservative party in the 1830s represented an alliance of the rump of the old Tory party – previously dedicated to the defence of broadly feudal traditions and institutions – with a faction of the rising bourgeoisie dedicated to free trade and capitalist values. This marked the point at which conservatism, which used to be rather sniffy about nouveau riche bourgeois upstarts, reconciled itself to capitalism. Indeed the intimate connection between modern conservatism and liberalism is revealed in the political affiliation of Edmund Burke. Widely regarded as the “father of modern conservatism”, Burke was in fact a Whig rather than a Tory.
 
Liberalism, which first emerged in the 17th century, has at its core a distinctive conception of human nature. The most important point about humans for liberals is the fact that they are individuals. It involves “seeing the individual as primary, as more ‘real’ or fundamental than human society and its institutions and structures” and “involves attaching a higher moral value to the individual than to society” (Arblaster). Furthermore, this conception of human nature “tends … to impute a high degree of completeness and self-sufficiency to the single human being, with the implication that separateness … is the fundamental, metaphysical human condition”.
 
As a fundamentally “complete” individual, the liberal human has pre-given and fixed, rather than socially constructed needs and preferences. More often than not, the liberal individual is also a radical egoist who enters into interaction with other individuals simply in order to satisfy pre-formed preferences.
 
The relationship between this conception of human nature and capitalism is obvious. The atomised liberal individual reflects the atomised conditions of bourgeois society in which social ties of kinship and fealty have been dissolved. It is worth stressing that this was a new understanding of human nature. In pre-capitalist philosophy wholeness or completeness usually belonged to the community rather than to the individual.
 
Rather than self-sufficient individuals, humans were seen to be embedded in communal relations that almost wholly defined them. The view of human nature that underpins the politics of the modern-day right, then, arose at a particular historical juncture. It is not some ideologically “neutral” description.
 
So what, if anything, is human nature? Marx provides a much richer account. He is often said to have argued that there is no such thing as human nature. This is not true. Though he did think that human behaviour was deeply informed by social environment, this is not to say that human nature does not exist. In fact it is our capacity to adapt and transform in terms of social practices and behaviours that makes us distinctive as a species and in which our specifically human nature is to be located.
 
For Marx, we are essentially creative and producing beings. It is not just that we produce for our means of survival, it is also that we engage in creative and productive activity over and above what is strictly necessary for survival and find fulfilment in this activity. This activity is inherently social – most of what we produce is produced collectively in some sense or another. In opposition to the individualist basis of liberal thought, then, we are fundamentally social creatures.
 
Indeed, for Marx, human consciousness and thus our very notion of individual identity is collectively generated. We become consciously aware of ourselves as a discrete entity only through language – and language is inherently inter-subjective; it is a social practice. What we think – including what we think about ourselves – is governed by what we do and what we do is always done socially and collectively. It is for this reason that Marx refers to our “species-being” – what we are can only be understood properly in social terms because what we are is a property and function of the human species as a whole.
 
Marx, then, has a fairly expansive view of human nature – it is in our nature to be creatively adaptable and for our understanding of what is normal in terms of behaviour to be shaped by the social relations around us. This is not to say that any social system is as preferable as any other. We are best able to flourish in conditions that allow us to express our sociability and creativity.
 
As Terry Eagleton argues, Marx’s notion of “species-being” implies an ethics of self-realisation or flourishing through social interaction. Eagleton argues that Marx was “a closet Aristotelian of sorts”, by which he means that Marx, like Aristotle, felt that humans live well when they act to realise their own creative nature. The main difference between Marx’s (tacit) ethics and those of Aristotle is that for Marx, self-realisation must be an reciprocal process because we are social animals.
 
“What this means”, Eagleton explains, “is that we become the occasion for each other’s self-realisation. It is only through being the means of your self-fulfilment that I can attain my own, and vice versa.” “The political form of this ethic,” he continues, “is known as socialism”, which can be regarded as a form of “politicised love, or reciprocity all round”.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/20/human-nature-politics-left-right

Evolution and Our Inner Conflict by Edward O. Wilson

New York Times, June 24, 2012

Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good? Are we built to pledge our lives to a group, even to the risk of death, or the opposite, built to place ourselves and our families above all else? Scientific evidence, a good part of it accumulated during the past 20 years, suggests that we are all of these things simultaneously. Each of us is inherently complicated. We are all genetic chimeras, at once saints and sinners – not because humanity has failed to reach some foreordained religious or ideological ideal – but because of the way our species originated across millions of years of biological evolution.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that we are driven by instinct in the manner of animals. Yet in order to understand the human condition, it is necessary to accept that we do have instincts, and will be wise to take into account our very distant ancestors, as far back and in as fine a detail as possible. History is not enough to reach this level of understanding. It stops at the dawn of literacy, where it turns the rest of the story over to the detective work of archaeology; in still deeper time the quest becomes paleontology. For the real human story, history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology.

Within biology itself, the key to the mystery is the force that lifted pre-human social behavior to the human level. The leading candidate in my judgment is multilevel selection by which hereditary social behavior improves the competitive ability not of just individuals within groups but among groups as a whole. Its consequences can be plainly seen in the caste systems of ants, termites and other social insects. Between-group selection as a force operating in addition to between-individual selection simultaneously is not a new idea in biology. Charles Darwin correctly deduced its role, first in the insects and then in human beings – respectively in “On the Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man.”

Even so, the reader should be warned that the revival of multilevel selection as the principal force of social evolution remains a hotly contested idea. Its opponents believe the principal force to be kin selection: when individuals favor kin (other than offspring), the evolution of altruistic behavior is favored. The loss suffered by the genes of the altruist are compensated by genes in the recipient made identical by common descent of the altruist and recipient. If the altruism thus created is strong enough it can lead to advanced social behavior. This seems plausible, but in 2010 two mathematical biologists, Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, and I demonstrated that the mathematical foundations of the kin selection theory are unsound, and that examples from nature thought to support kin selection theory are better explained as products of multilevel selection.

A strong reaction from supporters of kin selection not surprisingly ensued, and soon afterward more than 130 of them famously signed on to protest our replacement of kin selection by multilevel selection, and most emphatically the key role given to group selection. But at no time have our mathematical and empirical arguments been refuted or even seriously challenged. Since that protest, the number of supporters of the multilevel selection approach has grown, to the extent that a similarly long list of signatories could be obtained. But such exercises are futile: science is not advanced by polling. If it were, we would still be releasing phlogiston to burn logs and navigating the sky with geocentric maps.

I am convinced after years of research on the subject that multilevel selection, with a powerful role of group-to-group competition, has forged advanced social behavior – including that of humans, as I documented in my recent book “The Social Conquest of Earth.” In fact, it seems clear that so deeply ingrained are the evolutionary products of group selected behaviors, so completely a part of the human condition, that we are prone to regard them as fixtures of nature, like air and water. They are instead idiosyncratic traits of our species. Among them is the intense, obsessive interest of people in other people, which begins in the first days of life as infants learn particular scents and sounds of the adults around them. Research psychologists have found that all normal humans are geniuses at reading the intentions of others, whereby they evaluate, gossip, proselytize, bond, cooperate and control. Each person, working his way back and forth through his social network, almost continuously reviews past experiences while imagining the consequences of future scenarios.

A second diagnostic hereditary peculiarity of human behavior is the overpowering instinctual urge to belong to groups in the first place. To be kept in solitude is to be kept in pain, and put on the road to madness. A person’s membership in his group – his tribe – is a large part of his identity. It also confers upon him to some degree or other a sense of superiority. When psychologists selected teams at random from a population of volunteers to compete in simple games, members of each team soon came to think of members of other teams as less able and trustworthy, even when the participants knew they had been selected at random.

All things being equal (fortunately things are seldom equal, not exactly), people prefer to be with others who look like them, speak the same dialect, and hold the same beliefs An amplification of this evidently inborn predisposition leads with frightening ease to racism and religious bigotry.

It might be supposed that the human condition is so distinctive and came so late in the history of life on Earth as to suggest the hand of a divine creator. Yet in a critical sense the human achievement was not unique at all. Biologists have identified about two dozen evolutionary lines in the modern world fauna that attained advanced social life based on some degree of altruistic division of labor. Most arose in the insects. Several were independent origins, in marine shrimp, and three appeared among the mammals, that is, in two African mole rats, and us. All reached this level through the same narrow gateway: solitary individuals, or mated pairs, or small groups of individuals built nests and foraged from the nest for food with which they progressively raised their offspring to maturity.

Until about three million years ago the ancestors of Homo sapiens were mostly vegetarians, and they most likely wandered in groups from site to site where fruit, tubers, and other vegetable food could be harvested. Their brains were only slightly larger than those of modern chimpanzees. By no later than half a million years ago, however, groups of the ancestral species Homo erectus were maintaining campsites with controlled fire – the equivalent of nests – from which they foraged and returned with food, including a substantial portion of meat. Their brain size had increased to midsize, between that of chimpanzees and modern Homo sapiens. The trend appears to have begun one to two million years previously, when the earlier prehuman ancestor Homo habilis turned increasingly to meat in its diet. With groups crowded together at a single site, and an advantage added by cooperative nest building and hunting, social intelligence grew, along with the centers of memory and reasoning in the prefrontal cortex.

Probably at this point, during the habiline period, a conflict ensued between individual-level selection, with individuals competing with other individuals in the same group, versus group-level selection, with competition among groups. The latter force promoted altruism and cooperation among all the group members. It led to group-wide morality and a sense of conscience and honor. The competitor between the two forces can be succinctly expressed as follows: within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.

So it appeared that humans are forever conflicted by their prehistory of multilevel selection. They are suspended in unstable and constantly changing locations between the two extreme forces that created us. We are unlikely to yield completely to either force as an ideal solution to our social and political turmoil. To yield completely to the instinctual urgings born from individual selection would dissolve society. To surrender to the urgings from group selection would turn us into angelic robots – students of insects call them ants.

The eternal conflict is not God’s test of humanity. It is not a machination of Satan. It is just the way things worked out. It might be the only way in the entire universe that human-level intelligence and social organization can evolve. We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil, and perhaps find pleasure in viewing it as a primary source of our creativity.
Edward O. Wilson is Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University. He has received more than 100 awards for his research and writing, including the U. S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize and two Pulitzer Prizes in non-fiction. His most recent book is “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/evolution-and-our-inner-conflict/

Our Human Family

 We’re all in this together

Five Lessons in Human Goodness From “The Hunger Games” By Jeremy Adam Smith
 YES! Magazine, Posted on AlterNet.org, June 28, 2012

Change Agent Karen Armstrong argues for practical compassion — interview with Heidi Bruce,  published in YES! Magazine, posted on Christian Science, April 17, 2012

How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010

The Commons Moment is Now – How a small, dedicated group of people can transform the world—really by Jay Walljasper, CommonDreams.org, January 24, 2011

Compassion/Empathy

The Compassionate Instinct by Dacher Keltner, Greater Good Science Center, Spring 2004

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, Interview by Amanda Gefter, New Scientist.com, February 17, 2010

The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way by Brian Alexander, MSNBC, August 10, 2011

Generational Justice

Our Three Bombs by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, October 7, 2009

The Decade of Lost Children by Charles M. Blow, New York Times, August 5, 2011

Why our children’s future no longer looks so bright By Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post,  October 16, 2011

Human Nature

The Fascinating Scientific Reason Why “Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness” By David McRaney, Alternet.org, January 25, 2012

The Social Animal by David Brooks, New York Times, September 12, 2008

Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn, The Nation,  August 11, 2010

Global economic crisis also values crisis – Davos poll - by Tom Henegan, Religion Editor, New Frontiers  |  Davos – PARIS, Reuters, January 27, 2010

Crisis

Humanity Must Stabilize Population, Consumption or Face ‘Downward Vortex’ of ‘Ills’ by Common Dreams staff, Common Dreams Report, April 26, 2012

How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose a Genuine Threat to Humanity by Joshua Holland, Alternet.org, December 25, 2011