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Sunday, 30 March 2008

Civilization: Why ?

Actually, we don't know.

Those regular readers of this irregular series of communications might be aware that the question 'Civilization;Why?' has been the subject of intense investigation by yours truly for at least two years now. Aware of the possibility that the following advice will result in this post never being read by anyone except me and Toshack, the 18lb cat, I should warn regular readers that I do intend to drone on about this question in this post, proferring some observations on the matter. If not interested in the subject my best advice, at this point, would be that the reader logs onto Facebook and 'pokes' someone they hardly know. Caveat emptor provided, plunge on I will, sparing nary a single equine.

The question, expanded, is better framed as "Why, did Civilizations arise, why have they (with arguably one exception) all collapsed, and in what direction[s] might they proceed?". Equally interesting are the related questions of who is asking these questions and why, and what to do with the answer if there is one. The question also implies that there are some problems with civilization, some thing s that need to be fixed. Before we even start to answer the original question though, let alone the subsidiary and arising questions, there is a problem.

As it happens, the great question "Civilization; Why?" is being asked almost exclusively by Westerners, or those cultures allied very closely with the West. China, for example,officially, has virtually no research on the subject. The Chinese view seems to be that China was, is and will continue to be; questioning civilization, particularly Chinese civilization is not encouraged. India and Japan, for their part seem uninterested and Africa, despite being the cradle of humanity, has understandably other questions on the minds of most of it's scholars.

Why might it be that we cannot just get on with answering the question? The answer, it appears, lies in the basic assumptions underlying the question, and in the politics that arise from those assumptions. The basic assumption of the question is that Civilization arose after homo sapiens had mostly colonized the planet, spreading out from Africa in waves of migration. Most (western) scholars, and the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence support this view. China, however, does not. Even if there is no official opinion from the Chinese Government about the origins of homo sapiens, there is significant support in that country for the view that human evolution was multi-regional, with homo sapiens evolving seperately in different regions of the world from earlier hominid species. This is why the discovery of Peking Man was welcomed with such excitement in China, as some (Chinese) scholars saw it as evidence that the Chinese homo sapiens sapiens evolved seperately.

The implications of this are profound. If Chinese homo sapiens are different, then cultures arising in China are also, by implication, different than the rest of the world. If this is the case, then Chinese civilization is also unique, and cannot be measured against, judged by or compared to Western, African or any other culture in the world. Further, and also implicit, is that if there is a problem with past or present (other) civilizations, this has nothing to do with China. The West can learn what it likes from the mistakes of the past, but these lessons do not apply to China.

See :

for some accurate references on this political usurping of reality in the interests of politics.

See also :

and note:

The quxi leixing concept was intended to provide a methodological framework for the reconstruction of Chinese prehistory, as it shifted away from the center-periphery model to a multi-regional approach to the development of Chinese civilization (for the historical background of this trend see Falkenhausen 1995; Wang, T. 1997).

It should be obvious that this representation of 'China' describes the state of 'mind' of the current ruling regime in China, not the individual people, but I would argue that the ruling apparatus of China has remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years, with it's 'state of mind' unchanged, and that this has had a profound effect on the development of their civilization. While I would disagree with the rationale behind the semi-official Chinese attitude towards human evolution, I do believe that the retention of such a fundamental 'worldview' by a culture for so long, means that "Civilization: Why" can never be answered as if one set of explanations as to how and why civization arose apply. The economic theories of Tainter, the environmental explanations of Mr Jared Diamond, the humanistic idealism of organisations like the United Nations all fail to account for the massive influence of a set of very deeply held cultural beliefs (that saw China as "different" even before questions of the origin of the species came along) that have themselves shaped the civilization as much as any influences of resources, commerce or environment.

On that note, a note I may add which appears to result in the complete dismissal of the life work of most Western scholars on the subject, the first part of this investigation will conclude. Later this week, I'll try to work out how I argued myself into this position and how to best extract myself from it.

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