The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Discussions regarding actual culture and history of Earth.
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eldin raigmore
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by eldin raigmore » Tue 13 Aug 2013, 23:33

Lambuzhao wrote:Well, to get back to the original thread heading,
in a way, history began in places like Egypt, Mesopotamia, Tihuantisuyu, Harrapa, Mohenjo-Daro, and China at more or less the same moment. It, of course was not the same moment in the general, time-line parade of ages. It was the moment that each endemic culture
....
innovation, societal structure, some kind of public architecture, but they have no way of describing the process of how they got to where they are today, and some cultures are only able to express a kind of "eternal now", which has not changed much at all from the past, so far as they may attest, or that we may infer.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Sasquatch » Mon 02 Sep 2013, 22:13

The more I read, in this thread and others, the more I think "civilization" is just a word modern folks use to make themselves feel superior to "uncivilized" people. There is not a single characteristic that has been proposed as definitive of civilization that does not appear in "lesser" societies. Religion? Government? Division of labor? Writing? All appear in uncivilized groups. And, as has been pointed out previously in this thread, even size can't be reliably used to define civilization.

Although it did just occur to me that there is one potential measure that has not been mentioned, leisure time. At one end of the spectrum you have "uncivilized" folks who spend every waking moment battling nature to stay alive. At the other end you have folks who think of food, clothing, and shelter as trivialities hardly warranting a second thought. So "civilized" people have free time to engage in frivolous activity while "uncivilized" people have to focus on survival.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Yačay256 » Tue 03 Sep 2013, 03:52

Sasquatch wrote:The more I read, in this thread and others, the more I think "civilization" is just a word modern folks use to make themselves feel superior to "uncivilized" people. There is not a single characteristic that has been proposed as definitive of civilization that does not appear in "lesser" societies. Religion? Government? Division of labor? Writing? All appear in uncivilized groups. And, as has been pointed out previously in this thread, even size can't be reliably used to define civilization.

Although it did just occur to me that there is one potential measure that has not been mentioned, leisure time. At one end of the spectrum you have "uncivilized" folks who spend every waking moment battling nature to stay alive. At the other end you have folks who think of food, clothing, and shelter as trivialities hardly warranting a second thought. So "civilized" people have free time to engage in frivolous activity while "uncivilized" people have to focus on survival.
Interesting analysis; however, I would like to ask what cultures have writing but lack either or both monumental architecture or state-level government?

While I disagree with your skepticism of the term "civilization" as essentially a modern honorific buzzword, I do agree that many non-state-level societies were morally superior to most state-level societies: For example, the Nisenan of Central Valley Northern California lacked offensive warfare - they did not even have a separate word for war from "mean", this being mainly applied to their only neighbours that they were not at peace with (the Yuki) - and furthermore they also lacked slavery and human sacrifice. The state-level Aztecs had all of these in abundance. But while I would argue that the Nisenan Culture was (and its remnants still are) morally superior to virtually every state level society throughout history, from the United Kingdom to Ming China, the Nisenan never invented the scientific method (like the inhabitants of the Islamic World) or inoculation (like the Chinese) nor did they ever go to the bottom of the ocean (like the French) or into space (like the Soviets). I believe these benefits are enough of a benefit for the social contract with a decent state. Also, there were and are some spectacularly moral states as well, such as the Mauryans, the Swiss, the Socialist Yugoslavs and perhaps also the Indus Valley Civilization.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Sasquatch » Tue 03 Sep 2013, 11:29

Yačay256 wrote:Interesting analysis; however, I would like to ask what cultures have writing but lack either or both monumental architecture or state-level government?

While I disagree with your skepticism of the term "civilization" as essentially a modern honorific buzzword, I do agree that many non-state-level societies were morally superior to most state-level societies: For example, the Nisenan of Central Valley Northern California lacked offensive warfare - they did not even have a separate word for war from "mean", this being mainly applied to their only neighbours that they were not at peace with (the Yuki) - and furthermore they also lacked slavery and human sacrifice. The state-level Aztecs had all of these in abundance. But while I would argue that the Nisenan Culture was (and its remnants still are) morally superior to virtually every state level society throughout history, from the United Kingdom to Ming China, the Nisenan never invented the scientific method (like the inhabitants of the Islamic World) or inoculation (like the Chinese) nor did they ever go to the bottom of the ocean (like the French) or into space (like the Soviets). I believe these benefits are enough of a benefit for the social contract with a decent state. Also, there were and are some spectacularly moral states as well, such as the Mauryans, the Swiss, the Socialist Yugoslavs and perhaps also the Indus Valley Civilization.
I would argue that the old Norse fit the bill of having writing without being civilized. They were quite capable of passing along information via the runes. But they never had a truly cohesive government. I don't know if you'd count the occasional tomb as monumental architecture.

There can be no social contract with any form of state. A contract implies there is some method of impartial arbitration for disputes between signatory parties. And there is no such possibility with any state since the state wields all the power. If you don't like how the state is treating you, your only option for disputing the treatment is via some state-controlled entity such as the court system. Even the most egalitarian state conceivable is still a form of slavery; a state is one small group, be it nobility or parliament, deciding how the peasants should live and using violence to enforce that way of life. Not being a fan of "the ends justify the means", I do not see any pro that outweighs the con of the enslavement and murder of my fellow humans at the hands of those who call themselves the state.

But this thread isn't a discussion of the moral value of a state. It's a discussion, in part, of the definition of "civilization". I don't think morality plays any part in the definition simply because there is no clear moral distinction between civilized and uncivilized societies. Although I do accept that the word "civilized" is often used as a synonym for "moral" or "decent". And given the highly-subjective nature of "morality" it's a useless as a metric anyway. I doubt any of us would consider the Aztecs to have been paragons of moral righteousness. But the Aztecs themselves undoubtedly thought they were moral.

And I don't believe a state-level, or any level, government is essential for a civilization. If all politicians died of some strange illness tomorrow (oh, happy day!) I would still be able to go to McDonald's and get coffee. Government is just the ultimate expression of the pecking order/alpha-male paradigm. It has nothing to do with whether a society is civilized or not. I can easily imagine (dream of, in fact) a civilization that has no form of government.

I will once again propose that free time, time not spent on simple survival, is the difference between a society and a civilization. Because it is this free time that allows all the other traits of civilization to manifest. Free time allows people to pursue science, advance technology, create art, and do all the other things that we all probably agree are done only by civilizations. You might even say that "civilized" means "apart from nature" since civilizations are not bound by the same primal rules as non-civilizations. Ie, we don't have to run out and kill or harvest our food every time we want to eat.

Of course, "free time" is still a continuum with probably no clear dividing line between uncivilized and civilized. And even the most advanced civilizations are still subject to the whims of nature to a degree. But overall I think "free time" is the best metric for judging whether a society is civilized or not. Other metrics are basically subsets of free time. If you want to say the presence of art and literature is a requisite for civilization, fine. But art and literature require people to have free time to create them. So free time is the overarching requisite. Technology requires people to have the free time to experiment with new ways of doing things. I can't think of a single "sign of civilization" that isn't a sort of byproduct of people having free time to play around.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Keenir » Sun 08 Sep 2013, 08:20

Sasquatch wrote: But the Aztecs themselves undoubtedly thought they were moral.
or at least needed: you need the sun to rise every morning, after all.
And I don't believe a state-level, or any level, government is essential for a civilization. If all politicians died of some strange illness tomorrow (oh, happy day!) I would still be able to go to McDonald's and get coffee.
when you say "all politicians died"...are you including the people running the McDonalds too?

do you count paper-pushers and desk-bound workers as politicians, since they aren't physically making your coffee? (if they die too, your coffee supply will last only as long as there are reserves in place)
You might even say that "civilized" means "apart from nature" since civilizations are not bound by the same primal rules as non-civilizations. Ie, we don't have to run out and kill or harvest our food every time we want to eat.
true...we eat what others have killed/harvested for us.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Salmoneus » Sun 08 Sep 2013, 14:05

I hate to let reality intrude into the thread, but it deserves saying: in reality, civilised people have much LESS free time than uncivilised people. This is a pretty well-established fact.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by sangi39 » Sun 08 Sep 2013, 16:12

Salmoneus wrote:I hate to let reality intrude into the thread, but it deserves saying: in reality, civilised people have much LESS free time than uncivilised people. This is a pretty well-established fact.
Sal's more or less right here. If I can find the source I used for an essay at uni (it's on one of three laptops or the computer but I can't remember which or where [:P]), hunter-gatherers spend around an average of something like 7-14 hours a week in time dedicated towards food "production" while farmers spend around 40 hours a week on food production.

The only difference, I suppose, is that the stratification of society and specialisition afforded by agriculture means that a given person is more likely to have a set non-agricultural role, e.g. you get farmers, then you get things like basket makers, bakers, merchants, elites, soldiers, etc. while in hunter-gatherer society, roles are generally shared, e.g. everyone makes baskets, bread, takes part in trade, etc. There's still the "non-productive" members of society, in this case I mean social elites, but one study (again, can't find the source), has suggested that in hunter-gatherer societies this status is earned predominantly with age, while in agricultural societies it's linked more to (earlier or present) economic standing.

So while "we don't have to run out and kill or harvest our food every time we want to eat" is true, it's only true to an extent in that the vast majority of people in (non-mechanised) agricultural societies were farmers and thus do actually have to produce their own food which takes at least three times the amount of hours per week than in a hunter-gatherer society.

We tried to discuss the advantages of agriculture over hunting-gathering, i.e. the actual at the time at which the switch from the latter to the former happens with no knowledge of what's going to happen, say, two hundred year down the line, with our Early Neolithic lecturer and the only real ones we could come up with (that I can remember) were greater security, since it allows far more people to occupy the same area of land, meaning you've got a better chance of standing up to aggressive neighbours, and it means you have greater control over where your food is. Agriculture has several disadvantages, including greater physical strain (you can see increased spinal and shoulder damage in farmers than in hunter-gatherers of similar ages, builds, etc.), it increases the risk of disease (as a result of there being more people crowded into a given space), as mentioned before the amount of time put into food production dramatically increases. On the note of controlling food location, however, it does not mean that the food will be edible when it comes to actually eating it, i.e. failed harvests. Hunter-gatherer societies have to deal with this same problem and really that's just a problem with the fact we have to eat more than anything else [:P]

Obviously agriculture provides fairly large benefits after it takes off, but right at the start, it's hard to see why you'd want to take up farming unless the effort and sickness is actually worth it.
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