What is civilization?
This is the central topic for one of my current college courses. Based on all the history classes I’ve had throughout the years and thinking back on what other professors and friends have termed as “civilized,” I’m left with the following impression: The old definition, that is still prevalent in people’s minds and mental schemas today, is that civilization is based around cities, and not just physical cities, but large groups of people controlled through exploitation and coercion. There is a strict social order, that lately has evolved somewhat, but still remains similar to the old medieval system of a ruler/planner of the city/country, the priests who shape the views of the populace in the city/country, and the warriors/soldiers who are the coercive power of the city/country. In today’s current society, especially in America, I would place the President and Congress as the ruler/planner; the corporation and their public relations departments as the “priests;” and the warriors/soldiers as the various police, FBI, and other military units. They may have different names now, but their functions are pretty much the same as the ones defined above.
To be frankly honest: That definition sucks.
Exploitation and coercion is not civilized. It is just another form of barbarism placed in a slightly more orderly setting, and even then I wouldn’t call it particularly orderly.
What is civilization then? If we throw that definition out the window, what else can we use to define it?
My idealistic nature says this: Civilization is egalitarian. Its core precepts are not exploitation but respect and equality. Civilization is where critical thinking and evaluation is commonplace. What do I mean by both of those? Critical thinking implies I examine my actions and those around me, and I evaluate them against the idea that my actions are good if and only if they respect others. If this is so, then exploitation is inherently wrong because it does not respect others.
However, would such a society ever exist? We’re slowly trying to edge our ways toward it, especially with our demands for equality for the oppressed minorities. We’ve moved forward in some areas – for example women’s rights – but at the same time we’ve either stagnated or gone backward at the same time. It’s hard to kill centuries of belief that men were inherently superior to women, and that women were inherently evil and unable to reason. Overcoming such belief is hard, and only through critical thinking, evaluation, and recognizing the worth and equality of women and men – both of whom have important and good ideas to contribute to the betterment of society – only then can we defeat such ridiculous beliefs. But well, that depends on continuing to think critically about this issues, discussing facts and not stereotypes, realizing that the belief is quite false and not good, and recognizing the great amount of women proving again and again they are good and quite able to reason and can excel in many male-dominant fields – often performing better than some of the men within such fields. However, even despite these shining examples, bigots, who seem to be unable to critically think or respect others, still discriminate. It’s a sad reality.
I used women’s rights as an example, but I could also apply this same idea to Queer rights and the rights of racial and ethnic groups. The minorities are the ones that are the most oppressed and the last to receive their rights, sadly enough.
Respect, tolerance, life, pursuit of happiness, liberty – all of these basic human rights should be shared by all regardless of gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex, religion, or heredity. We are all human. Until all share in these rights, we won’t ever have a civilized society.