civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

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civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Sat Feb 28, 2009 12:38 am UTC

This is something I've been considering deeply lately. The question is "does society work", which I guess would be more clear if stated as "Does society, as it is right now, adequately serve its purpose, and is there any other possible 'set up' that might more adequately serve those purposes?"

Then I broke them into smaller bits so I could address each one separately: What is society? What is its purposes? Does it serve those purposes as well as it should? If not, what can be done to fix that?

Now, some feel that there is a problem with society, that it is "broken" and needs fixing. The problem is that no one really seems to know what that problem is, or what to do to fix it...


Despite having considered this topic deeply, I am unable to come up with anything I am satisfied with. I figured I should try and find out what more intelligent individuals might think about it. So far all I've got is this: society is a social set up designed to facilitate the lives of its individual members; Its purpose is to foster the best possible environment for a "happy life" for each member; and looking at society, it appears that it is not really serving that purpose, but I have no idea why not, or what could be done about it. I haven't really come upon any ideas for a better "social set up" other than we would have been better off if we had just stayed in tribes as "cavemen".

So yeah, I'm stuck. Perhaps I'm missing something... so halp me?

Edit: I've rethought what I was trying to get at, and I think I've more accurately gotten to the point I was trying to make and spark a discussion on. I've made a fresh post on this but I will also include it here in a spoilar tag for those who are just now seeing this. I will also leave the original posting so people can my first line of thoughts on this.

Clarification:
Spoiler:
First things first, I realize now that I mean civilization, and not society. Society is too vague a term, Any group of humans, living and interacting with each other so as to survive is a society. Civilization however is relatively new, only about 10 thousand years old (compared to the existence of humanity, which is usually dated at around 100k years).

By purpose I mean this: why do we have it, why do want it, what should it be doing? Its real purpose is plain for everyone to see: to ensure the survival of itself (civilization) and nothing more. It is not in any way necessary to man kinds survival, as the record clearly shows we've lived without it for quite some time. But should ensuring its own survival be the purpose it serves? Is that really beneficial to humanity?

Make no mistake, that IS its sole purpose, that is everything it strives for, the only thing it wants. If humanity is condemned to live in poverty and sadness, so be it, as long as civilization survives.

Now, hopefully you can see the fundamental problem with this. It [civilization] doesn't actually do anything for humanity by only striving for that purpose. It needs a deeper purpose, it needs to be rethought, and reconsidered. We really do need to start asking it "why, what are you doing for us that makes you so important?"

Now, that said, what should its actual purpose be? What do we want civilization to do? In my personal opinion it should serve humanity to the fullest. It should ensure that every single member is as healthy, both psychologically(happy), and physically, as possible.

This here, as before, Is where I'm at a road block. This is what I'm hoping for discussion on. A clearer and more functional definition on the purpose civilization should serve.
Last edited by GoodRudeFun on Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:28 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby wanderer1213 » Sat Feb 28, 2009 2:29 am UTC

It seems to me that society has been quite effective, given its original purpose of promoting the survival and propagation of the human species. The whole concept of a "happy life" is really just icing on the cake when you look at things on their most basic level.
Even assuming that the basic purpose of society is to allow the pursuit of happiness for its members, I am confused what you are referring to when you mention "our" current society. "Social set ups" are something that vary widely across the world. It would help when asking for potential improvements to our current society if you would define what exactly you mean when you are referring to it.
I will say, however, that I think people are far too hard on the society I currently am a part of (USA). Its not a perfect system, and I'm not saying its flaws should not be taken seriously. On the other hand, the majority of people are very earnest about preserving and protecting my society's ideals (equal rights, pursuit of happiness, etc.), and the strides this country has made in that direction in the past half-century, even, are remarkable.
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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby spent » Sat Feb 28, 2009 4:22 am UTC

wanderer1213 wrote:It seems to me that society has been quite effective, given its original purpose of promoting the survival and propagation of the human species.


Totally. Human social interaction is far from perfect, but, given the circumstances, it's pretty remarkable.

A society can only thrive if its component members make concessions. This is where the idea of morality (human rights/duties, freedoms, liberties, etc) comes in. That is, morality ensures the survival of the collective, but at the same time morality contradicts the built in survival mechanisms of the individual. Given the push-pull mechanism at action here, it becomes painstakingly obvious why the world has so many.. issues.

GoodRudeFun wrote: I haven't really come upon any ideas for a better "social set up" other than we would have been better off if we had just stayed in tribes as "cavemen".


But would it really be any better? This concept of the "noble savage" while attractive has no basis. Even back in the cavemen days I'm sure tribe A would confront tribe B, or members of tribe A would fight each other over the "yummy bits" of the day's hunt.

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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Sat Feb 28, 2009 2:27 pm UTC

A society is a collective of humans. Societies tend to produce a familiar set of rules and guidelines that aim to enhance the harmony within the collective, but does not necessarily concern itself with the individual (with the recent emphasis on individualism in modern society this has changed somewhat). I.e. people within a society may not help you put out a fire on your property out of concern for you, but they will do it to stop the fire spreading to their property. Societies are good at dealing with mutual or common threats, but are not as functional at dealing with unique or individual problems.
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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby coney » Thu Mar 19, 2009 10:12 pm UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:I haven't really come upon any ideas for a better "social set up" other than we would have been better off if we had just stayed in tribes as "cavemen".


Actually, there's an entire movement behind this idea. Try looking up Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan, Charles Eisenstein, Ted Kaczynski, Fredy Perlman, David Watson, John Moore, Ward Churchhill, Bill Ayers, Jason Godesky, green anarchy, anti-civilization, anarcho-primitivism, rewilding, Paganism, permaculture, etc., etc. Oh, I could go on and on. This movement has been going on for decades, perhaps centuries, and perhaps even millenia, according to current reports from Gobekli Tepe, which may put the first criticism of civilization at its very beginning.

spent wrote:
wanderer1213 wrote:It seems to me that society has been quite effective, given its original purpose of promoting the survival and propagation of the human species.


Totally. Human social interaction is far from perfect, but, given the circumstances, it's pretty remarkable.


Oh god...absolutely not. "Promoting the survival" of humans is as about as remarkable as walking across the living room. Any society, both human and non-human, does that. "Propagation" of humans is as remarkable as "overpopulation", which, while remarkable depending on your values ("Look how many humans we made! Isn't that amazing?"), is hugely detrimental to society according to any ecological theory, which states that a sustainable population, i.e. one that does not vary uncontrollably over time, survives much longer than any unsustainable population, e.g. one that outstrips its food supply. By those criterion, if that's the only thing you can find remarkable about society, then we are not in a very good position at all, are we?

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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Fri Mar 20, 2009 8:47 am UTC

wanderer1213 wrote:It seems to me that society has been quite effective, given its original purpose of promoting the survival and propagation of the human species. The whole concept of a "happy life" is really just icing on the cake when you look at things on their most basic level.
Even assuming that the basic purpose of society is to allow the pursuit of happiness for its members, I am confused what you are referring to when you mention "our" current society. "Social set ups" are something that vary widely across the world. It would help when asking for potential improvements to our current society if you would define what exactly you mean when you are referring to it.
I will say, however, that I think people are far too hard on the society I currently am a part of (USA). Its not a perfect system, and I'm not saying its flaws should not be taken seriously. On the other hand, the majority of people are very earnest about preserving and protecting my society's ideals (equal rights, pursuit of happiness, etc.), and the strides this country has made in that direction in the past half-century, even, are remarkable.

I mean society in the grandest terms. Society as the human population of the world interconnected by economies, medias, and other common threads. I also mean civilization, as opposed to the tribal societies that predated this one. It seems to me that if society was only meant to promote survival and propagation of the species, then its essentially pointless. We were fine as tribes, surviving well enough without unbalancing the ecosystems we are apart of (and by that dependent upon). If we were also happier, being in a more natural social set up which we were evolved for, wouldn't it be better to have stayed in a tribal society?

I'm not suggesting a return to such a set up, because that's quite frankly impossible at this point. However, we should be able to at the very least match those levels of survival (which at this point is questionable: global warming and other ecosystem issues like pollution, wars, nukes...), and happiness (we now have massive levels of poverty due to our civilization/society, as well as growing mental illness issues). Propagation should not even be a goal, as at this point we've surpassed that point on a dangerous level.... If we can't at the very least match pre-civilization (and it occurs to me that I should have said civilization rather than society, as its more accurate), then what is the point of what we have now?

And how can we possibly be to hard on something that is working on a less than satisfactory level? How can we even be hard enough on something like that, something that involves each and every one of us?
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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Bobbias » Mon Mar 30, 2009 1:22 pm UTC

I've pondered the evolution of society for many hours, and the one thing that I've realized is that our society has shifted. The purpose of our society is no longer simply to promote the continuing survival of the human race. That is only society's purpose in the beginning. Society itself evolves as it's purpose evolves. It's purpose evolves as it begins to fulfill it's original purpose.

Look at native cultures. The cultures who relied on more difficult means of survival (following the herds of buffalo, for instance) had a less "developed" society (mostly manifest in the complexity of religion, and in the methods of pass-time that developed within the tribe). As the way of life was harsher, and survival was more difficult, the complexity of their culture was low, relative to other tribes who lived an easier life.

This can be seen even today. Compare the religious culture of america vs the religious culture in say, an African country. Because they are not as developed as America, their religious culture is also less developed. They may have a complex religion, but they do not have the religious diversity that you see in America.

As we gain more free time, we develop more ways of dealing with that free time, and our society becomes more complex (in the case, complexity is the number of actions we have available. we have more ways to entertain ourselves now than we did back when we were all a bunch of individual tribes of people)

As culture evolves, entertainment evolves as well.

So if society's purpose changes like this, the question of it's adequacy at fulfilling that purpose becomes a different question. Originally you asked essentially "Is society adequately ensuring the survival of the human race". I don't believe that question is relevant now. Our society has transcended that in America. American society is now centered around developing more and more ways to entertain ourselves, and in developing science. This is a gross simplification, but those are essentially the two biggest factors in our current society. Survival isn't a question in western society (because America isn't the only country that is part of western society...), it's assumed that barring an anomaly, we will live to a relatively old age.

Sorry if this is kinda rambling and hard to see my points. I'm rather tired right now... Hopefully this makes enough sense to people and sparks more discussion.

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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:24 am UTC

Bobbias wrote:I've pondered the evolution of society for many hours, and the one thing that I've realized is that our society has shifted. The purpose of our society is no longer simply to promote the continuing survival of the human race. That is only society's purpose in the beginning. Society itself evolves as it's purpose evolves. It's purpose evolves as it begins to fulfill it's original purpose.

Look at native cultures. The cultures who relied on more difficult means of survival (following the herds of buffalo, for instance) had a less "developed" society (mostly manifest in the complexity of religion, and in the methods of pass-time that developed within the tribe). As the way of life was harsher, and survival was more difficult, the complexity of their culture was low, relative to other tribes who lived an easier life.

This can be seen even today. Compare the religious culture of america vs the religious culture in say, an African country. Because they are not as developed as America, their religious culture is also less developed. They may have a complex religion, but they do not have the religious diversity that you see in America.

As we gain more free time, we develop more ways of dealing with that free time, and our society becomes more complex (in the case, complexity is the number of actions we have available. we have more ways to entertain ourselves now than we did back when we were all a bunch of individual tribes of people)

As culture evolves, entertainment evolves as well.

So if society's purpose changes like this, the question of it's adequacy at fulfilling that purpose becomes a different question. Originally you asked essentially "Is society adequately ensuring the survival of the human race". I don't believe that question is relevant now. Our society has transcended that in America. American society is now centered around developing more and more ways to entertain ourselves, and in developing science. This is a gross simplification, but those are essentially the two biggest factors in our current society. Survival isn't a question in western society (because America isn't the only country that is part of western society...), it's assumed that barring an anomaly, we will live to a relatively old age.

Sorry if this is kinda rambling and hard to see my points. I'm rather tired right now... Hopefully this makes enough sense to people and sparks more discussion.


Actually I probably need to clarify the OP. For the most part I've almost considered it a lost cause, and a stupid idea. It was one of my first postings here, but none the less let me try to more accurately explain what I'm thinking here.

First things first, I realize now that I mean civilization, and not society. Society is too vague a term, Any group of humans, living and interacting with each other so as to survive is a society. Civilization however is relatively new, only about 10 thousand years old (compared to the existence of humanity, which is usually dated at around 100k years).

By purpose I mean this: why do we have it, why do want it, what should it be doing? Its real purpose is plain for everyone to see: to ensure the survival of itself (civilization) and nothing more. It is not in any way necessary to man kinds survival, as the record clearly shows we've lived without it for quite some time. But should ensuring its own survival be the purpose it serves? Is that really beneficial to humanity?

Make no mistake, that IS its sole purpose, that is everything it strives for, the only thing it wants. If humanity is condemned to live in poverty and sadness, so be it, as long as civilization survives.

Now, hopefully you can see the fundamental problem with this. It [civilization] doesn't actually do anything for humanity by only striving for that purpose. It needs a deeper purpose, it needs to be rethought, and reconsidered. We really do need to start asking it "why, what are you doing for us that makes you so important?"

Now, that said, what should its actual purpose be? What do we want civilization to do? In my personal opinion it should serve humanity to the fullest. It should ensure that every single member is as healthy, both psychologically(happy), and physically, as possible.

This here, as before, Is where I'm at a road block. This is what I'm hoping for discussion on. A clearer and more functional definition on the purpose civilization should serve.

I'm going to edit my OP to include this now.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Sharlos » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:15 am UTC

First of all, I think you need to realise that civilisation is meaningless without humans. A civilization ceases to exist when it's people do. To define it you cannot ignore the integral (or only) part of it that is humanity. If you are judging civilization you are judging humanity. At what point did humanity suddenly (or gradually) have civilization? And how did it differ from the point that we didn't have a civilization? I'd perhaps even go so far to say that as long as we have been human, we have had civilization.

civilization is merely an extension of our species' needs and desires and a reflection on ourselves. The minute our civilization has a purpose then humanity will have found the meaning of life, if our civilization is inadequate then so are we. If civilization changes it is because we changed it. Humanity wants to survive so our civilisation improves our ability to survive. I think you would fail to decide how our civilisation can or should be better if you ignore what it is, and I think it is simply a part of humanity.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:28 pm UTC

Of course humanity is integral to civilization, however the opposite is not true. Civilization is not integral to humanity. You needed to make that distinction.

Sharlos wrote: At what point did humanity suddenly (or gradually) have civilization? And how did it differ from the point that we didn't have a civilization?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but about 10 thousand years ago. This is when the first non-tribal societies started appearing, and agriculture was first developed.

civilization is merely an extension of our species' needs and desires and a reflection on ourselves.
Not quite. Civilization is more of a construct, an institution, rather than an extension of ourselves. As with any other construct, it does not have to directly reflect humanity, and some might argue that it rarely does.


As I said, you make it seem as if civilization is integral to humanity, that humanity can't exist without civilization. We evolved with out it, and spent 90 thousand years being human with out it....


Actually, according to this time line Humanity appeared about 150 thousand years ago, while civilization (noted by the invention of farming (see the last entry on the detailed timeline)) is much more recent.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby JBJ » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:21 pm UTC

I agree that one way to look at it is that civilization perpetuates itself, but that doesn't mean it doesn't serve humanity.

In a "non-civilized" society, there may still be a level of culture and sophistication. However, a greater amount of energy will be devoted to fulfill survival needs. It is also more likely that all members of the society will have a role in providing for the direct survival of the group at some level. Any new skills, inventions, or other advancements could only be worked on "part-time" and would be slow to develop.

In a civilized society, a larger number of people make no direct contribution to the survival of themselves or anyone else. They provide services to others in the form of recreation, entertainment, civil services, government, and other tasks that could otherwise have to be performed by the individual. There are still those that produce and provide means for survival, but they have become so efficient that a smaller number can support a larger population. With a larger group of people working on new skills and inventions they increase the ability of those who do provide survival needs with the ability to do more work with less effort and at a faster rate.

The major drawback is that if a civilization does collapse a large number of people will have no survival skills and eventually perish. Those that have the skills and resources to provide food and shelter will last a bit longer but they will have lost the infrastructure that provides the means to do the same work efficiently. For example, if civilization collapsed, a farmer still knows how to plant and grow his crops, but he may not know how to repair his tractor if it breaks. A fisherman still knows where to find fish and what bait to use, but if he runs out of fishing line he has no idea how to make more. A remnant will almost always survive but for a period of time they may have to revert to more primitive ways and "re-learn" the advances they lost.

As you stated, civilization should serve humanity. I believe that it does and is doing that. We are at an unprecedented level of achievement in our history, and there are few signs that we are slowing down. Priorities get shifted around from time to time. Sometimes the survival advances take a back seat to entertainment, recreation, and political issues, but such things are cyclical and I believe we are coming out of such a cycle.
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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby vers » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:23 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:A society is a collective of humans. Societies tend to produce a familiar set of rules and guidelines that aim to enhance the harmony within the collective, but does not necessarily concern itself with the individual (with the recent emphasis on individualism in modern society this has changed somewhat). I.e. people within a society may not help you put out a fire on your property out of concern for you, but they will do it to stop the fire spreading to their property. Societies are good at dealing with mutual or common threats, but are not as functional at dealing with unique or individual problems.


What you seem to be advocating here is formally called structural functionalism in the eyes of most sociologists. It is a popular theory (although it is waning since its heyday around the 50s), but is far from being considered the definitive model of society. Talcott Parsons, the originator of the compressive, made a large number of assumptions, foremost of which is your point: that society functions for the benefit of the whole.

Many philosophers and sociologists came to turn from this assumption, and i believe GoodRudeFun is turning as well, in the light of a realization that society is NOT benefiting the collective. Yes, society does function in a way that it maintains itself, but the maintenance isn't supported by a happy populace so much as a populace either powerless to topple their oppressors (as Marx said, to little modern acclaim) or a populace distracted enough by commodity fetishism not to notice that their situation could be improved (as Marcuse said).

I'd say our society is the opposite of that which you posited. IMHO the majority of the society is plagued with everything from cultural malaise to downright misery, while a few individuals reap the benefits, even if the do so completely free of malicious intent. :|

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Wed Apr 01, 2009 6:38 am UTC

JBJ wrote:I agree that one way to look at it is that civilization perpetuates itself, but that doesn't mean it doesn't serve humanity.

In a "non-civilized" society, there may still be a level of culture and sophistication. However, a greater amount of energy will be devoted to fulfill survival needs. It is also more likely that all members of the society will have a role in providing for the direct survival of the group at some level. Any new skills, inventions, or other advancements could only be worked on "part-time" and would be slow to develop.

In a civilized society, a larger number of people make no direct contribution to the survival of themselves or anyone else. They provide services to others in the form of recreation, entertainment, civil services, government, and other tasks that could otherwise have to be performed by the individual. There are still those that produce and provide means for survival, but they have become so efficient that a smaller number can support a larger population. With a larger group of people working on new skills and inventions they increase the ability of those who do provide survival needs with the ability to do more work with less effort and at a faster rate.

The major drawback is that if a civilization does collapse a large number of people will have no survival skills and eventually perish. Those that have the skills and resources to provide food and shelter will last a bit longer but they will have lost the infrastructure that provides the means to do the same work efficiently. For example, if civilization collapsed, a farmer still knows how to plant and grow his crops, but he may not know how to repair his tractor if it breaks. A fisherman still knows where to find fish and what bait to use, but if he runs out of fishing line he has no idea how to make more. A remnant will almost always survive but for a period of time they may have to revert to more primitive ways and "re-learn" the advances they lost.

As you stated, civilization should serve humanity. I believe that it does and is doing that. We are at an unprecedented level of achievement in our history, and there are few signs that we are slowing down. Priorities get shifted around from time to time. Sometimes the survival advances take a back seat to entertainment, recreation, and political issues, but such things are cyclical and I believe we are coming out of such a cycle.


I'm not attempting to challenge you here, but I'm curious, was there one time in history where civilization worked ONLY for the betterment of the lives of every individual?

I don't mean through entertainment, or a system of food production, I mean a time where the only goal of civilization as a whole was to make sure every individual was happy (psychologically healthy) and physically healthy.

Medicine is a start, but it doesn't serve the whole. A large portion of those who participate in civilization/our society are ignored by medicine and health care. Hell, its the same for our system of food production and distribution. Many of those who actively participate, work as hard as they can, are still going hungry, trying to balance all these other needs civilization has decided they should be forced to have.


The problem isn't "if civilization vanishes, we'll be screwed", its "civilization is screwing a large portion of its members over." Consider the rates of all of the numerous mental issues in our society (which I wont list because they may be possible triggers), so many of which are unheard of in tribal societies. You could go through every last existing member of those last remaining tribal societies, and most of these would be unheard of. Often you can trace the problems these remaining tribal societies have back to civilization. We cause the problems they have.

You might say "well, they're likely to starve, being so dependent on their environment for food", how many people are starving today? People that participate in civilization. You might say "well, they have so many diseases, and no medicine to protect them", what about us? How many people that actively participate in civilization go with out medical care? What good does our progress in medicine do if the majority go with out it?

Writers block... I'm trying to illustrate how poorly civilization is doing. So many people are left behind by civilization... I simply can't see why people think it's working for the betterment of man kind, when the only lives it's made better are few and far between... even those, the rich lucky few, have their issues as a result of civilization. While the physical needs may be met, the psychological needs may never be met. Drug addiction and depression are at levels they would never have reached in a tribal world.

I hope that was clear. Forgive me if I didn't exactly reach my point.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby TheStranger » Wed Apr 01, 2009 11:55 am UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:I'm not attempting to challenge you here, but I'm curious, was there one time in history where civilization worked ONLY for the betterment of the lives of every individual?


Any time that it has lead to an improvement, on average, of the people living in that civilization.

I don't mean through entertainment, or a system of food production, I mean a time where the only goal of civilization as a whole was to make sure every individual was happy (psychologically healthy) and physically healthy.


An impossible standard, at no point in the history of humanity has any civilization, society, or social group worked to maximize the personal happiness of their members.

Medicine is a start, but it doesn't serve the whole. A large portion of those who participate in civilization/our society are ignored by medicine and health care. Hell, its the same for our system of food production and distribution. Many of those who actively participate, work as hard as they can, are still going hungry, trying to balance all these other needs civilization has decided they should be forced to have.


I would argue that Medicine (the modern form is the product of an advanced civilization) has made more people happy / healthy then there would otherwise be... and that the same could be said for the food production / distribution system. The question should not be "is Civilization perfectly suited for making individuals happy and healthy" but "given alternatives, does Civilization represent the best possible environment for individual humans to pursue their own happiness / health"... the answer to which is a resounding yes.

The problem isn't "if civilization vanishes, we'll be screwed", its "civilization is screwing a large portion of its members over." Consider the rates of all of the numerous mental issues in our society (which I wont list because they may be possible triggers), so many of which are unheard of in tribal societies. You could go through every last existing member of those last remaining tribal societies, and most of these would be unheard of. Often you can trace the problems these remaining tribal societies have back to civilization. We cause the problems they have.


Are you sure? Would it rather be that a tribe, due to it's small size, does not have a great deal of experience with mental illnesses... which are fairly rare... and thus do not have the knowledge needed to diagnose them (and subsequently treat them)?

You might say "well, they're likely to starve, being so dependent on their environment for food", how many people are starving today? People that participate in civilization. You might say "well, they have so many diseases, and no medicine to protect them", what about us? How many people that actively participate in civilization go with out medical care? What good does our progress in medicine do if the majority go with out it?


A good number of people have access to basic medical care in the developed world... and it would be reasonable to state that one of the goals of Civilization (if it could be said to have goals) would be to bring the entire world to developed standards

Writers block... I'm trying to illustrate how poorly civilization is doing. So many people are left behind by civilization... I simply can't see why people think it's working for the betterment of man kind, when the only lives it's made better are few and far between... even those, the rich lucky few, have their issues as a result of civilization. While the physical needs may be met, the psychological needs may never be met. Drug addiction and depression are at levels they would never have reached in a tribal world.


How is a tribal society, which would have little experience mental illness (and little in the ability to treat it), be better able to treat the psychological needs of it's members? A tribe, taken as a small number of people living off the land, is much closer to collapsing then a Civilization (and thus leaving it's members stranded). One bad season to destroy the food source, one nasty germ to kill off most of them,, and the tribe is extinct.

Modern Civilization may not be the perfect choice, but it is significantly better then the alternatives.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby JBJ » Wed Apr 01, 2009 12:47 pm UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:I'm not attempting to challenge you here, but I'm curious, was there one time in history where civilization worked ONLY for the betterment of the lives of every individual?

I don't mean through entertainment, or a system of food production, I mean a time where the only goal of civilization as a whole was to make sure every individual was happy (psychologically healthy) and physically healthy.


I think I see your point, and for the most part I agree. The problems is that you can't deal with absolutes. Going back to the old axiom; you can please some people all the time and all of the people some of the time, but never all the people all the time. I don't think there was any point in history where civilization worked only for the betterment of every individual. You just can't make everybody happy. I'd argue that any successful civilization has to work for the majority else it risks revolution or reformation. A good civilization will work towards increasing that majority but there is little evidence that any have ever reached 100%.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Ralith The Third » Thu Apr 02, 2009 8:46 pm UTC

Civilization, in my mind, is defined as semi-organized collections of sentient beings- if for some reason there were six legged arboreal cats that are sentient and tool using, and they collected in organizations meant to protect each other and support the continuation of the species, I would consider that civilization.
I believe it's purpose is to advance the aforementioned beings, and support social interaction and such.
I also believe it is adequate as it is- however, the question of ,"Is there a better way?" is almost impossible to answer- is there a better form of government than democracy? (that works- communism or rational anarchy are both perfect on paper, don't work in reality- and if someone here believes something besides democracy is better, then is something better than that?)
I quote someone here, Hamilton maybe?
,"Democracy is the worst form of government except all the other ones humans have tried"
That's how I see society/civilization.
And ignore the treecat reference.
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Re: Society, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby SabreKGB » Fri Apr 03, 2009 2:11 am UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote: It is not in any way necessary to man kinds survival, as the record clearly shows we've lived without it for quite some time.


You are completely wrong in saying this. The reason being: There are certain problems, even entire classes of problems, which cannot be solved without the resources available to a civilization being put to them. And just because they haven't happened yet (to us) does not mean that they won't. An extra-terrestrial impactor, for instance, would be far beyond the reach of a tribal society. A modern, technologically advanced society, however, can do something about it...and potentially prevent the extinction of humanity.

You also fail to look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. Civilization is just too powerful a development not to have. It is a ridiculously useful tool, that not only improves on average the lives of the people that compose it, but also makes those people stronger than people who don't adopt civilization. You'll notice a trend of civilizations tending to wipe out tribal societies...

And, the development of technology is almost entirely due to civilization and the specialization of labor that it enables. Better technology = good thing.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Ralith The Third » Fri Apr 03, 2009 8:23 pm UTC

Sabre's right. Do you see any tribal nomads using flint weapons dominating any civilizations that aren't more than maybe tribal nomads using obsidian weapons?
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Fri Apr 03, 2009 11:53 pm UTC

I need to think for a while so that I can respond correctly to some of these points.


But it seems for the most part people are completely ignoring all of the problems civilization brings. And I don't know if I said this but I don't think we should be ridding ourselves of civilization. That's not even possible. My discussion is more on the topic of changing civilization so as to make it work in a way that improves the lives of all its members, or at least attempt to do so in a way it is not doing now.

I'd also like it to be known that I personally do not think any change could happen now, or even within our life time. Its going to take a while.... what ever it is we do.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby coney » Sat Apr 04, 2009 6:12 am UTC

Dear GoodRudeFun,

I'll try and help to answer some of these criticisms in the meantime. But I must warn you; I personally am an anarcho-primitivist in every sense of the word, and when it comes to civilization, I do in fact think that it deserves nothing less than a brutal murder.

To everyone else:

If you are going to argue that civilization is great or whatever, or at least better than the alternatives, please do some research before you make your points. Criticizing civilization is not just some new, amateur occupation with little research behind it. There are tons of authors out there that have written about it to death, arguing against civilization from many different points. And while most of the substantial literature has come about in recent decades, there is evidence that criticism goes back as far as civ's very beginning (check out the recent excavation of Gobekli Tepe.) As a starting point, try searching for terms such as 'anti-civilization' (or 'anti-civ'), 'Daniel Quinn", 'Derrick Jensen', 'John Zerzan', 'anarcho-primitivism', 'primitivism'; and less so 'permaculture', 'bioregionalism', and of course the hippie movement of the '60s.

Also, it is apparent that most of you know next to nothing about tribes and indigenous peoples, and if you are going to argue against them, then it is quite unfair to them to do so acting like you do know something about them. As there now exists hundreds of them, and in the past many more, you'd be smart to do some research.

TheStranger wrote:
I don't mean through entertainment, or a system of food production, I mean a time where the only goal of civilization as a whole was to make sure every individual was happy (psychologically healthy) and physically healthy.


An impossible standard, at no point in the history of humanity has any civilization, society, or social group worked to maximize the personal happiness of their members.


You have to show me some evidence for this, because all the evidence I have says that among many tribes (not all tribes, mind you), they in fact did and do try to maximize the personal happiness of its members. And how is this an 'impossible standard'? All you are saying is that a society has got to maximize happiness, not provide perfect happiness.

TheStranger wrote:Are you sure? Would it rather be that a tribe, due to it's small size, does not have a great deal of experience with mental illnesses... which are fairly rare... and thus do not have the knowledge needed to diagnose them (and treat them)?


I am not sure how "small size" implies a lack of experience. I would instead argue that the stability of a tribe over long periods of time (some even longer than civilization itself) gives them plenty of experience in dealing with mental illness. That is, if mental illness were a problem at all. GoodRudeFun points out correctly that among tribes, mental illness is virtually unheard of and many times completely unheard of, not necessarily because they have no mental illness, but in the way they view it. Case in point:

The author Robert Wolff, in his book Original Wisdom, relates to us a story of the Malay tribe when asked why they did not use the mental health centers that were set up for them by the surrounding civilization. In Malay culture, there are really only two behaviors that could be considered "mental illness": one involves a man suddenly running around with knife in hand, slashing at everyone and everything for a short amount of time; while the other is pretty much standard kleptomania. When asked about the former case, why they did not send him away or lock him up for his behavior, one woman piped up: "He is just not seeing clearly at the moment. Why would we lock him up for being blind?" The kleptomaniac got the same treatment: that's just what he does, he's the "town thief", it's not like he's hurting us or himself at all.

TheStranger wrote:A good number of people have access to basic medical care in the developed world... and it would be reasonable to state that one of the goals of Civilization (if it could be said to have goals) would be to bring the entire world to developed standards.


That's the "John Stossel" argument, as I like to call it, and it fails for two big reasons: the developed world is necessarily supported by massive exploitation in the undeveloped world; and as one author has said (unfortunately I cannot recall who it was), if the rest of the world were brought up to our standards, we would require at least three earths to procure all the necessary resources.

TheStranger wrote:How is a tribal society, which would have little experience mental illness (and little in the ability to treat it), be better able to treat the psychological needs of it's members? A tribe, taken as a small number of people living off the land, is much closer to collapsing then a Civilization (and thus leaving it's members stranded). One bad season to destroy the food source, one nasty germ to kill off most of them,, and the tribe is extinct.


For one, a tribe does not live in isolation from every other tribe surrounding it, nor does it stay in one place (at least among nomadic tribes, which were the norm before civilization). Even if a tribe collapsed, there were always other tribes to go to, and in some cases, there was a tangible support network set up by some tribes in case this would happen (the Iroquois nation was like this, to give one example.) Also, because of the nomadic nature of the tribe and the strength of healthy pre-civ ecosystems, a food source going dry was hardly a worry. Contrast this to civilization, which breaks almost every ecological "law" known to man: they are sedentary, they grow monocultures of crops (which require lots and lots of work to maintain, very susceptible to collapse, and destroy the very land they grow on; this is why Africa is in such bad shape nowadays), and they literally destroy the health of the ecosystem by spreading poisonous pesticides and herbicides. There's much more to this argument than what I've listed here. Of course you can try the standard Silent Spring by Rachel Carson for evidence against our current agricultural system. As for tribal ways and food sources, like I said before, there's plenty of research out there.

SabreKGB wrote:
GoodRudeFun wrote: It is not in any way necessary to man kinds survival, as the record clearly shows we've lived without it for quite some time.


You are completely wrong in saying this. The reason being: There are certain problems, even entire classes of problems, which cannot be solved without the resources available to a civilization being put to them. And just because they haven't happened yet (to us) does not mean that they won't. An extra-terrestrial impactor, for instance, would be far beyond the reach of a tribal society. A modern, technologically advanced society, however, can do something about it...and potentially prevent the extinction of humanity.


No, I'd say GoodRudeFun is completely right in saying this. Funny, you argue that he/she is not seeing the problem from the evolutionary standpoint in the next paragraph, but aren't you making the same mistake here? Extinction is a natural part of evolution, and personally, I'd rather go extinct because of some extraterrestrial object than be saved by a group of men I utterly hate and who are doing their best currently to drive humanity and half the species on the planet to extinction anyway.

SabreKGB wrote:You also fail to look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. Civilization is just too powerful a development not to have. It is a ridiculously useful tool, that not only improves on average the lives of the people that compose it, but also makes those people stronger than people who don't adopt civilization. You'll notice a trend of civilizations tending to wipe out tribal societies...


Since this is the Serious Business forum, I can't swear uncontrollably at you, so I'll just be content to say that this is a very sick interpretation. How dare you insult tribal societies like this. First of all, evolution is not eugenics. And second, I think it was David Hume who said: "Thou shalt not derive an ought from an is."

Ok, so I'm stopping here for now.

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Postby Ralith The Third » Sat Apr 04, 2009 2:36 pm UTC

WALL OF SPOILER!
Spoiler:
coney wrote:If you are going to argue that civilization is great or whatever, or at least better than the alternatives, please do some research before you make your points. Criticizing civilization is not just some new, amateur occupation with little research behind it. There are tons of authors out there that have written about it to death, arguing against civilization from many different points.


And there have been loads of authors who wrote to the death about almost anything. You can, if you try, probably find people arguing for humans to make ourself extinct.

coney wrote:Also, it is apparent that most of you know next to nothing about tribes and indigenous peoples, and if you are going to argue against them, then it is quite unfair to them to do so acting like you do know something about them. As there now exists hundreds of them, and in the past many more, you'd be smart to do some research.

WHAT indigenous people? If you tell me the African tribes, I'm going to laugh in your face. How is worrying if you have enough food or water or are going to get shot or raped then shot every day better than living in a city, or rural town, or out in the middle of nowhere with electricity and plumbing? If you tell me Native Americans, I am not aware of any tribe remaining that doesn't use civilization's amenities to some extent.

coney wrote:
TheStranger wrote:
I don't mean through entertainment, or a system of food production, I mean a time where the only goal of civilization as a whole was to make sure every individual was happy (psychologically healthy) and physically healthy.


An impossible standard, at no point in the history of humanity has any civilization, society, or social group worked to maximize the personal happiness of their members.


You have to show me some evidence for this, because all the evidence I have says that among many tribes (not all tribes, mind you), they in fact did and do try to maximize the personal happiness of its members. And how is this an 'impossible standard'? All you are saying is that a society has got to maximize happiness, not provide perfect happiness.

I have no idea as to the truth of this statement. It is possible, I admit, for some of the better off tribes to be relatively happy.

coney wrote:
TheStranger wrote:Are you sure? Would it rather be that a tribe, due to it's small size, does not have a great deal of experience with mental illnesses... which are fairly rare... and thus do not have the knowledge needed to diagnose them (and treat them)?


I am not sure how "small size" implies a lack of experience. I would instead argue that the stability of a tribe over long periods of time (some even longer than civilization itself) gives them plenty of experience in dealing with mental illness. That is, if mental illness were a problem at all. GoodRudeFun points out correctly that among tribes, mental illness is virtually unheard of and many times completely unheard of, not necessarily because they have no mental illness, but in the way they view it. Case in point:

The author Robert Wolff, in his book Original Wisdom, relates to us a story of the Malay tribe when asked why they did not use the mental health centers that were set up for them by the surrounding civilization. In Malay culture, there are really only two behaviors that could be considered "mental illness": one involves a man suddenly running around with knife in hand, slashing at everyone and everything for a short amount of time; while the other is pretty much standard kleptomania. When asked about the former case, why they did not send him away or lock him up for his behavior, one woman piped up: "He is just not seeing clearly at the moment. Why would we lock him up for being blind?" The kleptomaniac got the same treatment: that's just what he does, he's the "town thief", it's not like he's hurting us or himself at all.

I admit, mental illness was a bad argument, but what happens if someone gets cancer? Shatters a bone, or even breaks it badly? The flu? We seem to be focusing more on the level of Native Americans before they were shoved out of their lands, so the latter might not be that bad, but...
coney wrote:
TheStranger wrote:A good number of people have access to basic medical care in the developed world... and it would be reasonable to state that one of the goals of Civilization (if it could be said to have goals) would be to bring the entire world to developed standards.


That's the "John Stossel" argument, as I like to call it, and it fails for two big reasons: the developed world is necessarily supported by massive exploitation in the undeveloped world; and as one author has said (unfortunately I cannot recall who it was), if the rest of the world were brought up to our standards, we would require at least three earths to procure all the necessary resources.

Now, seriously. Ad hominem? Come on.
Anyways, how do we do ,"massive exploitation" in the undeveloped world? The problem is logistics, time, and human nature. Humans are greedy and violent. They will kill their neighbor for a piece of cake, if they're starving.
coney wrote:
TheStranger wrote:How is a tribal society, which would have little experience mental illness (and little in the ability to treat it), be better able to treat the psychological needs of it's members? A tribe, taken as a small number of people living off the land, is much closer to collapsing then a Civilization (and thus leaving it's members stranded). One bad season to destroy the food source, one nasty germ to kill off most of them,, and the tribe is extinct.


For one, a tribe does not live in isolation from every other tribe surrounding it, nor does it stay in one place (at least among nomadic tribes, which were the norm before civilization). Even if a tribe collapsed, there were always other tribes to go to, and in some cases, there was a tangible support network set up by some tribes in case this would happen (the Iroquois nation was like this, to give one example.) Also, because of the nomadic nature of the tribe and the strength of healthy pre-civ ecosystems, a food source going dry was hardly a worry. Contrast this to civilization, which breaks almost every ecological "law" known to man: they are sedentary, they grow monocultures of crops (which require lots and lots of work to maintain, very susceptible to collapse, and destroy the very land they grow on; this is why Africa is in such bad shape nowadays), and they literally destroy the health of the ecosystem by spreading poisonous pesticides and herbicides. There's much more to this argument than what I've listed here. Of course you can try the standard Silent Spring by Rachel Carson for evidence against our current agricultural system. As for tribal ways and food sources, like I said before, there's plenty of research out there.

I won't even say anything to this, except that not all tribe were nomadic. In fact, a good chunk of the Native American ones weren't- they farmed.
coney wrote:
SabreKGB wrote:
GoodRudeFun wrote: It is not in any way necessary to man kinds survival, as the record clearly shows we've lived without it for quite some time.


You are completely wrong in saying this. The reason being: There are certain problems, even entire classes of problems, which cannot be solved without the resources available to a civilization being put to them. And just because they haven't happened yet (to us) does not mean that they won't. An extra-terrestrial impactor, for instance, would be far beyond the reach of a tribal society. A modern, technologically advanced society, however, can do something about it...and potentially prevent the extinction of humanity.


No, I'd say GoodRudeFun is completely right in saying this. Funny, you argue that he/she is not seeing the problem from the evolutionary standpoint in the next paragraph, but aren't you making the same mistake here? Extinction is a natural part of evolution, and personally, I'd rather go extinct because of some extraterrestrial object than be saved by a group of men I utterly hate and who are doing their best currently to drive humanity and half the species on the planet to extinction anyway.

I think you need to see a psychiatrist. You're either lying horribly or you have a REALLY screwed up brain- no sane human would rather die than live unless live is filled with constant agony, which it almost never is.
coney wrote:
SabreKGB wrote:You also fail to look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. Civilization is just too powerful a development not to have. It is a ridiculously useful tool, that not only improves on average the lives of the people that compose it, but also makes those people stronger than people who don't adopt civilization. You'll notice a trend of civilizations tending to wipe out tribal societies...


Since this is the Serious Business forum, I can't swear uncontrollably at you, so I'll just be content to say that this is a very sick interpretation. How dare you insult tribal societies like this. First of all, evolution is not eugenics. And second, I think it was David Hume who said: "Thou shalt not derive an ought from an is."

coney

Insulting them by saying that a civilization will kick their butts in any violent clash short of massively outnumbering them or having the same tech base, just being nomadic instead of living in towns? It's a FACT. Not an insult. A FACT.
How did he say evolution was eugenics, anyway? Unless I'm wrong, eugenics is pretty much breeding humans for positive traits, or infanticide. So.. what?
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Azrael » Sat Apr 04, 2009 3:47 pm UTC

Ralith: Actually go read the SB rules this time when I tell you to go read the SB rules.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby JBJ » Mon Apr 06, 2009 1:32 pm UTC

I stumbled across the following in my research on this, and it summarizes my view quite well.
Bob Corbett wrote:Comments on Civilization and its Discontents by Sigmund Freud.
He generally asserts that clearly civilization demands too much and this excess is likely to constitute a great deal of unhappiness in many people living in it. But, when all is said and done -- would it be better for humans to leave civilization and return to some pre-social state of nature. Probably not suspects Freud. However, neither is it at all likely that we will find a perfect balance and create a society where all will live in perfect harmony. No. This conflict between the individual's deepest instincts and the structures of any social system of civilization that we are likely to encounter will never be fully resolved. Civilization will attempt to oppress the individual into its needs and the individual will never have full happiness because of this. Some will have much more unhappiness than others, but civilization is by its fundamental nature incompatible at some levels with the individuals needs.
Source

So yes, the anarcho-primitivist viewpoint that civilization cannot by its fundamental nature make everyone happy is valid. I can't and won't argue that. However, our base needs for survival and reproduction are more strongly met by society and civilization than a primitive culture. If the argument is that going back to a primitive culture will make everyone happier, I'd like to see some arguments for it otherwise I'll stick to my viewpoint that modern society is better.

Infant mortality - If we're on the subject of happiness, one of the saddest things that can happen to a person is to lose a child. Infants are tiny, helpless, and very susceptible to injury and death. How would primitivism account for handling the successful birth and delivery of healthy babies?

Handicapped - How would primitive society deal with the deaf? The blind? The autistic? How about the paralyzed? Let's say Grog is out with his hunting party taking down a few buffalo for dinner. He slips on some wet rocks and breaks his back. How is he going to manage? Is he going to just be left to die? That wouldn't make him very happy. Or is tribe going to build him a wheelchair? Now he's going to be a burden for the rest of the tribe, thereby probably making other people unhappy.

The thing is, humans are social animals. We have to be because as individuals we suck at survival. Get a group of us together to split the workload, and we succeed. If any of the Primitivism proponents can clarify, are you suggesting we go back to a primitive tribal culture? Or do we set off on our own as individuals? What is the threshold for the size of the groups we're talking about here? 20 people to a tribe? 50, 100, 1000? What's the limit before a tribe or small society encroaches on becoming a civilization?
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Ixtellor » Mon Apr 06, 2009 6:39 pm UTC

Questions for coney,


1) Do you believe it is possible to go back to primitivism? It seems to me, we are past that, and there is no going back. We can't have 6 billion people doing hunting and gathering. There isn't enough food to feed all these people without farming.

2)
coney wrote: the developed world is necessarily supported by massive exploitation in the undeveloped world


This is only true if you believe in a zero sum game. While I agree with you to a degree about exploitation, its seems like your arguing a bit... Malthusian. Everytime we think, "we could'nt possibly increase food production anymore" we produce more.

3) It seems to me the entire concept of nothing but primitive hunting gathering societies is not feasible for two reasons:
1 -- You can't uninvent the gun.
2 -- There will always be men who want more power.

So I see the same ole same ole. Humans competiting for resources

So the question is, What in your opinion is going to keep man from just re-evoloving into large states, assuming it was even feasible to go back to a hunter-gathering globe?


Ixtellor

P.S. The only author you mentioned I have read is Daniel Quinn. He writes fiction, and I have not reached a conclusion on if I think his argument about NOT feeding the poor is valid.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Tue Apr 07, 2009 9:37 am UTC

I personally don't think it's possible to go back to a tribal type system like what we had in the past. However, some kind of reformation and reorganization of civilization and society is probably going to need to take place if we are to survive as best as possible and be happy.

While there are arguments that say civilization now is the best we have for survival, I disagree. Our current system is unsustainable, especially with the unchecked growth of the human population. Yes, this is a point I'm taking from Quinn, but it is entirely valid and needs to be considered. There is only so much control we can exert over the major ecosystems of the planet. We are still intertwined with those ecosystems as well, we are subject to their every whim.

So either we completely separate ourselves from that ecosystem, master complete control over them, or play by the rules.


These aren't options put along side with "do nothing", they're the only options. Eventually we will have no choice but to choose one of the above. The system we have no simply isn' going to keep working in the way we think it will.

There's also this fact: we need to replicate the tribe system of support to be truly happy. Humanity has existed far longer without civilization than with, tenfold or more the amount of time spent with civilization. Our minds are made to function in that type of life, with not only a nuclear family, but a good 150 or so group of people we know and love as well. This is not at all addressed by civilization, people are left with out that, and I'd be willing to bet it causes a bit of grief to many individuals, even if it's not the direct cause of that grief.


I think the problem here is that the argument is seen only as this: we either keep civilization and leave everything as is, or we go back to tribal lives and disband everything dealing with civilization. The problem with this type of argument is that neither are possibilities, for as Ixtellor mentioned: you can't uninvent the gun. The problem with the other assumed option is as I mentioned: civilization does not fully function the way we need it to in our personal lives, and it is also not at all sustainable.

What I think we should be discussing:

What I wanted a conversation on was not "does civilization work, or should we be cavemen again(which I did say, but only in a sort of joking manner, sorry)", but rather what can we do to make civilization really work. I think my own personal anti-civilization biases and tendencies got in the way of that coming through. I think this is because I personally feel that the solution, the re-organized, re-tooled civilization would look and act nothing like what we have now, and perhaps simulate the tribal lives we had without giving up the innovations and advancements we have because of civilization (which I'm not denying).

A few things to consider: what would we do with the economy? What would a persons life look like? How would we solve the unsustainability of our current system? How long is it going to take (my guess is anywhere from a century to a few millenia)?

I realize what I'm looking for here is somewhat of a utopia-societal holy grail here. I'd still like to hear what people have to say.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Ralith The Third » Tue Apr 07, 2009 12:18 pm UTC

I, personally, certified armchair thinker, believe that utopia is impossible by human nature, at least on a large scale. Even if we did manage to get very easy, very high amounts of energy, there's the effort behind making that energy do what we want/need it to do, and the problems with PEOPLE being PEOPLE. Men will still fight over women, women will still fight over who stole who's boyfriend, people will still fight over land... There's no way to get human nature out of people. Sadly, human nature and utopias just make Sanidoo.
(I forget how to spell Sanidoo, sorry.)
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby JBJ » Tue Apr 07, 2009 3:22 pm UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:There's also this fact: we need to replicate the tribe system of support to be truly happy. Humanity has existed far longer without civilization than with, tenfold or more the amount of time spent with civilization.
I probably should have addressed this before as it seems to be a fundamental principle of your topic. I'm not saying it's not possible and on the surface it seems to be a reasonable conclusion. Humanity indeed has existed without civilization for a very long time if you accept the estimate that modern humans evolved around 200,000 years ago and civilization started around 10,000 years ago. That would make it almost twenty-fold.

However, 50% - 75% of that time (between 120,000 - 160,000 years give or take a few thousand years) was spent during glacial periods of the current ice age. The 200,000 year ago time frame puts modern humans coming around just at the start of a 70k year glacial period lasting from ~200kya to 130kya. There was an interglacial period of about 20,000 years from 130kya to 110kya. Fossil evidence suggests that this period saw the earliest inception of religion or at least rituals with intentional burials and bones stained with red ocher.

Then we have another glacial period lasting for around 90k years from 110kya to 12kya. During the middle of that glacial period around 40-70kya is when humans migrated out of Africa to the Middle East, Europe, and Asia as hunter/gatherers likely following game. At the end of glacial period within 2,000 years agriculture developed. 12-14kya also coincides with the domestication of the dog, although some evidence points domestication possibly as early as 30kya or earlier. A wolf would be an excellent resource for a hunter, although once domestication of livestock takes place a wolf's natural hunting ability was bred out in favor of herding and protection instincts.

I'm not saying that correlation implies causation, but in general terms humanity experienced a significant evolutionary or cultural change during each interglacial period. It's significant to note that pretty much as soon as the last ice age ended humanity jumped onto agriculture pretty quickly. It's possible that a hunter/gatherer/tribal lifestyle doesn't really suit us, or at the least it suits us because it's what the environment dictated.

Sorry if I got a little focused on that one specific, but I don't accept that a tribal lifestyle implies happiness just because of it's longevity. I'll try to come up with some ideas on how to make civilization better or re-tool it (which may or may not lead back to a tribal culture, my instinct is not) but I'm at a loss to understand what about civilization is causing this un-happiness. Is it just the existence of economic/class differences? Guilt over environmental issues? Violence over resources? Violence between cultures? Lack of community support or apathy? All of the above? I can't comprehend right now how any of these factors are attributable directly to civilization and not smaller structures like political, economic, or belief systems.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Tue Apr 07, 2009 3:52 pm UTC

its not that it's better because it lasted, its that its better because we're suited for it. The system of support from a tribal society would be more extensive than the seemingly useless support systems we have in our current society. It seems that there really isn't another way to provide such a system with out a tribal society. I would also like to point out that such a system would be incredibly helpful in the development and emotional well being of almost any individual.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Vaniver » Wed Apr 08, 2009 12:53 am UTC

Consider civilizations as organisms. Does it still make sense to ascribe purposes to them?
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby vers » Wed Apr 08, 2009 7:12 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:Consider civilizations as organisms. Does it still make sense to ascribe purposes to them?

Except that since civilization is comprised solely of human actors, we have the ability to shape it, theoretically, in any way we please. So if there is a way to improve upon society and give it a positive purpose, why shouldn't we? We shouldn't assume that civilizations act independently of those who comprise it. This assumption can become dangerous when there is a visible problem with civilization. If a society has no purpose and acts independently, we cannot act to blame or change it when people are endangered. If we made this assumption, activism would cease to exist, and all negativity of civilization would be accepted as objectified and reified.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Ralith The Third » Wed Apr 08, 2009 8:18 pm UTC

Humans reshaping society on a primal level is like concentrating REALLY hard on growing wings, or turning yourself into a puma. Not very likely to happen in reality. Yes, in theory we can, but...
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby SabreKGB » Fri Apr 10, 2009 1:25 am UTC

coney wrote:No, I'd say GoodRudeFun is completely right in saying this. Funny, you argue that he/she is not seeing the problem from the evolutionary standpoint in the next paragraph, but aren't you making the same mistake here? Extinction is a natural part of evolution, and personally, I'd rather go extinct because of some extraterrestrial object than be saved by a group of men I utterly hate and who are doing their best currently to drive humanity and half the species on the planet to extinction anyway.
...
Since this is the Serious Business forum, I can't swear uncontrollably at you, so I'll just be content to say that this is a very sick interpretation. How dare you insult tribal societies like this. First of all, evolution is not eugenics. And second, I think it was David Hume who said: "Thou shalt not derive an ought from an is."



In regards to your personal preference about extinction...well, good for you. I, and i suspect most other rational people, would disagree and prefer to keep the species going. Extinction may be a part of the evolutionary "game", but it's the losing part. Shouldn't we be trying to win? Also, I'm a bit curious as to the last part of that ranting paragraph though...who are these men and what are they doing?

Secondly, please explain how stating a fact like "more advanced groups tend to wipe out less advanced ones" is a sick interpretation? What insult am i giving to anyone by pointing things out that can easily been seen from historical record? Evolution is not eugenics, nor did i say it was (though one might easily draw parallels), and i wasn't drawing a naturalistic fallacy in saying that simply because things are that way that they should be that way...so what's this angry wild hair you've got?

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Vaniver » Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:37 pm UTC

vers wrote:Except that since civilization is comprised solely of human actors, we have the ability to shape it, theoretically, in any way we please. So if there is a way to improve upon society and give it a positive purpose, why shouldn't we?
The question here is not "what should society's purpose be?" but "Is is sensible to ascribe a purpose to society?" Do individual human lives have a readily discernable purpose? And if it is difficult to tell the purpose of one life, how difficult is it to tell the purpose of the interaction of billions of lives?

Also, think about the phrase "any way we please." How would we add up real, not stated, desires? Would it be distinguishable from each person acting to change the world as much as they care to see it changed? And, if not, isn't that what we have already?
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Apr 11, 2009 6:31 am UTC

Life before civilization was nasty, brutish, and short

This is basically the argument linked above, with more intellectual dishonesty

In Summation:
Pre-civilization life was objectively and provably worse in just about every way from modern life, everything you feel is bad or wrong with modern civilization was probably worse pre-civilization, if you don't like it, go live in the woods.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Sat Apr 11, 2009 9:40 am UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:Life before civilization was nasty, brutish, and short

This is basically the argument linked above, with more intellectual dishonesty

In Summation:
Pre-civilization life was objectively and provably worse in just about every way from modern life, everything you feel is bad or wrong with modern civilization was probably worse pre-civilization, if you don't like it, go live in the woods.
*cough* Not your job, thank you.

Are you talking about the OP? It assumes that civilization is required for the progress in human thought, which it just might be, but not civilization as it is now. Which brings me back to the point of this thread: what can we do to make it actually work?
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Apr 11, 2009 6:20 pm UTC

Mostly I was in response to the Coney argument, but I can get back on topic.

I tseems to me that trying to change society for the better is a bit like trying to direct evolution, or the freemarket, it'll take lots of time, lots of energy, and in the end, you'll get something not quite as good as would have arisen naturally.
Civilization has a historical tendency for becoming 'better' on pretty much any scale you can use to measure it. If you're measure is the progression of thought, think that five hundred years ago, a man was tortured for daring to argue that the sun did not revolve around the earth, nowadays, many more earthshattering discoveries are made regularly and scarcely make the news, the building blocks of life itself can be tinkered with in a garage for less than the cost of a used car.

If you don't think civilization is working now, then you have two options, As I said before, go live in the woods, leaving civilization behind isn't all that hard if you have the necessary survival skills. Or, you can wait for civilization's progress to catch up with your ideals.
Trying to force civilization to advance beyond it's natural pace has only ever ended disastrously.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby General_Norris » Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:24 pm UTC

I think there are two points that, evn tough they are crucial have not been explained.

1) Why is a tribe not a civilization? What's different?
2) Why is a tribe better than a civilization?

Also I would like to ask. Isn't this debate really Anarchy vs. Goverment?ç

I would like to note that those questions are not as stupid as they seem at first.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby GoodRudeFun » Fri Apr 17, 2009 1:20 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:Mostly I was in response to the Coney argument, but I can get back on topic.

I tseems to me that trying to change society for the better is a bit like trying to direct evolution, or the freemarket, it'll take lots of time, lots of energy, and in the end, you'll get something not quite as good as would have arisen naturally.
Civilization has a historical tendency for becoming 'better' on pretty much any scale you can use to measure it. If you're measure is the progression of thought, think that five hundred years ago, a man was tortured for daring to argue that the sun did not revolve around the earth, nowadays, many more earthshattering discoveries are made regularly and scarcely make the news, the building blocks of life itself can be tinkered with in a garage for less than the cost of a used car.

If you don't think civilization is working now, then you have two options, As I said before, go live in the woods, leaving civilization behind isn't all that hard if you have the necessary survival skills. Or, you can wait for civilization's progress to catch up with your ideals.
Trying to force civilization to advance beyond it's natural pace has only ever ended disastrously.


I'm not trying to find a way to force civilization to change. I'm trying to find a way to understand how civilization should and could change, to understand what civilization really is right now, and to develop a coherent line of thought on the whole subject. If you clearly read what I've said you'll see that I do not feel that it is even possible to force any such change, let alone would I want that.

I don't want to abandon civilization, and as I've said I don't want to force it. I want to help it reach its full potential, how ever long that might take.
General_Norris wrote:I think there are two points that, evn tough they are crucial have not been explained.

1) Why is a tribe not a civilization? What's different?
2) Why is a tribe better than a civilization?

Also I would like to ask. Isn't this debate really Anarchy vs. Goverment?ç

I would like to note that those questions are not as stupid as they seem at first.


1) I think for the most part you're confusing civilization with a society. A tribe is a society in that it is a collection of people working and living together. A civilization is something more than a society, more massive, complex, and consuming. A civilization ignores all laws to which it is bound and attempts to bring up its own. These laws concern things like human nature, and the global ecosystem which we belong to. Society addresses the original laws, but only in ways that will serve its own ends, and not that of an individual. A tribe on the other hand is a system that works with and within these laws, and is generally not all encompassing and consuming as a civilization. This is a difficult point for me to address, but I think you are doing the same thing I did in my original post, which is confusing a society and a civilization.

2) I'm not entirely saying that a tribe is better than any civilization, only that it is better than ours in working with the laws I mentioned above. Those laws are crucial to our well being, if not as a species then at least as individuals. Until we find a way to make those laws now longer apply to us, which would require us to become something other than human, we will need to acknowledge those laws for our own best interests.

3) Only if you view anarchy as the only solution to this problem. I don't. I don't even think anarchy works as anything other than a mechanism for societal change, if only because there is no possible way of going back to what we had. This discussion is about something entirely different, that is the form of civilization now, what its form should be, and how to get there. Obviously we've reach a conclusion on a small part of the last bit, which is that any such progress to that form cannot be forced. There is still more to discuss though.
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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby General_Norris » Fri Apr 17, 2009 2:21 pm UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:A tribe is a society in that it is a collection of people working and living together. A civilization is something more than a society, more massive, complex, and consuming.

A civilization ignores all laws to which it is bound and attempts to bring up its own.

These laws concern things like human nature, and the global ecosystem which we belong to. Society addresses the original laws, but only in ways that will serve its own ends, and not that of an individual. A tribe on the other hand is a system that works with and within these laws, and is generally not all encompassing and consuming as a civilization. This is a difficult point for me to address, but I think you are doing the same thing I did in my original post, which is confusing a society and a civilization.


May I understand this as the following?

1) Both a civilization and a tribe have a goverment, whatever that is
2) A civilization has more population than a tribe
3) Since it has more population it needs a more complex goverment than a tribe
4) This goverment is too complex and thus, it loses focus and no longuer pursues it's main targets. (Example a politician makes a law because of votes and not because it's a good law)

This leads me to ask. Why a civilization loses focus while a tribe does not?

The only difference is the size of the population so it may be because of this? (Ignore if I''m mistaken up to this point)
Spoiler:
"The civilization gains power because of economy of scale and is able to work even if a part of the population is lacking. This leads to a misunderstandment of the system because some people act in a way it does not follow the target of the civilization in first place but it still provides happiness to that part of the population"

(Example. If I don't do my work in a tribe I will die because I have nothing to eat but if I don't work in a civilization I can live perfectly because somebody else will feed me)



I also understood points two and three. Thanks for your explanation and excuse me if I'm being slow.

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Re: civilization, its definition, purpose, and adequacy

Postby Vaniver » Sat Apr 18, 2009 4:22 pm UTC

I still think it's missing the point to look at complex, self-changing systems as having 'targets.'

The primary difference that I see is that a single person can understand a tribe- know information about every person, and their relationship to every other person, and have at least a casual knowledge of all economic activity that the tribe takes part in. A civilization is simply too complex for anyone to understand that much more than their place in it- and so instead of people directing the civilization, there are systems.*

This complexity has its benefits and drawbacks. A farmer working of the transmitted experience of millions of farmers and thousands of engineers and scientists can produce significantly more crops than one working off the transmitted experience of hundreds of farmers- but the first farmer had to spend a lot more time and effort accumulating that knowledge than the second farmer. Anyone in the tribe can, with relatively little effort, understand the chieftan's motivations and procedures; for someone in the civilization to understand the procedures and results of the civilization's system takes decades of study and some intelligence.

For someone in the tribe, their purpose in life is unambiguous- my father fished, so I learn fishing from him and become a fisherman. I find a wife, and have children with her. For someone in the civilization, while how components of their life operate are clearly explained (this is the contract between you and your landlord; this is the contract between you and your bank; this is the contract between you and your employer), their entire life has an ambiguous purpose. Should I quit my fishing job and become a writer, or a barista? Who should I look for in a romantic partner?

On the whole, the benefits vastly outweigh the drawbacks. I'll take some existentialist doubt over backbreaking labor just to keep alive any day.


*While the systems are made by people, they are almost never made by a single person at once, and their total impact is almost never predictable. So, while we can say that Person X made Policy Y, we can't claim that that person foresaw (and so decided upon) all of the impacts of that policy.
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