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CIVILIZATION began its first step when the humans used fire not only for warmth and to keep animals away, but to cook food and to help make tools. In this way, society was formed around the use of fire, which may have been the first deity early man worshipped.
The word civilization comes from civitas/community, which also implies civility, or an act of politeness among the members of a group or a society. To be civilized and demonstrate a cultural achievement has always meant to rise above the minds of primitive people.
Because conditions of nature vary around the globe, accidents of climate create specific ecosystems. A hostile setting produced smarter humans able to survive its challenges. In time, each environment created its own civilization. The Greek and Roman civilization took place in the poorest lands of Europe, but the wit of the people changed these lands into cultural cradles. However, that civilization could not penetrate into the Asian, Atlantic, or Pacific territories, because their ecologies were distant and different.
Great civilizations developed independently, specific to the environments of other continents. North America was dominated by the Sioux "empire," with no borders or a capital, but with a strong civilization of truly free people. South America with its Aztec, Inca, and Maya civilizations could easily compete with any European civilization. Africa's empires of Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, and others, developed an entire civilization dictated by deserts or jungles.
Asia with its Chinese, Indian, Mongolian and Persian empires was a world of vast and lasting civilizations, while isolated Japan shaped its own enduring civilization. Later, the pastoral tribes of the Sarmatian and Scythian empires were pushed into Europe, where they clashed with the settled Celts, Dacians and Germans. Soon, all of them would be at war with the Romans, who believed that it was their duty to civilize the barbarians by subjugation and then imposed their own brand of democracy.
Thus, great empires once ruled parts of the world, and their civilizations and religions are felt even today. Obviously, their long-lived effects were too powerful and valuable to vanish without a trace. Those past civilizations keep amazing us with their advanced concepts about religion, art, and ways to live.
Two thousand five hundred years before our era, when the entire global population was probably 100 million people, the Egyptian Empire ruled supreme in northern Africa and the Near East. Its pharaohs founded dynasties with a precise social and economic code of laws. They used a 12 months/ 360 days yearly calendar, an alphabet of 24 letters, and, among countless monuments, they built Cheops Pyramid and the great Sphinx of Giza.
At the same time, the height of the Danubian Culture was achieved in Europe, proving that strong tribal formations, especially in the Alpine and Carpathian Mountains, were advanced ancient societies living as permanent settlers.
By the time Moses received the Ten Commandments, which clearly stated the moral laws for Hebrew society, the Babylonian Empire already had the Hammurabi civil code with its criminal laws, inheritance laws, and many others that inspired the great Jewish prophet.
In far away Asia, the Yao, Shun and Hsai dynasties built the Chinese Empire and used a 40,000 letter alphabet to record their codes of ethics. The Indo-Brahmanic religion believed in six stages of the soul's transfiguration—the foundation of an advanced philosophical system that obliged mortals to have exemplary moral behavior.
King David united the tribes of Israelites around the new capital of Jerusalem, where he built his legendary temple. Judaism became the religion of "the chosen people," with advanced moral values on display to please God.
North of the Mediterranean, the Greek Empire began to extend along the costal seas, and blind Homer created the two pillars of storytelling: the immortal Iliad and Odyssey. The two legends narrated more than the adventures of brave men: they reveal a sophisticated society with deep beliefs in morals, versus the anger or benevolence of many gods.
The year 500 B.C. marked the height of the Persian Empire, when Darius I began his conquests in Asia, Asia Minor, and the Balkan Peninsula. He built an empire of many races and nations held together by strict civic and moral laws. By the time Pythagoras (580–500) came up with his great mathematical and philosophical discoveries, Buddha, Confucius and the Jewish prophets had changed the religious and social orders of their societies.
The shifts of time and history made it possible for Rome to become a republic, and for Aramaic language to replace even Hebrew in the Middle East. The earth-shaking impact of Alexander the Great (356–323) challenged the ancient world, and a new civilization was brought to the Far East by his warriors. His premature death led to the end his short-lived Macedonian Empire and brought its civilization to a halt.
So far, the farming culture had proved superior to all others, because it was the product of permanent dwellings, a high work order, and an advanced tool industry. For these reasons, the low lands along the rivers also proved fertile grounds for the establishment and advanced growth of civilizations.
By the year 200 AD, imperialistic Rome was rising as a power for world domination, subjugating tribe after tribe and nation after nation in Europe, Africa and Asia Minor. Yet, the democracy and civilization of Rome was founded on a slave-owning society, as a necessary system for putting the prisoners of war at a good use. The free slave labor was a financial success for the republic's prosperity. It set up the social rule that civilization was always better built on prosperity.
From the slave culture we inherited basic words as familia, a group of at least three slaves working for one master. The ordinarii were supervisors of house-keeping crews, and vulgares were the laborers doing the daily chores. Servi publici (public servants) were basically intellectual slaves serving the state with bureaucratic work. Because of their good services, they could become libertini (former slaves), and even own property. Proleri, the future proletarians, were the poor citizens with one thing to offer to society: numerous children
It just so happened that the Great Forum, Forum Traiani, Forums of Nervae and Vespasian, and others were marvels of architecture and contained building concepts we use today. They were the best marketplaces and institutions for public assembly. Here, great orators, politicians, philosophers, and other learned men shared their wisdom that shaped the policies of Rome and of the world. Roman public works such as paved highways, bridges, viaducts, and fortified cities, as well as the abundant and exquisite works of art lasted to our days, and they still influence our civilization.
The Roman form of government was the shining example of how rational minds can shape a civilized society. Its legacy is felt in all modern laws, whose terminology is based on the Latin vocabulary of that time. Most of today's social, political, military, and business ideas and terms come from the Roman forums.
The Greeks and the Romans despised the barbarians, whom they believed behaved like animals and were only good for plundering and destroying what civilized people achieved. (F.N. Barbarian comes from the Latin barba/beard and barbarus/foreigner. It may well come from the Barbary ape, the only primate of Europe, renown for its aggressive and uncontrollable actions.) Indeed, nomadic barbarians were feared warriors, and just like the later Huns and the Tartars, they established vast empires with a horse related culture. Because they lacked a sustaining, stable civilization and a herd-like society, those equestrian empires lasted only briefly.
When the Roman legions marched from Asia Minor to Egypt, they discovered by accident Judea and Jerusalem. The puzzled soldiers stumbled over the Hebrews, whose well polished religion and civilization proved from the beginning to be a thorn in the Roman crown. This was no different than Huns finding civilized settlements, while their hordes invaded Europe. Only this time, the entire encounter between the Romans and the Jews proved crucial for the future of the two civilizations. It just so happened that Jesus was born at the height of the Roman power, when Augustus was declared "Caesar" for life.
The trading caravans, commercial ships, and conquering armies delivered Persian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilization across the deserts of Eurasia and the intercontinental seas. Those societies produced the wonders of the world as an expression of their creative thinking, superior technology, and gifted artists, most of whom were slaves.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the pyramids, the Colossus in Rome, the pharoahs of Alexandria, and other impressive monuments were the epitome of ancient civilization. With exception of the pyramids with their irremovable stairs to heaven, all the wonders vanished because of natural accidents or Christian demolition. Thus, the symbols of the pagan civilization vanished with its empires and its people, making room for the next civilization.
In ancient times, civilization meant that a virgin with a bag of gold could walk alone anywhere and arrive intact to her destination. It is hard to believe that inside of the Golden Horde Empire, known for its savage wars, there existed no crimes, robberies, nor beggars. Its equestrian society knew a true equality dictated not by its pagan religion, but by its instinctive rule of survival. When that moral rule acted no more, the Mongolian Empire vanished without a trace.
Over time, the civilizations proved that people were stronger and smarter than nature. Civilization meant deforestation: replacing vegetation with cities and pristine lands with pollution from those crowded settlements. It was perceived as human progress, but it was the first ecological accident.
Under Constantine the Great, civilization shifted from falling Rome to prosperous Byzantium located on the tip of the Balkan Peninsula. Its European civilization was based on a simple rule: to be a civilized person or a nation was to be Christian. However, the early Middle Ages were far from civilized times, and the churches or monasteries were built on higher and higher cliff tops in order to survive the Christian wars. They proved to be safe shelter for people and their art treasures, and the last bastions of that civilization.
The Indian Ocean became an Islamic lake, and after the occupation of Buda in Hungary and Cordoba in Spain, the shadow of Islam threatened to become a fixture on the map of Europe. The decline of its military power and stagnation of civilization pushed the Ottoman Empire from the center of Europe to a symbolic presence at the end of the Balkan Peninsula. Together, Christianity and Islam replaced paganism and the classical ancient civilization in Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Middle Ages had a slow start in developing its own civilization. Ultimately, the Mediterranean world remained the cradle of culture, and once again the Greek and Roman civilization spread to Berlin, London, Madrid, and Paris, and even across the Atlantic Ocean.
In many regards, the Dutch and other Baltic people demonstrated their superior civilization in different ways. They defied the danger of their flat lands and thrived in a place where the Greeks and Romans would not even visit. Because of their wealth, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Florence, Lisbon, Venice, and other cities bred their own competing civilizations. They ended up building distant empires, rivaling the old ones in colonial power and world domination. As it turned out, a greedy merchant, an adventurer on seas, or a pious Christian missionary were the most reliable forces in spreading civilization outside of Europe.
Religion remained a major factor in civilizing godless people, offering them moral values which separated them from animals. Conscious of their moral influence on society, the Romans promoted and enforced religion as politics to civilize their multi-national empire. Besides their own gods, they imported Greek gods like Jupiter and Mars. The Roman gods were the pillars of the world, spirits at work inside the orderly society that respected the cult of state. Impressive temples were built to shelter the generous gods and anchor civilization.
"Illegal" gods were brought into the empire by legionnaires, slaves, immigrants, and the invading barbarians. Mithraism (or Sol Invictus) came from Persia; Osiris was the Egyptian god of death; Judaism believed in only one God; Druidism proved to be a patriotic religion of the Celtic tribes. Each religion created a specific society and political doctrine in a nation, and then influenced other nations. All those gods met inside the Roman Empire. The inevitable clash gave birth to Christianity whose moral laws conquered Europe.
According to Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), fear of death and the need for security were the psychological foundations for civilization. Christianity provided plenty of comfort to these mysterious elements, as it offered social enlightenment to pessimistic individuals. A belief in immortality compounded by a desire to live an ethical life provided good reasons for humans to become increasingly dogmatic and civilized.
By the early Middle Ages, a priestly hierarchy disseminated ideas of political leadership, and a religious nobility blessed the kings of Europe. Thus, the clergy achieved control over large populated territories within stratified society by melding human and divine rules. The Inquisition was the Catholic police force for hunting heretics, and its actions produced a mentality of guilt, blame, and repentance that shaped many societies up to today.
In all times, God-conscious individuals are solid citizens, because they already have strong moral values. I remember my mother's lesson in morality, summed up as: "He who does not fear God, does not respect people." An individual must be a moral person in order to function in society. His or her moral and personal rights are usually connected with his responsibilities and duties towards the society.
However, accidents can change a civilized person into a beast when there is a question of survival. Trapped in impossible situations, such as being stranded on a deserted island or in the middle of a snow avalanche, civilized but hungry men may eat their weaker companions just to survive a little longer. The cruel laws of war change perfect citizens into murderous soldiers. These amoral accidents cause endless effects on societies all over the world.
Far away from the European cradle of civilization, across the Atlantic Ocean, within the boundaries of the United States, ancestral native tribes developed their unique civilization centered on their sacred animal, the bison. Millions of bison grazed the plentiful land as they sustained the life of those tribes. True people of the bison, these native dwellers developed a bison-centric culture with high moral and civic codes. Civilization for them was to kill a bison with a single arrow and worship God for a life of plenty. These traditions came to an abrupt end after the Europeans colonized the same land and killed most of the tribesmen and bison. Both endangered species ended up in reservations built by the "civilized" intruders. Out of massacres, a new civilization emerged in the land named America.
After the Ottoman Empire collapsed due to its inability to modernize and its defeat in WWI, another empire with entirely different social rules and without religion arose in Russia. The Communism of the Soviet Union succeeded in destroying an old civilization, but failed to build a new one. Seventy-five years later, in spite of tens of millions of college graduates, the land of former Red Empire is the only land in history without a proper civilization. While each empire had its era of greatness, that is not the case for this truly Evil Empire, in which deception was the key to leading the masses to nowhere. As for its former subjects, they returned to traditional celebrations of elaborate baptisms, weddings, and burials, as if Communism never existed.
So far, empires shaped civilizations, which, with their increased bureaucracy, heavy taxation, welfare systems, and armies they could not afford, were crushed under their own weight. France under Napoleon and Germans under Hitler committed the military accident of overextending their totalitarian empires and failed in their wars of world conquest.
In contrast, the American way of life created a civilization of free, entrepreneurial men, who achieved incredible social and technological advancement. They built a country founded on the Declaration of Independence, and they gave the world the automobile, the airplane, the telegraph, and the telephone. Its economic and military power pushed its civilization into a global domination, an accident that always attracted enemies.
Without exception, a high civilization germinates its own destructive accidents: greater technological progress causes greater social progress with higher demands on people who have less time for reflective thinking. More social rules generate more problems and more litigious situations, which eventually ignite revolts. Like an antibiotic that cures sick people for a while, a civilization creates its own immunity and side effects amidst the social germs and political bacteria.
The level of civilization of a nation or a country should not be judged only by its democratic regime, literacy, past history, museums, palaces, cathedrals, or cuisine. To me, the way the children are educated and the way the elderly and the poor are taken care of by society, and the lack of crime, are the main signs of civilization in any country. Yet, lesser grandiose achievements are equally important.
I strongly believe that the Romans established the standards of civilization because they had ample public baths and lavatories, generously supplied with fresh water coming through pipes. If Napoleon was indeed a great leader, then history books should mention first not his wars, but his sewer system under Paris and the installation of bathrooms at Versailles.
To this I must add a personal observation about a country's highway system and the cleanliness of public toilets, two obvious accidental observations that strongly count when judging a civilized nation or a country. Highways reflect the importance of easy transportation and a prosperous industry. If the highways are the grandeur display of public wealth, public bathrooms show the hygiene of the nation. What is written on the walls is probably just as important because it shows the level of intimate thinking while dealing with genitalia. Obscene graffiti messages can make Freudian thinkers read the true level of "civilized" minds. Basically, clean toilets, sinks, walls, and floors mean clean and truly civilized people.
Any international tourists can vouch for my unusual conclusion as they remember the unpleasantness when facing bad roads and unusable bathrooms during their vacations. When recalling a museum with great painters on display, or a lavish meal, the tourist will remember first how he got there. The museums and restaurants will remind him of the horrific or enjoyable traveling experience, as well as the filthy or immaculate bathrooms from the train or train stations. All these mental souvenirs are in fact one's perception of civilization in a particular location.
The above experience can easily count as an accident with lasting thinking effects. For sure, it puts a dent in the impression of a society that may boast of its technological gadgets or moral values to the world, but fails the bathroom test.
Interestingly enough, New York City, the capital of the world from which most of civilization is modeled today, has no public toilets visible and handy as they are in other big cities. This shortcoming, little discussed but highly inconvenient in emergencies, has its own implications for the greatest city of all. The city's subway system extends for 800 miles and caries more than four million commuters daily. Yet, no public toilets can be found in the huge maze of public transportation. One reason is that public toilets with millions of users cannot be kept clean and can become a health hazard. Secondly, they attract dubious elements to use them as shelters for vices and places to hide drugs, weapons, or other dangers. Thirdly, the lack of public toilets helps the business of more than 10,000 shops and even more restaurants. This is a true social Effectological effect triggered by a biological need.
Plainly put, any tourist looking for a bathroom must enter a department store or a restaurant, and eventually will purchase something from it. Lack of public toilets shows in fact how a civilized city exploits a vital need in a more stimulating way: to turn a bathroom user into a customer. Each year, countless millions of travelers have no other choice. It looks as though the famous fast food restaurant McDonalds and the coffee shop Starbucks owe much of their success to their public bathrooms. (F.N. Finally, by 2005, few public restrooms were experimentally approved by the New York City Hall, mostly for their potential revenue.)
On the other hand, throughout America, mobile bathrooms are planted where they are needed the most, including public beaches and plazas. However, they will never become landmarks as in other countries
There is no need to unearth mountains to study the civilization and the human behavior of the Stone Age. One only needs to attend a boxing match or a football game and study the level of civilization among the audience, whose temper cannot be cooled by the air conditioning of modern sports arenas.
On a positive note, my opinion is that no society or its standard of civilization can be criticized by outsiders. The same goes for judging past societies and their civilizations according to modern thinking. In their turn, if they could, they would judge us in even more critical terms for our doings. To me, a real compliment of any civilized society is for all citizens to receive free bread and soap, and many of the problems would be automatically solved.
Certainly, civilization is more than religious beliefs, social laws, and superior sanitary facilities. It includes basic human feelings and inborn rights of freedom and equality applied at a large moral scale in society. Each historical era had its fashionable society with some distinct characteristics that we now compare with our society.