Monday, December 8, 2008

Civilization vs. Culture

Sheria’s comment about government brings up a point I need to explore a bit. We seem to be talking about two different things, civilization and culture. We often use the two interchangeably, but for this discussion I need to clearly define a difference.

Culture is an expression of the group. It serves to define the group and differentiate it from other groups. All of the bits that fall within the realm of culture serve to maintain the group as an entity. Government, religion, language, food, customs, costumes, music, and art all fall under the umbrella of culture. Cultures differ from place to place, people to people. They even differ from group to group within a place. One of the reasons government and religious institutions have been so ineffective in solving the big problems we face is that they are designed to first maintain group integrity and function. Things that are caused by forces outside the group dynamic do not respond to governmental or religious pressures, programs, or rules. Government exists to defend the group from outside forces and protect the functioning of the group from the base behaviors of individuals. Religion exists for the same purpose but works on leading us through expressions of our higher selves rather defending against our baser selves.

Civilization, as I am using it here, is what’s left after you strip away culture. It should be the same from place to place, group to group, and even across time. It is the collection of behaviors and forces that give rise to the groups and that drive the growth and expansion of the groups. It is the same set of behaviors that gave rise to the Maya and the Anasazi, the Norse and the Easter Islanders, and the Eastern and Western “civilizations” of today. Understanding the forces and behaviors that give rise to civilization across cultures and times will allow us to find real solutions to the unsolvable environmental and social challenges which threaten to destroy us.

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