Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Sometimes I have to wonder about this species of ours. I look on in depressed bewilderment at the way in which humanity pulls in a myriad of directions, never striving for a common goal or to better our lot on a global scale. Petty rivalries and jealousies are created every day and often thrive until replaced by another equally pathetic quarrel. Language is always the first tool to be utilized in helping fools differentiate between themselves and others. It's worse when words become a tool in such a manner, where it is non intentional.

One particular word that is unintentionally used, for the greater part, as a divider, is "civilization." Whilst not readily obvious to the vast majority, the usage does become clear when you are on the receiving end of classification, in the negative sense.

What is civilization?

According to a typical faceless online dictionary, civilization is:



1. highly developed society: a society that has a high level of culture and social organization

2. advanced development of society: an advanced level of development in society that is marked by complex social and political organization, and material, scientific, and artistic progress

3. advanced society in general: all the societies at an advanced level of development considered collectively

I would argue that historically the word has been applied sparingly in any of the contexts noted above. No, instead I find the term to be one used primarily as a means of condescension. If a culture or society is different, it's been far too common a case where integrity and willingness to develop a thorough understanding have been thrown out the window, in favour of condescending generalisations, meant only to place the known societies on a pedestal, above those cultures and societies mistaken for being primitive. Perhaps "civilization" should be replaced with "complication" as a far more logical means for differentiation.

Whilst European civilization has more often than not claimed the high ground, it has done so through cultural and social ignorance and by being totally oblivious to every other civilization on Earth. Indeed, it has inherited much of its prosperity on the back of the ingenuity of the civilizations it has so often mimicked, dominated or poured scorn upon. Having said this, the Europeans are far from being alone in this form of bigotry, as every major power has done and will continue to do the same. The ancient Greeks thought themselves superior to the rest of the known world, the Romans then superseded them and thought the same. Europe thought itself better than Asia, whilst Asia Minor and the Chinese both assumed their superirity to the West, whilst entertaining macro struggles within their own regions. One can only imagine what the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians thought, whilst now America, China, Christianity, Islam and Europe all are pulling at one another, and failing to get anywhere.

Getting back to the crux of the matter, it's the usage of the word "civilization" that I am forced to question. So often my own culture is targeted, yet the terminology is used as a throwaway device without any substance. Is the Western World really more civilized than Aboriginal Australia, and has it ever been? The answer is always a clear - no.

In 1788 when the first steps toward a multicultural Australia were taken, Aboriginal Australia was seen as primitive, yet the truth was quite the opposite. Whilst technologically poor, the fact is that the continent was home to numerous cultures and a society that had evolved into a highly functional and efficient machine - as could be expected given the 60,000 continuous years of development and refinement that were possible.

Aboriginal Australia evolved to meet the requirements of the environment of which it was a part. As the early European settlers found in their struggles, developing Australia was never going to work, until they had at their disposal the full resources of Europe and the world.

Australian soil is not suitable for sustaining crops without fertilization, which could have only come from non indigenous livestock. No Australian animal could ever have pulled a plough, and without beasts of burden there was never any reason to have made a wheel. To this day, no indigenous plants are a sizeable and sustainable cash crop, other than Macadamia nuts.

Without a means to cultivate crops there was never a reason or any particular logic for people to build permanent homes in most parts of Australia. Whilst there were some seasonal village settlements in S.E Australia, for those communities that farmed eels, or lived by large water courses, those are generally ignored by the history books. Despite roaming from one set camp to another, each tribe did have ownership over a particular tract of land within a clearly defined boundary. Calling an Aboriginal Australian a nomad would be the same as calling a farmer the same for maintaining livestock on one of the larger Australian cattle stations, which in cases rival the size of Britain and some of the smaller US states.

Technology develops where there is a need, and where resources allow for it. In Australia's case, it would take outside resources to advance Australian technology.

Socially and culturally however, it could be argued that few cultures can rival the organisational structures in place within traditional Aboriginal societies. It was, and in some cases still is far more advanced than is given credit.

Where the Europeans often saw what they termed a lack of civilization, they also equated it with a lack of intelligence of those being studied. Which again, was a foolish notion, carried only to improve a collective and ignorant ego.

I don't like civilization as a word. It's as superfluous as other outdated and ridiculous notions such as race and the study of phrenology. It makes me cringe and wonder at the intent of the individual using it. I suppose for me it is one of those words that can trigger an alarm to go off, and force me to tread lightly. Although I would say that, as I have "the brain-pan of a Stagecoach tilter."

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