What is Civilization?

According to Wikipedia, a civilization is usually understood to be a complex society characterized by the practice of agriculture and settlement in cities. The entomology of the word: The word civilization comes from the Latin word civilis, the adjective form of civis, meaning a "citizen" or "townsman" governed by the law of his city. The inclusion of agriculture refers to the production of food by a few for the benefit of many, as opposed to individuals or families producing their own food. A surplus of food allows for specialization of labor and activity.

Sometimes civilization is used synonymously with the broader term culture, and it can also refer to society as a whole.

Our American civilization is dominated by the economic theory of capitalism. Unfettered free-market capitalism is a form of survival of the most powerful, an economic Darwinism. Capitalism has so engulfed our abilities to perceive ourselves as civilized humans within a matrix of society that we do not dialog amongst ourselves about what it means to be human and what we need to maintain our humanity. Our entire conversations are devoted to consumption and material possessions, that is when we are not distracted by celebrities (those flash-in-the-pan subjects of popular media).

The central issues of humanity and society go unattended. Our basic needs—food, water, air, shelter, clothing, education, medicine—are dismissed as the outputs of the marketplace. They have no value to our society as a whole. We do not have a common commitment to . . . what? survival? civilization? safety? What are the words that express the value of these basic needs? Are they even in our vocabulary? Our Declaration of Independence says "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This is the only country-wide statement of what it means to be a society. We are unable to connect the "unalienable Rights" to our basic needs, we are left with a limited political declaration.

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Written: 10-2-2007.