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Balance and Imbalance: In the Equation on “Differentiation – Continuity” Between Civilisations 2/4

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“Following Scientific revolutions, and through an unexpected transfer, scientists are now facing a different science". This is the conclusion reached by Thomas S. Khun in his theory on the structure of scientific revolution... in the case of technological revolutions however, the whole world is exposed to a gradual change, and the rate of change depends on the nature of the technologies of impact ad their interaction with the elements of the social environment.”

A Universal Civilisation... Or Civilisational Specificities?
To test the truth of the above mentioned saying and to obtain information on the requirements of the current “revolution”, as compared with social requirements, we must carefully examine the question of “civilisation” and the “culture” and “civil” questions connected with it.

Many questions arise in this context: “What is Civilisation?” What is its relation to culture? What are its social indicators? Does it belong to all mankind or to every specific society? Then, which greatly matters, how the interactions and effects of the elements of human development can be traced, since these elements are embodied in the following trilogy: mankind (societies and their intra and inter relations), space (geography), and time (history)?

No agreement has been reached on the meaning of such words as “civilisation” and “culture”, or on the differences between them, for they are often used as synonyms in history books, and we can say that there certainly seems to be a general assumption that there is no need to define “civilisation” since it, in itself, pertains to all mankind. Hence, the great confusion that we are witnessing today between words.

This deliberate confusion between culture and civilisation, which is defined as sheer material progress, aims among other things, at getting the world accustomed to the idea that there is just one kind of civilisation, the civilisation of “production”, while providing other historic connotations for the word, so as to do away with any differentiation between culture and civilisation, as nothing in the history of the word “civilisation” could justify an attempt to distinguish between the two.

In fact, the “civilisation of production” is greatly indebted to the West. However, when did the United States, Great Britain and France come into being? When did the regions making up Germany and those making up Italy come into being? The “West”, in its contemporary form, only achieved this phase of the “civilisation of production” because it inherited the rich expertise and scientific heritage – accumulated and perfected over centuries – from peoples, who were annihilated in time (the Sumerians and the Phoenicians), and others who survived in space (Persians and Arabs).

From this point of view, we can say that attributing “civilisation” to one nation, or to some specific nation (specifically Western), while asserting that the other nation and people must acquire it, is a falsification of history and reality. This is an inhuman monopoly which excludes the rest of the human race and is nothing in reality, but a refutation of civilisation because it empties it of its content.

As to the deliberate confusion, on the other hand, between civilisation and culture, it goes back to the seventies of the 19th century, when Edward Burnett Taylor provided us in the introduction of his book: “Primitive culture, 1871”, with his famous definition, which points out that culture (or civilisation), in its broad ethnographic sense, is a sum that comprises knowledge, beliefs art ethics, laws, traditions, and all the other capacities and customs, that a human being acquires by being a member of a given society.

Taylor’s definition, although it makes no distinction between culture and civilisation, was that most widely accepted one so far. Many authors tacitly or outspokenly rely on this definition, inasmuch as the answer to the question, “What is Civilisation?” has become difficult to find.

So, how can we solve this problem?
Let us say that civilisation is not made up of outside the human race and everything else, such as the heritage (intellectual or artistic), and structures (material ones), are the vestiges, signs and symbols of man’s civilisation. And, while every generation in every society leaves “traces”, which make up a civilisation and tells its history, civilisation remains a “set of traditions” which is useless and impossible to count.

It is useless to count them, because these traditions differ and sometimes contradict each other from one society to the other, and it might therefore be useless, albeit possible, to count them, beyond the scope of one specific society. Furthermore, they cannot be counted because they are innumerable.

The maximum we can say is that they are behavioural rules, that distinguish between good and bad, in dealing with things and people, and in the whole life of things and people, including religions, creeds, laws, customs, literature, values, the aesthetic criteria of art, literature, music, architecture and social criteria, that specify for all societies what should be man’s stands, attitudes and behaviour, and what he should expect of others, while interpreting, justifying and beautifying these criteria.

Thus, as we seek to find out, “What is Civilisation?”, we can progress towards formulating its definition or concept, and let us clearly point out that the definition of “civilisation” will not result from a competition over the use of words, but from an essential need to know about this social phenomenon, that is the subject of all serious discussions about the future, especially as we stand on the first years of the 21st century, or rather a new millennium, and in the framework of the scientific and technical revolution that the world is witnessing in the field of communication and informatics.

It is usually said that men have a double relation with nature and with society that research usually concentrates on one or both of these two poles. However, we believe that this saying is limited and requires to be completed by adding men’s interactions within nature and within society, by time, because they generate yields (agricultural production, industrial production, tools of production and transport, systems, doctrines, beliefs, customs, ethics, etc) that are encompassed and surpassed, and that come to be part of nature and society thanks to human creativity.

Therefore, to look at men within nature, within society and within time, is to “look” at what is called the past or history or the “circumstances” that contain nature, society and man himself, and what has resulted from the interaction of all these elements throughout the past and therefore cannot be cancelled any more.

At all events, what does all of this have to do with “civilisation”?
The relation is clear, observation without knowledge is enough for us to know that the interaction of people with other people and with nature produces a “material” yield (agricultural production, industrial production, production tools, constructions, etc) and the interaction of people “in society” produces a “moral/social” yield (ideas, principles, systems, values, traditions, arts, etc).

Therefore, to look at the yield resulting from man’s interaction with nature and with other men in society, is to “look” at what is called “civilisation”. For if we add to this, the stability of people in a specific territory, and homogeneous language and unified territory that this (stability) signifies, as well as the fact that nature is embodied in a specific plot of land that is distinct from and not distinguished over others, this specification world means that the yield produced by people’s interaction with their own and among themselves, will be differentiated in its “material” (civil), or its “spiritual” (cultural), content from others, and therefore at the “civilisation” level.

Civilisation, then, is the “knowledge content, material and spiritual, generated by men’s interactions with nature and with other men within a specific society, in a specific amount of time.” It is therefore part of the personality of every generation in every society.

Consequently, every person from every generation carries over his “civilisation” from the past, “develops it argumentatively” and transfers it to the next generation. One of the specifications of culture, hence, is that it is passed over from one generation to the next, through language (which plays a basic role in this transfer), in what is called the “continuity of generation”.

No wonder then, that every society has its specific “civilisation”, for this is the specificity that some people call “civilisational specificity”. So that we hurry on to say: the fact that a certain group of people represents a society with distinct “civilisational specificity” does not mean that this society is not part of the general development of humanity. In fact, the existence of “civilisational differences” does not mean that one “civilisation” should be isolated from the “civilisations” of other nations, and neither does it mean that the civilisation of this society should not flow into the “civilisational” deposit into which the “civilisations” of the other societies flow.

And this human (civilisational) deposit contains the sum of the residues of numerous civilisations, and it is understood that the civilisation of any society would be enriched by interacting with the civilisational specificities of other societies, in what may be termed “Civilisation Interaction”, or more precisely, “Civilisational Continuity”.

We are facing, here, a “theoretical puzzle” related to the relation between the two extremes of civilisational “differences” and “continuity”, as two characteristic aspects of the movement of societies from the civilisational point of view.


Read in the next issues:
The Civilisation “Differences – Continuity” Equation.
Civilisation and Technology, and the Struggle of Informatics.


Hussein Maaloum -

Hussein Maaloum is an Egyptian researcher and writer.

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Articles by this Author:

Balance and Imbalance In the Equation on “Differentiation – Continuity” Between Civilisations 4/4
“‘Following Scientific revolutions, and through an unexpected transfer, scientists are...
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Balance and Imbalance: In the Equation on “Differentiation – Continuity” Between Civilisations 3/4
“‘Following Scientific revolutions, and through an unexpected transfer, scientists are...
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Last Updated on Sunday, 23 August 2009 23:10  

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