"Civilization." You think you know what it means. Civilization. Your eyes skate right through it. No problem. Civilization. You got this. It means "everything."
Well, maybe not everything. Just people. Humans. Civilization means humans.
Maybe just "humanity." You know, everybody, ever.
Wrong, sucka. Wrong.
Fact is, civilization is a very specific term. It is in no way interchangable with humans or humanity. You can't use civilization to mean history, sociology, ethics, manners, aesthetics, or whatever shit I'm talking about at the moment. It is mostly interchangeable with the word agriculture, but let's not get ahead of me.
Are you ready to get responsible with your use of the word civilization?
I hope so, because we can't really talk about jack squat without first
coming to some general agreement on at least a loose definition of the
word. And that is exactly how I will define it—loosely. There's no sense
in getting lost in the details. You just need to understand a little
about what the word means in the context of shit that I say. Because I
like to talk about civilization.
The Beginning of Civilization
Civilization began with agriculture. Uh-oh. Agriculture. Another word you think you understand. Fine. I'll back it up to agriculture.
The Beginning of Agriculture
Agriculture is the intentional human cultivation of
land. Say you're running around in tribes of people, hunting and
gathering, getting by, living and getting sick and using plants as
medicine and fucking and raising families and playing games and talking
your language and painting your pictures and honking on your didgeridoo.
Life is fucked up, but it's also beautiful, and that's life.
But then one day, you sit around in the same place for a little
longer, because, check this out, I can grow some rice from this other
rice if I just stop moving all over Bumfuck, Egypt for long enough to
let it happen. Hell, I can grow a whole metric shitte tonne of rice if I
clear out a bigger garden plot. And hell, why don't we just stop moving
altogether, as long as I can keep these fucking tigers from eating my
sitting-duck family. Poky sticks or something. Whatever, we got this. By
the year 6,000 BCE (give or take a few millennia), gardening is big
business. The larger the garden plot is, the more efficient the harvest
is. You now can produce huge surpluses.
And that was the beginning of agriculture. Agriculture
allowed thousands upon thousands of people to gather in one place and
mooch off the producers in exchange for letting the producers use their
labor. And everyone could just stay there. Like, forever.
The Beginning of Civilization, er, Again
Obviously, when you're all stuck together in one place, you have all kinds of free time due to the advent of efficient food production.
You're not hunting and gathering anymore. You are producing food via
the miracle of agriculture. This is magical. This is a brand-new thing,
when you consider humanity is somewhere between 100,000 years and a few
million years old, depending on where you wanna draw the taxonomy lines.
I really don't care where you draw the line, or whether you think a
Neanderthal is a person, or whatever. Doesn't matter. No matter how you
slice it, agriculture is brand-spanking-fucking new in the context of
humanity as a whole.
So you have all this free time all of a sudden. Well, let's figure
some shit out to fill it up with! Standardized written symbols, portable
across hundreds of miles. The manipulation of those words. Money. Vast
social heirarchies. Stone monuments to the boredom of fast-talkers and
their offspring. Beautiful glass cathedrals carving the sky into awesome
geometries. Motorized transportation. Telecommunications. Twitter. The
Super Bowl. Cheese in a spray can. Complex industries requiring the
lockstep cooperation of millions of communities all contributing their
tiny, specialized widget to the iPhone. Gotye's "Someone That I Used to
Know" music video.
That's civilization. You see? It's new. And it's a passing fad.
Someone should create a graphic just to demonstrate what proportion of
the history of humanity civilization takes up, and post it in the
comments. Just to make it crystal clear for everyone.
The distinction between civilization and humanity
isn't just some frivolous technicality. It's important. It's as
important as knowing the United States wasn't always here, or that the
semen stain on Monica's dress wasn't always there. It has a story, with a
beginning, middle, and end. Civilization has an origin in Time, roughly
pinpointable through archaeology, geology, and other historical
This Is the End, My Friend. The Sad, Sad End (Not Really.)
I'm just reporting the facts, not saying whether civilization is a
good or a bad thing. I just want you to understand what I mean when I
say things like "Civilization is doomed." I'm not being negative. I'm
being positive. I have such great faith in humanity that I can look at
civilization's dependence on oil and, without batting an eyelash, say,
"That thar's obviously a house of cards, pardner."
That's another thing I say. "That thar's a house of cards, pardner."
Another: "When the oil runs out, it's Mad Max time." And: "It's gonna be
fine, dudes and dudettes. This shit takes hundreds of years to go
Civilization. I'll see you on the other side.
Author's note: this article was "dashed off." (That's writerspeak
for "I have an alibi for my sucky writing.") I dashed it off after a
brilliant, educated, passionate, moral, ethical, funny, charitable
friend of mine digitally slapped me for saying civilization is doomed.
She was one of many such people who seem to think I am being negative
when I talk smack about civilization. I figured if she's misinterpreting
me, everyone must be misinterpreting me. Thus the necessity for this
article. I hope you found it tolerable. If you loved it, hated it, or are passionately apathetic about it, tweet at me. - Will Conley