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What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - Printable Version

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RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - |0|__|0| - Fri, 13 Apr 2018 23:35:44 +0000

That is the money shot question.
I would ask more, can we have civilization without the state ?


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - |0|__|0| - Sat, 14 Apr 2018 00:02:56 +0000

I thought state was always authoritarian, so now im confused.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - |0|__|0| - Sat, 14 Apr 2018 17:34:10 +0000

So the state would be the separation of powers to administer a piece of land/propriety, separating this in judicial, political and army/police.
Its a bit more complex then this, but for now ill leave it at this.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - Odin - Sun, 15 Apr 2018 01:29:23 +0000

In hunter gatherer groups like the coast salish in the Pacific Northwest, the Ainu of Japan, or the Calusa in Florida, there were levels of authoritarian hierarchy and social stratification which were very state-like. These groups had specialized classes, warrior elites, slaves (not the Ainu) and the kind of rule enforcement that can only be called policing. Yet, they were still hunter gatherers.

We tend to think of civilization as being associated with agriculture, as well as the state. But upon closer reading, although these relations are often interwoven, especially in modern times, they do not always cluster together. Some hunter gatherers can be very state-like without agriculture, and some agriculturalists can be very egalitarian without a state.

And as Graeber and Wengrow have pointed out, some of the early cities were not states at all and were fairly egalitarian, with people still mostly hunting and gathering.

The takeaway is this: there is no law-like determinism to human social evolution. No subsistence practice or form of social relations necessarily leads to any other. Authoritarian state-like hierarchy can exist in small scale societies as well as large ones. And horticulture does not necessarily lead to agriculture, nor does sedentism lead to cities. Domestication is not the seed of civilization, it is one practice among many in making the landscape more productive and predictable. Social evolution does not proceed in a step-by-step linear stage of progression, and there is more than one pathway to civilization. We only see 'civilization' in hindsight as a process of converging lines of different activities.  That's why I think we need to be more clear what we mean by civilization when we talk about it. I don't claim to have a definitive or better definition myself. It's something we need to flesh out together.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - alexander - Sun, 15 Apr 2018 07:17:38 +0000

Very well put summary, Odin. I'm not sure I agree with some of the details (which would mean I disagree with Græber/Wengrow, not just your way of putting their findings, which I found excellent), but as Wittgenstein pointed out, most problems are really just language-rooted confusions.

It seems to me, from Græber/Wengrow and others, that the state is what we get when certain authorities (and thus hierarchies) become static—codified.

I find our use of the word "civilisation" entirely unproblematic, even in light of these findings. Odin might perhaps disagree with me here?

«Civilisation is understood […] as a society made up of four things:

  • The separation from and domination over nature,
  • communication through symbolic culture,
  • urban development (cities),
  • & social stratification (a ruling elite).»
This seems satisfactory unambiguous and simple.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - |0|__|0| - Sun, 15 Apr 2018 21:32:14 +0000

(Sun, 15 Apr 2018 07:17:38 +0000, 07:17 AM)alexander Wrote: Very well put summary, Odin. I'm not sure I agree with some of the details (which would mean I disagree with Græber/Wengrow, not just your way of putting their findings, which I found excellent), but as Wittgenstein pointed out, most problems are really just language-rooted confusions.

It seems to me, from Græber/Wengrow and others, that the state is what we get when certain authorities (and thus hierarchies) become static—codified.

I find our use of the word "civilisation" entirely unproblematic, even in light of these findings. Odin might perhaps disagree with me here?

«Civilisation is understood […] as a society made up of four things:

  • The separation from and domination over nature,
  • communication through symbolic culture,
  • urban development (cities),
  • & social stratification (a ruling elite).»
This seems satisfactory unambiguous and simple.

Can you tell me if the four things have to be necessarily be present to qualify something as civilization or just missing one ,like for example the last one, means it doesn't qualify as civilization ?

P.s - I find Odin  summary satisfying, but i will search literature on Græber/Wengrow.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - Odin - Sun, 15 Apr 2018 22:25:19 +0000

(Sun, 15 Apr 2018 07:17:38 +0000, 07:17 AM)alexander Wrote: Very well put summary, Odin. I'm not sure I agree with some of the details (which would mean I disagree with Græber/Wengrow, not just your way of putting their findings, which I found excellent), but as Wittgenstein pointed out, most problems are really just language-rooted confusions.

It seems to me, from Græber/Wengrow and others, that the state is what we get when certain authorities (and thus hierarchies) become static—codified.

I find our use of the word "civilisation" entirely unproblematic, even in light of these findings. Odin might perhaps disagree with me here?

«Civilisation is understood […] as a society made up of four things:

  • The separation from and domination over nature,
  • communication through symbolic culture,
  • urban development (cities),
  • & social stratification (a ruling elite).»
This seems satisfactory unambiguous and simple.
  • We are not now, nor have we ever been, separate from nature. Unless you are referring to our metaphysical worldview about our relationship with nature. We have also dominated and controlled nature long before what we commonly call civilization. The first obvious display of this was through the use of fire. Agriculture merely added to our repertoire. Everything afterwards has been an intensification of this same process, not a different process.
  • Communication through symbolic culture likewise goes way back to the early to mid Pleistocene
  • Some of the earliest cities were built and inhabited by people who mostly hunted and gathered and were egalitarian. The mound builders in Mississippi were also hunter gatherers
  • Social stratification occurred long before what we call civilization.
Since all these criteria existed long before what we would normally call civilization, it seems to me that using them as necessary and sufficient conditions to classify something as a civilization would be problematic.

Wittgenstein also drew our attention to problems like this around categorization. He used the example of asking what is a 'game'? How would we define a game? He then showed how this quickly became a problem when trying to fit all the activities we normally call 'games' into a well-definable category without exceptions. Wittgenstein's answer was to come up with what he called family resemblances. The way we often categorize things is usually made up, not of well defined necessary criteria, but of things we associate with each other, as in the likenesses and similarities within families.

Given what we know about the above list of criteria, I think there is a case to be made that there is a problem with how we conceptualize civilization. Not that there is no such thing as civilization (that would be postmodernism) but that we need to define it better.

We could simply classify civilization as a way of life based on the existence of cities, knowing that this would include some early cities made up of egalitarian hunter gatherers. This, after all, is where the root meaning of the word 'civilization' comes from. But there might be better ways to categorize it.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - alexander - Mon, 16 Apr 2018 11:45:53 +0000

(Sun, 15 Apr 2018 21:32:14 +0000, 09:32 PM)|0|__|0| Wrote: Can you tell me if the four things have to be necessarily be present to qualify something as civilization or just missing one ,like for example the last one, means it doesn't qualify as civilization ?
All four things would have to be present.

(Sun, 15 Apr 2018 22:25:19 +0000, 10:25 PM)Odin Wrote:
  • We are not now, nor have we ever been, separate from nature. Unless you are referring to our metaphysical worldview about our relationship with nature. We have also dominated and controlled nature long before what we commonly call civilization. The first obvious display of this was through the use of fire. Agriculture merely added to our repertoire. Everything afterwards has been an intensification of this same process, not a different process.
  • Communication through symbolic culture likewise goes way back to the early to mid Pleistocene
  • Some of the earliest cities were built and inhabited by people who mostly hunted and gathered and were egalitarian. The mound builders in Mississippi were also hunter gatherers
  • Social stratification occurred long before what we call civilization.
Since all these criteria existed long before what we would normally call civilization, it seems to me that using them as necessary and sufficient conditions to classify something as a civilization would be problematic.

Wittgenstein also drew our attention to problems like this around categorization. He used the example of asking what is a 'game'? How would we define a game? He then showed how this quickly became a problem when trying to fit all the activities we normally call 'games' into a well-definable category without exceptions. Wittgenstein's answer was to come up with what he called family resemblances. The way we often categorize things is usually made up, not of well defined necessary criteria, but of things we associate with each other, as in the likenesses and similarities within families.

Given what we know about the above list of criteria, I think there is a case to be made that there is a problem with how we conceptualize civilization. Not that there is no such thing as civilization (that would be postmodernism) but that we need to define it better.

We could simply classify civilization as a way of life based on the existence of cities, knowing that this would include some early cities made up of egalitarian hunter gatherers. This, after all, is where the root meaning of the word 'civilization' comes from. But there might be better ways to categorize it.

I'm confident you could wibble the fist point to your liking by e.g. talking about a structure of society based on the domestication of nature (i.e. technological mass society). The other three points you raise I don't see as problematic. Nor do I see it as problematic that the criteria existed before civilisation, as it would be, to me, fair to say that civilisation is the first point where the four of them come together and together rule our societal structures. (They "won", to use JZ's words.) If modern archæological and anthropological work finds out that all human society has been more or less what we would call civilisation per above, then that's fine—I'm still against it. Similarly, if they find out that early cities have things to teach us, then that's all jolly well too.

Wittgenstein talked about Spiele, which is more accurately translated to a notion of "play", which would include games, sports, and so on. His point wasn't really that it is a problem to define Spiele, or that it couldn't be done, but that we don't have to define it in the first place due to Familienähnlichkeit. Indeed the whole idea is that our Sprachspiel doesn't need clarity and definitions in order to be meaningful. Indeed the fact that this forum exists indicates that he was right. (That doesn't mean that this thread is superfluous though.)

As for postmodernism, I don't know what you mean. I don't know of any postmodern philosophers that has said that there is no civilisation. They might write that it's symbolic, and that underneath the symbol there are more symbols—and they would, in my estimation, be correct to do so.

The word "civilisation", as far as I understand it, would mean "the process of civilising", where "civilising" would mean "making people citizens", where a "citizen" is a resident of a city or town—I think we may stop here.  There are two things you could be against here. (You can of course be against both too.) The first is civilising—making people citizens, and the second is cities altogether. The former is plainly authoritarian domestication, the latter is less obvious, but perhaps cities are unsustainable by being predicated on growth. I would say that I am against the former and highly sceptical of the latter.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - Odin - Mon, 16 Apr 2018 23:09:18 +0000

My point about Wittgenstein was about the way we categorize things. Wittgenstein was making the same point in Philosophical Investigations, namely, how we usually think of categories as a bounded class of objects or properties which belong to that class according to well defined rules of membership criteria that tell us which ones 'fit' and belong within it. Wittgenstein said that this way of thinking is useful and works for things like mathematical set theory, but in our ordinary daily life we can't analyze categories this way, because ordinary life categories are not so neat. Yet our language misleads us into thinking they are.  Wittgenstein asks what do 'games' all have in common? When we probe that question, and go through numerous examples of types of games, we find all kinds of exceptions and things that don't quite fit. It becomes extremely difficult to pin down the necessary conditions that define a 'game'.  Instead, he says, we should think of ordinary categories as more along the lines of family resemblances, which allows for life's ambiguities.  We should look at how things are internally related to each other.

So with 'civilization' we have a similar problem. The concept can't be analyzed completely accurately because civilization isn't a scientific object. It's a social category.

1. Separation and domination of nature can occur both in civilized and non-civilized societies. And since every organism is already acting on its environment, then every organism could be said to dominate nature. Leaf cutter ants farm fungus. Besides, 'nature' itself is made up of organisms (and non-organisms), thus where do we draw the line between nature and us as organisms? This criteria would seem to lead to confusion.

2. Symbolic culture is very ancient and applies to both civilized and non-civilized societies. All civilizations will have symbolic culture, just like all non-civilized societies will have symbolic culture. It would be kind of like including clothing as part of what defines civilization, something not specifically relevant enough.

3.  Urban development is a feature unique to what we normally call civilization. So this might be a good criteria to keep.

4. Social stratification can also be part of both civilized and non-civilized societies. But since social stratification is very prominent in civilized societies, it would also be an obvious candidate to keep.

I suggest we therefore put aside the first two criteria, and keep the second two. That leaves us with cities with social stratification. However, we know some of the early cities were egalitarian and did not have social stratification. So do we still call this civilization? Or do we only refer to cities with social stratification as civilization? What about early cities with social stratification which eventually lost most of their social stratification, like the Mayan cities? Or what about early egalitarian cities which eventually became stratified? At what point do we call cities becoming stratified 'civilization'? How much social stratification is required? Similarly, how many houses define a city?

These kinds of questions are why I see the concept of defining civilization as somewhat problematic.  Which is not to say the problems can't be overcome. But it points to the underlying question of: What exactly is it about civilization we are against? My guess is, it must have something do with social stratification (i.e. authority) more than with cities per se. Though we could certainly argue about the ecological problems with cities. But then we'd need to still define 'city' more carefully.


RE: What is the State, what's its Relationship to Civilization? - KyXen - Tue, 17 Apr 2018 20:00:23 +0000

First you have capital. The primitive form of capital is the dam. The priest then makes it a god dam by blessing it and the fruit it produces. The priest demands payment for blessing the god dam and this creates money. By the power of his sorcery the priest creates disunity amongst the producers of wealth. This disunity allows the priest to buy off one section of the producers as an armed force to defend the wealth he has expropriated. Devotion to the priest and the means to enforce that devotion constitutes the primitive state. The armed nature of the state eventually subsumes all previous human society into civilisation — society stratified into classes of exploiter and exploited.