Origin of "civilization"

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Origin of "civilization"

Post by golly »

To me the word of "civilization" has a curious charge to it. It evokes a series of rules and expectations that are failing the natural order and therefore non-sustainable. Yet, it's also this constant standard told to us about humanity. We are told that old civilizations were "Great Civilizations". The book End:Civ by Derrick Jensen comes to mind as an answer to the constant call for us to be "civilized" "citizens" living in the "cities" of "civilization".

Looking up the root of the Latin-morphed English words we encounter a strange paradox. Civilian (or civil) comes from the meaning of citizen. Citizen comes from the meaning of civilization (civis) and city. In other words, each of these words refers to the other.

Where did this jail, this spell trap, come from? Just like the Greek polis is equivalent to police state, city-state and the violent gang of police that must constantly reinforce it*, so does the word city arise out of its citizens or denizens of the city. (Don't get started on denizen vs. citizen because each word has claims on influencing the other to explain why the words resemble each other). Yet a citizen is merely someone "within" the confines of a city (citi), so which meaning came first?

If we look up civil, we are told that it relates back to civis.

Yet civis, which supposedly means "citizen" again, is said in the mythology of this language to simply stand in opposition to "savage" or "barbarian" life.
1704, in a now-obsolete sense "law which makes a criminal process civil," from civil + -ization. Sense of "civilized condition, state of being reclaimed from the rudeness of savage life" first recorded 1772, probably from French civilisation, serving as an opposite to barbarity and a distinct word from civility. From civilize + -ation. Sense of "a particular human society in a civilized condition, considered as a whole over time," is from 1857. Related: Civilizational.

Barbar is also a Greek word, which means initially "bearded" and then as a slur "those bearded people living outside the city".

Savage, similarly, means "of wooded area" and then as an implication "wild" or "strong" and so as a slur "those hardy people that just won't stop living in the woods".
from Late Latin salvaticus, alteration of silvaticus "wild," literally "of the woods," from silva "forest, grove" (see sylvan). Of persons, the meaning "reckless, ungovernable" is attested from c. 1400, earlier in sense "indomitable, valiant" (c. 1300).

Why does a city (and by extension, civility, civilians, civilization and citizens) automatically set itself up in its own definitions as opposed to people living peacefully with and getting power from nature? Why does "civilization" begin to sound like "forest-haters"?

What in fact is the key way to separate such a population that uses these definitions for itself from the population that doesn't?

*Thanks to Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization by Robert A. Williams Jr


Boxes. Putting people in boxes. This is the way to separate one's self from nature. Of course, it doesn't actually do so. One must still exit the box to interact with nature, which gives us food, medicine and activity, as well as a place for humans to excrete what they will (poop, pee, pottery, inventions, houses, and our own bodies).

We have names for the different walls of the box. The bottom wall is a floor (whose word relates to fields and meadows and sounds like "flower"). The upper wall is a ceiling (whose word relates to blue sky). The outer walls are simply called walls, yet this word originates from earthwork.
Old English weall, Anglian wall "rampart, dike, earthwork" (natural as well as man-made), "dam, cliff, rocky shore," also "defensive fortification around a city, side of a building," an Anglo-Frisian and Saxon borrowing (Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch wal) from Latin vallum "wall, rampart, row or line of stakes," apparently a collective form of vallus "stake," from PIE *walso- "a post." Swedish vall, Danish val are from Low German.

Meaning "interior partition of a structure" is mid-13c. In this case, English uses one word where many languages have two, such as German Mauer "outer wall of a town, fortress, etc.," used also in reference to the former Berlin Wall, and wand "partition wall within a building" (compare the distinction, not always rigorously kept, in Italian muro/parete, Irish mur/fraig, Lithuanian mūras/siena, etc.). The Latin word for "defensive wall" was murus (see mural).

Floors, walls and ceilings. Artificial flowers in an artificial valley with an artificial sky. This is, essentially, a small simulation of pastoral Earth put upon the Earth. The "machine for living in" that Western forest-haters call a "house" sounds like a miniature Earth for control freaks. Incidentally, the word "house" seems to relate to hidden, covered and sanctified area or temple. So what are we worshipping in our box: the nature that sustains everything, or merely the surrogate for it? Do we love nature's gifts, or do we love our fear of them?

Why is architecture the arbiter of greatness according to Western school, books, movies, entertainment? Why are skyscrapers (the very word treats violence against nature as comedy) and Church steeples considered better? Perhaps the entire enterprise of architecture itself (which roughly translates to "chief of the structure weavers") is to the forest-haters some kind of competition to see how much of Earth we can simulate in a box. Virtual Reality whose industry pointlessly poisons Real Reality being the next level of putting all of civilization's money on fear of nature.

Yet, all people around the world have done a certain amount of trapping nature in a limited controlled environment. We call it refuge or shelter, protections from the things in the world that may harm us or our food: predators, toxins, filth, powerful weather, great shifts like fire. We must not forget that the goal (as defined by the word origins) seems to be to tame nature only in part, as minimally as possible, within the confines of our shelter. And when Earth decides to raise hell, it's best to get out of the way (or adapt, I suppose, if we can have houses that safely resist hurricanes, fires, floods, lava, subzero temps and so on). To live in a spaceship may be possible one day, but shall we treat all of life as little more than a threat until then? Not if we don't want to threaten nature that supports and tolerates our interactions with (and imitations of) it.

A "city" then, and "civilization" then, must be limited to allow for nature. There is nature outside the city. (Naturally, because that's where the barbarians and savages live). Wildness, untamedness and true nature are what cities dwell in. It's not to be reversed. Yet we keep connecting cities to each other and they grow and grow. Perhaps the reason cities must be filled with "crime", no matter where they are, is not so much naturally a "race" issue as it has been made to seem (inner city crime is still a problem in homogenous societies), but because cities cultivate a fascism and attempt to control the wild to too great an extent. The wild therefore is given no choice but to appear in and emerge from us. From our bodies. From the trauma of trying to control nature.

The lesson is: you may want your neighbor to mow their lawn and fix their roof but the plants you call weeds and the attic mold you want to keep away from your house are the only things keeping you safe from a sinkhole swallowing you and your entire family in seconds. Okay, not really. There isn't necessarily a lesson. Just some wonderings.

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