Civilization when coupled with culture

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Civilization and culture must never cluster because otherwise it would rip civilization of generality; with local cultures, resultantly, obstructing its penetration doubtlessly with insurmountable resolve and resistance    

History has always been on the qui vive, with intentions to unearthing, for contestations among nations on cultural and among groups of nations on broader civilizational lines. Cultures have proved to be magnetic forces in mobilizing people for tribal, ethnic and national causes; whereas, civilization is a complex whole to which nations with distinct cultures hew to. Both culture and civilization divide humanity on local and international fronts, respectively. However, in recent times, both the terms have been used interchangeably. Can they be used interchangeably? Is it right to use them interchangeably? To answer these questions, we first need to dabble in what actually constitutes culture and civilization.

In Tylor’s point of view, “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals acquired by man as a member of a society”. Tylor has emphasized the point that culture is acquired with a systematic process of enculturation which has not got diddly-squat to do with biology. The cultural tools— which are for enculturation into a member of society— are reminiscent of forefathers to be inculcated in posterity. It obligates its adherents to be in conformity with the meanings and symbols invented by their primitive elders.

In Stuart Hall’s opinion, culture is a tool with which we give meaning to the world. For him, meaning depends on the relationship between things in the world— people, objects, and events, real or fictional— and the conceptual system, which can operate as “mental representations “of them. All the concepts which are in mind are given by culture. Cultures can also be defined as” shared meanings or shared conceptual maps”.

From Tylor’s and Hall’s definitions, it has come to the fore that culture is a way to give meanings to things, abstract and concrete. The meaning which a particular tribe, race or ethnic group ascribes to a particular object. Americans have different standards of personal, such as far apart people should stand in normal encounters and interactions while Jewish people stand closer in normal interactions. These standards are codified by their respective cultures.

Civilization, for Raymond Williams, is a comparative concept that took on its meaning as the end-point in an historical view of the advancement of humanity. Civilization has been formulated as a chronicle of the refining process undergone by a society as a whole. Henry James Pye’s poem “The Progress of Refinement” traces the record of refinement from a state of nature, through barbarism, to “the first seats of the arts” and from thence to Greece. Then he traces the history of Europe through the Classical and Medieval periods, the Renaissance, the Reformation, up to the eighteenth century Europe’s refinement: the end-point of Europe’s refinement, till Pye’s time, in the overall process of refinement. This categorization of civilization substantiated Western colonization as something inestimably beneficial. Pye implores west to colonize and civilize those who leg behind in their ride of refinement viz. civilization;

“And boldly tread the inhospitable shore,

Tame the wild waste, correct the unwholesome air

And fix of polish’d life the empire there”

John Stuart Mill, in his essays on Coleridge, transmuted civilization as an end-point refinement in the historical process of refinement into something” mixed good” by crediting it with advancement of knowledge and loss of independence at the same time, with decay of superstitions and tyranny of powerful over the weak. Delineation of once end-point refinement, in particular time and space, as a mixed good with faults and favors, is the most befitting way of explaining civilization and does unravel west’s anachronistic yearning to relive its past— the infallible, the indispensible nation with civilization prefixed by both the prior adjectives— if not physically then psychologically.

To be concise, it would be not be inappropriate to be more specific here regarding culture as a repertoire of artistic, literary and characteristics enculturated. From the birth, throughout child-rearing, to adolescence, the baby is indoctrinated with certain “shared meanings” that he attaches to the world with its objects, trees and feelings. This process is called enculturation. However, civilization is a stock of materialistic elation, not without pitfalls. Lord Lugard adduced Roman imperialism as the reason behind Modern civilization, and led the savages of Europe on the path of civilization and same is incumbent upon West, in turn, to civilize savages of Africa. The thing to be noted here is that all Europe civilized on Roman model but this did not impact their local identities viz. cultures. All African countries imitated their masters on civilizational fronts but remained in the staunch grip of their cultures at the same time. Employment of culture and civilization interchangeably, for sure, would leave both the concepts in fiasco, rendering them inexplicable and unintelligible at the same time.

Modern civilization is Eurocentric. If civilization is taken with its definition as a term for material progress, then it has to be Eurocentric as Western nations have reached the pinnacle of material supremacy. They are the trail-blazers and rest of the world, especially developing nations, is follower and imitator. Muslims do not consider this Western civilization objectionable.

Problem lies with civilization’s coupling with culture as it results in ethnocentrism. Ethno-centrists project the culture of civilizationally uplift nation as superior and destined to be acculturated into savages, barbarians and Muslims. This approach inheres in itself potential for conflict and clash. All the nations are cultured in their own way and this determines their identities. Identities are hard-won. Muslims are in clash with Western enlightenment, opines Samuel P Huntington. No! Muslims are in clash with the coupling of culture with civilization. In above analysis, there are examples where nations, like African and Asian, transmogrified civilizationally besides culturally remaining quite intact at the same time. People won’t accept material boom on the expense of identities. This, basically, is the most urgent question to be pondered upon. It is graver in nature than fundamentalism, extremism and ultra-rightism.

One way forward is cultural relativism: a belief that all cultures are right and respectful. It must be noted that cultural relativism is suggested as one remedy with the exception of ultra-cultural relativism which deems even Nazis as deserving respect and rightful. This will nip the evil of condescension and civilizational-cum-cultural pride in the bud.

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