Metamodern Culture: Is Civilization Civilized?

“Every conscience condemns an inhuman act. But no conscience has become strong enough to prevent such acts in absolute terms.” – Source

The Dichotomy Between ‘Civilization’ and ‘Civilized’

By EJ Wickes
Atomic Mushroom Clown (above)

Is civilization civilized? Most of us would like to think that acting civilized is what fuels the engine of civilization. In cross-cultural analysis two names stand out. Edward Burnett Tylor and Louis Henry Morgan. There were many other authorities on the issue, but these two brought the fundamental concept to bear. Tylor presupposes that there are three basic steps to cultural evolution: (1) savagery, (2) barbarism, and (3) civilization. Morgan thought that Tylor had oversimplified and broke Savagery and Barbarism down even further into these categories:

Lower savagery began with earliest humanity – fruits and nuts subsistence.
Middle savagery began with discovery of fishing technology and the use of fire.
Upper savagery began with bow and arrow.
Lower barbarism began with pottery making.
Middle barbarism: Old World with the domestication of plants and animals / New World with the development of irrigation cultivation.
Upper barbarism began with smelting iron and the use of iron tools.
Civilization began with the invention of a phonetic alphabet and writing. – Source

Metamodern Culture: Civilization Civilized?What quantifies a civilization? The forerunners to phonetic alphabets and writing started around 30,000 years ago with the first cave paintings. Then 20,000 years later pictograms and ideograms. This opens a new perspective on civilization and its relationship to civilized.

Definitions describing the three stages of cultural evolution include:


1. The quality of being fierce or cruel: a crime of the utmost savagery she was treated with particular savagery by cartoonists.
2. (Chiefly in historical or literary contexts) the condition of being primitive or uncivilized: without adult society, the children descend into savagery, the progress of civilization over savagery.


1. Absence of culture and civilization: the collapse of civilization and the return to barbarism.
1.1 A word or expression that is badly formed according to traditional philological rules, for example a word formed from elements of different languages, such as breathalyzer (English and Greek) or television (Greek and Latin).
2. Extreme cruelty or brutality: she called the execution an act of barbarism barbarisms, from the country’s past.


1. The stage of human social development and organization that is considered most advanced: they equated the railroad with progress and civilization.
1.1 The process by which a society or place reaches an advanced stage of social development and organization.
1.2 The society, culture, and way of life of a particular area: the great books of Western civilization, the early civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
1.3 The comfort and convenience of modern life, regarded as available only in towns and cities: the fur traders moved further and further from civilization.

The phrase we use to keep each other in check is, “Act civilized”. We drive cars and ride elevators, we wear raincoats and shoes; we cook food in ovens and microwaves. We have improved our technology and capacity for warfare exponentially and some of us even go to art museums. Nowhere in any definitions of the term is there reference to peaceful coexistence among the species. In very nebulous ways sophistication, morality and the rule of law is referenced. A civilized state is never defined as one that has found the virtue of peace morally superior to the virtue of national pride or a particular collective’s interest.


1. Well organized socially with a very developed culture and way of life. The civilized world; rising crime in our so-called civilized societies. Civilized peoples.
2. Having laws and customs that are fair and morally acceptable. No civilized country should allow such terrible injustices.
3. Having or showing polite and reasonable behavior. We couldn’t even have a civilized conversation any more.
4. Of a comfortable and pleasant way of life. Breakfast on the terrace—how civilized! Let’s go somewhere civilized and have a meal.

Metamodern Culture: Civilization Civilized?
Leaf Blowers. What will the cultural anthropologists have to say about those a thousand years from now?

Does being civilized mean an end to violence or war? What are the virtues of civilization? In 30,000 years of evolution, war and violence have been prevalent wherever civilization has flourished. Civilizations come and go. Is a civilization that cultivates and maintains its own sustainable destruction through a war economy and consumption vanity disorder indeed civilized?

”If we consider peace more virtuous than the virtue of preserving our national interest we cannot rationalize war in the name of national interest. We either lose our national interest or we choose some means other than war to protect our national interest…Rather, we are ready to assert that our national interest is more virtuous than peace and thereby, we are ready to rationalize war.” – Source

Time for a movie. Ah! Ironclad: Battle for Blood. Been getting into historical fictions from a thousand years ago, Vikings, Saxons, and Chinese. It appears that the species has been maintaining a holding pattern between Barbarism and the dichotomy between Civilized and Civilization for a long time.

1. Savagery = fire.
2. Barbarism = all the “isms”: Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism, Totalitarianism, Fascism, Militarism, and Industrialism. Imperialism, Consumerism, Narcissism, Objectivism, and Collectivism .
3. Civilization?

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