How the west was made?

As much as i understand, the idea is that the concept of a West civilisation is a fake news.

Civilisations are not separate and don’t grow in isolation, but through contacts

[How the World Made the West — a scuttling of civilisational myths]
[How the World Made the West by Josephine Quinn review – rethinking ‘civilisation’ | History books | The Guardian]

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If the strong version of Quinn’s thesis – that separate cultures don’t even exist – is dubious, the weak version, that “there has never been a single, pure western or European culture”, remains a valuable point, and her book is full of little gem-like shifts of perspective.

Oh and it’s available via Audible, 18 hour listen. Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to give it a listen.

If you liked that, here’s another book to fill in some more pieces of the puzzle. It’s been criticized for this and that, and I don’t buy into his closing chapter, but still a very valuable book, with lots of new facts that stand on their own and interesting insights worth chewing on, and that’s full of little gem-like shifts of perspective.

The Dawn of Everything

A New History of Humanity

Author: David Graeber and David Wengrow

Historians have always taken into account the environment that civilizations exist in. Part of that environment is other civilizations. I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the effect of relative isolation however. Think divergent evolution when animals are isolated on an island.

That’s new to me.

Sure, okay, don’t be too quick about discounting the effect of relative isolation, no doubt. But in the same vain doesn’t negate ancient trade networks and the dispersion of ideas and resources.

Everyone has heard of “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond where he discusses the effect of the environment on the course of civilization. A better version is “Why the West Rules for Now” by Ian Morris but Historians have always talked of the effect of neighboring civilizations. The problem was that they didn’t have a lot of resources to draw on. Good historians like scientist require first hand accounts or archeological evidence. Good archeology it turns out is a fairly recent thing. In the past good translations were also hard to come by.

Cultural evolution is remarkably like physical evolution. If you think of civilizations as a species you can get inbreeding or outbreeding depression depending on what “memes” are exchanged. The question has always been how deterministic is culture evolution. Ironically in the past ideas such as “manifest destiny” were popular. Keep in mind that the US government did make attempts to stop European settlement some distance West of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in response to treaties with Native American nations. There are a whole series of forts in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, that I know of that were established for that purpose. It turns out that European settlement was “destiny”. Similarly it was “destiny” that the horse mounted natives would displace most of the original tribes on the Great Plains.

In an earlier post I stated that when the first ape picked up a rock and used it as a tool the “destiny” of the new ape that would evolve from that beginning of physical culture would go on to develop nuclear weapons and AI. In a similar vein I suspect that “trans-humanism” is also unavoidable.

I wrote a short essay on the topic some years ago in response to the question of who was responsible for the US using nuclear weapons in Japan. I tried to make the case that it was everyone living and dead including that first ape that used a stone tool. I’m not saying that should have, would have, could have done better are irrelevant topics. All I’m saying is that without the development of freewill you are locked into a “destiny”. No freewill, no human agency, no human agency no human dignity, now human dignity, no morality, no morality no civilization.

I may start a topic on reciprocal altruism to demonstrate my point some day. Why it is a philosophically unsound idea. The central point being that nature is fundamentally amoral. Something I think science has something to say about.

I find these hot takes on history to be lame attempts at rewriting history to fit into a modern political agenda.

Nearly all scholars agree that civilizations are real, none have ever been totally isolated, and it is human nature to create them, so basically this author is a crackpot.

Or, you could try a more subtle approach, something more practical, from the Guardian article;

If the strong version of Quinn’s thesis – that separate cultures don’t even exist – is dubious, the weak version, that “there has never been a single, pure western or European culture”, remains a valuable point, and her book is full of little gem-like shifts of perspective.

Seems to me when Diamond’s book came out it was a refreshing break from previous historic accounts because of how he focused cause and effect. I read it early on and was impressed, even later critique of his book didn’t diminish its value by much, in my estimation, even with caveats it’s a valuable read.

I’m not familiar with that book, though I’ve found a talk Prof Morris gave after publication and look forward to listening to that this morning, to get a ball park idea.

Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and...

It is not, he reveals, differences of race or culture, or even the strivings of great individuals, that explain Western dominance. It is the effects of geography on the everyday efforts of ordinary people as they deal with crises of resources, disease, migration, and climate.

Tru dat!
We do the best we can with the information we have at hand, until more information forces us to refine that understanding. It’s a beautiful thing.
I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of first ape picking up rock created a “destiny.”

Destiny is a fickled thing.

Our ancestors lost nearly 99% of their population, 900,000 years ago.

I think you should, it’ll help you untangle some of these thoughts. (yeah, that just popped into my mind, about what you’ve written here, much of it I intuitively agree with, like, and find interesting, but it’s a bit tangled up. For starters “the environment that civilizations exist in” gosh that could be anything and everything, Morris uses “geography” which seems more focused and useful, though I know it goes way past living in a desert or on around a river delta.)

How many times do we Americans recognize, that it was not the western people that made America great, it was America’s landscape and resources that made us people great.
And now that we’ve raped and pillaged the most of it, our greatness is hugely diminished, and it turns out our people are way too shallow to handle it, thus poop like trump happens, because of course lower taxes and gas prices and ‘keep your hands off my stash,’ is all that matters.

Excuse the rambling, first morning in a couple weeks I can relax and be on my own schedule for a few hours.

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More than “Destiny”, I like the thought of Trajectories.

As for “Free Will” I think we humans are still too self-absorbed to soberly assess what “Free Will” or “Free Won’t” are all about. Current, state of the discussion is more a Rorschach experience than anything, since most the folks expounding on it, still haven’t figured out their own Physical Reality ~ Mindscape divide.

Biology being the physical reality that produces creatures, whose biological bodies produce their minds.

Why do you assign civilization only to humans?
Aside from nature, humans are biomes consisting of all kinds of civilizations

Civilizations have existed since the formation of hive societies.
Have you ever studied the civilizations of a termite hive or a beehive.
Or even further back to bacterial civilizations , both symbiotic or virulent?

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Thanks for your comment.

We have had the artificial discussion so I won’t go over that again but yes you are right that that you can’t separate the long chain of events and say civilization starts at some particular point. Previously you selected the big bang as the beginning of everything. That works for me but colloquially civilization is defined as a human society that has highly developed material and spiritual resources and a complex cultural, political, and legal organization, an advanced state in social development. If there is a scientific term for civilization I don’t know what it is.

Not everyone is going to agree with us that there is an unbroken chain of events that made civilization predetermined. I even have some doubts about strict determinism.

Picking a date when civilization starts is just a convenient arbitrary red line that can be used as a reference. That date will vary of course from place to place and how people define civilization or as new archeological information become available.

I appreciate your comments.

As you know by now I pick words at times to provoke an emotional response. I picked destiny because it is such a loaded term historically. You shouldn’t be comfortable with it. It was used historically to justify what now would be considered immoral behavior. Remember I also included the plains natives who adopted horse as an example that by the same standard conquered land occupied by other tribes “immorally”. The question becomes why are Europeans held to a higher standard? Events in Europe beyond their control drove them to the Americas. I understand some came to the Americas as exploiters but other were fleeing conditions that they considered intolerable.

Most of the people that migrated West in the US were the “ignorant” masses. Whatever training they had in ethics would have been minimal. The native civilizations of what would become the US had already been devastated by European diseases before most Europeans arrived. They saw the North America minus Mexico as basically unpopulated. At least by European standards so they probably didn’t think that resettlement there was immoral.

There are reasons why settled civilization and tribal societies that are basically hunters and gathers or pastoralists are incompatible. The key is intensive agriculture which requires a high degree of organization and protection. That type of agriculture is the foundation on which most civilizations were built. Everywhere in the world where civilization has sprung up tribal societies have been marginalized. The simple explanation is you can’t have people destroying your crops. Even the “Range Wars” in the US are an example. The technology of barbed wire is an interesting example of how civilization needs to fence things in, including us today.

Calling insect colonies a civilization is a big stretch. They are a kind of society but civilization is a pretty distinct term.

Guardian reviewers are pushing the same agenda. I’ll stick with the majority of experts.

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Likewise. Regarding comment #11 :+1:

You kind of have to know our previous discussions with write4u. We have a context that we have agreed on.

That said civilization is a kind of “artificial” Eusociality because of group selection. What that means is that non-reproducing members of society contribute to group fitness.

The key thing to remember is that terms are absolute because logic requires that. You have to refer to the arbitrary red lines language creates to communicate effectively. For example all social animals are eusocial but we only call species that have a specific reproductive strategy eusocial. In physical reality it is a matter of degree not kind. For example where is the cut off point where an animal is unintelligent? Some people will place the arbitrary red line somewhere between single celled organism and humans. In some contexts however it is useful to just say intelligence is a property of life. The colloquial definition of intelligence from Oxford is the ability to learn, understand and think in a logical way about things. The scientific definition is Intelligence is the ability to learn from experience and to adapt to, shape, and select environments. I can’t think of any life form that doesn’t do that.

Since this thread is in Humanism I would say the colloquial definitions may be best but it never hurts to add a scientific perspective.

I think that mostly applies to individuals. Most animals die if you take them out of their environment. Migratory animals don’t thrive if they don’t migrate at the right time. Changes in climate are currently affecting animals everywhere.

Including humans. But not insects. They have survived all of earth’s extinction events, from heat to cold to meteor impact. A testament to their adaptive properties. (see Hellstrom Chronicles)

Climate change

12 October 2023


Climate change presents a fundamental threat to human health. It affects the physical environment as well as all aspects of both natural and human systems – including social and economic conditions and the functioning of health systems. It is therefore a threat multiplier, undermining and potentially reversing decades of health progress

As climatic conditions change, more frequent and intensifying weather and climate events are observed, including storms, extreme heat, floods, droughts and wildfires. These weather and climate hazards affect health both directly and indirectly, increasing the risk of deaths, noncommunicable diseases, the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, and health emergencies.

Recent research attributes 37% of heat-related deaths to human-induced climate change. Heat-related deaths among those over 65 have risen by 70% in two decades. In 2020, 98 million more experienced food insecurity compared to the 1981–2010 average.

The WHO conservatively projects 250 000 additional yearly deaths by the 2030s due to climate change impacts on diseases like malaria and coastal flooding. However, modelling challenges persist, especially around capturing risks like drought and migration pressures.
Climate change

Supposedly we are intelligent. Some will survive. 8.1 billion is a lot.

Climate change in the context of this tread is a distraction. There are complex social development issues that are related but time is limited.

Since I was talking about the development of the US it may be a good reference point to discuss how cultural development overcomes physical obstacles. Early European migrants to what would become the US had a dismal survival rate. The same is true for European migrants to Sub Saharan Africa. Individual intelligence played little role in who survived and who did not. In a way it was not that much different than the dismal survival rate of Native Americans when the environment was altered by European diseases. Over time as the European culture was transplanted to North America changing the environment that survival rates would dramatically improve. The migrants there animals and plants physically transformed North America to be more European like.

The point being that humans are the cultural ape. Take away culture and they are fairly helpless regardless of native intelligence. Survival outside of a specific cultural environment will be little effected by individual intelligence, within reasonable limits. Physical strength, disease resistance, sensory quality, etc. become more important inversely as culture is diminished. Civilization as I said creates a kind of dependence on “artificial” eusociality. How much we have evolved to be “civilized” may be an interesting topic. Certainly we can see the effect of self domestication in humans.

The human self-domestication hypothesis, which traces back to Darwin himself, has experienced a recent resurgence in interest as an account for how modern human behaviors, morphology, and culture might have evolved. Although modern humans exhibit many shared features with other closely-related species, there is evidence of a distinct suite of derived physical, cognitive, and behavioral traits which are indicative of a domestication-like process.