is a civilization? Is it a human community - a society
- located in a particular place and time with continuity
of government and social order; or is it a more abstract
cultural configuration that describes the state of
society at particular times? I subscribe to the latter
view. Arnold Toynbee (my chief inspiration in this
field) and most others subscribe to the former view.
my view, human society in all parts of the world go
through similar stages of development. In all cases,
there is pre-civilized society when humanity
is organized in small tribes, engaged in hunting-and-gathering
activities or simple agriculture, and is possessing
an unwritten or oral culture with ritualistic religion.
Acquisition of the art of written language is a prerequisite
for civilization in its initial stage.
theory of civilizations extends this distinction to
societies as they acquire other communication technologies.
And so, the first civilization (Civilization
I) would be a society that employs writing
in its most primitive, ideographic form. The second
civilization (Civilization II)
would describe a society where written language advances
to an alphabetic script. The third civilization (Civilization
III) would describe a society where printed
literature replaces handwritten manuscripts. The fourth
civilization (Civilization IV)
would be a society where the media of electric or
electronic communication have added a culture to that
based upon printed literature, or, some would say,
have replaced it. The fifth civilization (Civilization
V), now on the horizon, would be a culture
created by the computer, as in the Internet or in
future forms of computer-based communication.
recognizes that each medium of communication, whether
utilizing written language or images captured in electronic
form, creates a certain kind of public space in which
certain thoughts or intelligible messages can be expressed.
This is the cultural aspect of civilizations. There
is also, however, an aspect having to do with the
structure of society. In my view, all human societies
go through a process of development extending from
primitive, tribal society to more complex societies
that have a pluralistic structure of institutions.
The various institutions become fully developed at
certain times in world history. Civilization as a
whole can be defined by the snap shot taken of the
society as it successively acquires these institutions.
this criterion, Civilization
I would be a society dominated by the institution
of government as it detaches from the earlier political-religious
amalgamation, develops hereditary monarchies, and
eventually large empires like the Roman empire or
the Han empire in China. Civilization
II would describe society as religion, transformed
by philosophy and written texts, became a major power
broker in society, joining government as a partner
in organizing society. Civilization
III would describe the society that originated
in the Renaissance, where commercial institutions
and institutions of secular learning (including literature,
art, and the natural sciences) were the driving force
in the culture. Civilization
IV would be a society given over to popular
entertainment where people spend much of their time
watching television, following professional sports,
listening to recorded music, and the like. As for
Civilization V, we are
now beginning to experience this culture but know
not yet where it will lead. The young generation which
expresses itself on MySpace, FaceBook, and YouTube
has a better grip on this fifth civilization than
is a connection between dominant media of communication
and emerging institutions of power in the society.
I wont go into that here. Suffice it to say
that the communication media and the new institutions
of power appear roughly in the same time period of
world history: the 4th and 3rd millennia B.C for Civilization
I; the 1st millennium B.C. for Civilization II; the
14th and 15th centuries A.D. for Civilization III;
the late 19th century and early 20th centuries A.D.
for Civilization IV; and the late 20th century for
Civilization V. But the culture of entertainment (Civilization
IV) is the dominant culture now, at least in America.
civilization based upon the continuous society and
culture of a geographically identified people or is
it a phase in the development of a single world culture?
Is there, for instance, a Chinese civilization
distinct from ours?
me, that question was decisively answered when, as
a part of a group of Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia
last December, I spent Christmas Day at a mountain-top
resort called Genting, city of entertainment,
with a 6,000-room hotel, gambling casino, and Las
Vegas-style community park. To see hordes of Chinese
teenagers running around excitedly in their Santa
Claus stocking hats, playing electronic games, having
their pictures taken in front of nonreligious Christmas
displays - let me ask you now: Are these young people
living in the Chinese civilization of
Confucius or Mao Zedong or they, like young Americans
and youth elsewhere, living in a materialistic, commercial,
fun-centered civilization which I would
associate with holiday shopping and electronic pop
adopt the latter view, one can begin to see civilization
as an ongoing process, no less potent and dynamic in
our own day than in the past ages that historians prefer
to study. This view provides the basis of a penetrating
form of historical prediction that can anticipate the
future as being in a continuum with past and present
events. Civilization is indeed a living creature within
which we ourselves live.