Why Civilization is Complex



"A human society having an advanced stage of development in the arts and sciences and social, political, and cultural complexity." ....The American Heritage Dictionary


In previous, articles we began the analysis of the meaning of civilization. We found that in the formal definition the property of complexity was attributed to developed civilizations. We asked the question "is it possible to have a simple civilization? " There was no  immediate answer to this question. It has taken me several years, in fact, to find an  answer to this question.  The answer is yes, but in order to understand  why we have to learn something about the vital element of civilization; humans, it's architects .


Civilization is a man-made institution that was designed,  defined, and implemented by its principle benefactors, humans. Its purpose is to provide us with some basic requirements that our very survival depends upon. Most important among these are safety, health, vitality, and organization. In attempting to provide these things institutions have  been created inside of civilizations to organize these efforts . It is the responsibility of these institutions to provide for the members of a civilization according to the goals that characterizes the cultures that created them . The goals usually have a relationship to at least one of two objectives of a civilized culture; to acquire the things that the civilization wants or to acquire the things that the civilization needs. It is exactly in this function of civilized institutions that the difference between a simple civilization and a complex civilization can be defined. The difference is dependent upon whether a civilization's institutions are attempting to provide the needs of its people, the wants of its people, or both. Why this question determines a civilization's nature (simple or complex) is made clear through the discussion of a few concepts found in mathematics.


The mathematical concepts that you must understand in order to grasp the significance that needs and wants have for defining the nature of a civilization, are those that explain when something has a finite nature, and when something has an infinite nature. Simply stated something is finite when it can be counted or, if it is not numerical, when it has an end that can be determined. On the other hand, something is infinite when it is too large to be counted or does not have an end that can be determined. Of these two concepts infinite things are far more difficult to grasp.


To see how these mathematical concepts underlie the determination of the level of complexity of a civilization the assignment of the characteristic of finite or infinite is made to the other two parts of the question, needs and wants. Our needs are finite in nature, and they are essentially the same for all human beings. On the other hand, our wants are infinite in nature, and they are in as great a variety as the number of things that we can imagine. The point is now made that civilizations would or could be simple if all that the institutions that are created within them sought to provide were the needs of its people. Since needs are finite in nature and relatively the same for all people, civilization could be defined and operated as a simple institution if only needs are sought to be provided. The real case is, however, that the institutions within most civilizations have tried to provide both the needs and the wants of its people, especially in modern times. Since the wants of people are infinite in scope and in nature, the civilization is made complex by them.


Now we have answered the question about whether a civilization can be simple and still work. It appears that it is possible. We have also seen that the original definition of civilization as a complex institution was correct. Apparently humans have chosen to set up institutions in our civilizations that provide both our needs and our wants, and have consequently been forced to deal with a complexity in life that is dreaded in some cases.


There are correlating questions that can be posed about the subject, like why the complex civilization has been chosen, and how the other option, the simple civilization could be implemented instead. Now that we have a deeper insight into a facet of the structure of civilization, it is fairly simple to imagine new ways of designing them. One example that occurred to me immediately is a simple civilization with limited extensions, say. At this point in the sequence of the analysis we have a strong grasp on the subject and its incumbent problems.

March 5, 2011

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