As Civilization Advances Culture Declines


Civilization and culture are two constellations that lie in the same continuum. Each influences and is in turn influenced by the other. Civilization is an advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, the extensive use of record-keeping, including writing, and the appearance of complex political and social institutions. This is basically a state of affair in a society at a particular time frame. The definition above suggests the advanced state of affair… in common parlance… but civilization may be traditional or not advanced.

People say Indus valley civilization or Egyptian civilizations which are primitive civilizations. On the other hand, culture means the ways of thinking, acting, behaving that people have internalized in them and which are transformed into reality through their actions in the society. For example, respecting the elders or treating guests as the God; as in “Atithi devo bhava” are examples of particular cultural traits. Here before proceeding any further one needs to understand the various constituents of the culture.

When one studies culture, two things can not be neglected; cultural traits and cultural complexes. Cultural traits are the individual acts that defy any scientific reason but are simply followed on the basis that they are rooted in tradition. The examples of cultural traits are folding hands in front of a deity or touching the feet of elders. The inter-related cultural traits form a cultural complex.

For example while performing a “pooja” one lights an “agarvati”, chants some hymns or devotional songs, offers “Prasad” to the lord etc. All these activities constitute the cultural complex. The inter-play and interaction of the different cultural complexes form the substratum of culture. With so much of epistemological differences between culture and civilization one needs to see what separates the both. Culture refers to those intrinsic and intangible elements that engulf human whereas civilization includes all the physical objects that are the exemplification of some objective realities.

Civilization is the human creativity, intellect and volition translated into reality whereas culture is the morality and intellect that remain as the under current of human thought. Civilization progresses thorough the vehicle of knowledge and technology whereas culture thrives in human mind and proceeds through tradition. But when one says they lie in the same continuum means culture determines the civilization. For example, that society where the dominant culture is heroism and hero-worships like the Sioux Indians their substrata of civilization is based on heroism, physical prowess.

Their chief industry is making weapons for hunting and defending own clan members. And their structure of authority and leadership also hovers around this principle only. But at the same time civilization also influences culture in many ways. The technical developments and objective rationality in knowledge inquires the truth among the traditional customs. Reinterpretation of cultural complexes and superstitions from a scientific point of view makes room for reinterpretation of culture. So culture and civilization influence each other. The present write up requires an analysis if the advancement of civilization makes way for decline of culture.

As described earlier culture is morality and civilization is reality. Culture resides in ideas and civilization spurns out of ideas. So it is quite easy to see the pre-occurrence of culture vis-à-vis civilization. But such a concomitance is not that easy as once civilization is formed it tends to affect the ideas or the culture which is the substrata of its very own self. The advancement of civilization affects culture in many ways. And the very common notion is that the advancement of civilization declines culture. But to analyze the statement one needs to understand what does the “word” decline mean here.

Decline means as usual lessening of importance given on culture. But it also means that the earlier cultural axioms which have been adopted without question by all, comes under the hammer of reason. And all such preconditions about culture which are rooted in irrationality are increasingly given up. For example with the spread of awareness and knowledge among the mass the traditions like “sati” etc are given up. But this cannot be called a s a decline of culture because it is a constructive effort to eradicate a social evil from society.

So when one tries to establish a concomitance between civilization and decline of culture one needs to have a thin line approach, where one needs to separate the constructive and beneficial changes in culture and the decline of culture. One needs to see what is implied by advancement of culture.

The very phrase “advancement of culture” refers to a dynamic process; a change. Why on earth there is a change in civilization. There is a change from one state of affair to the other when 1. The preceding state of affair has some contradictions inherent in it or 2. When there is a better or new way of doing things which are superior to those in the preceding state of affair. Both of these above reasons refer to two different epistemological paradigms but what connects the both is the thread of rationality or objectivity which in common parlance called as scientific understanding.

Civilization, as stated earlier the material developments of human beings, proceeds from a state of less scientific to more scientific one. One can go to history to trace the brief advancement of civilization. The earliest form of civilization was the human horde in the pre-historic ages. This was a civilization where man was last rational and succumbed to the nature. But gradually rationality and scientific inquest impinged the earlier man also and he devised such rudimentary tools to defend himself against the adversities in a forest life and also hunt animals for subsistence. The first historical act of human being “production” was also his first step towards rationality. And for the rest of history man is trying to increase rationality of thought, behavior and action.

The next civilizations be it the civilization of Egypt or Mesopotamia or the Indus valley all developed because man made more scientific inventions and used his reason to overcome the nature. This civilization took man’s intellect to a newer and higher level. His earlier horde culture was replaced by a family culture and the civilization influenced the culture. Of course the very birth of a civilization or in general an idea occurs in the human mind which is a purely cultural concept but when it becomes really existent it starts molding human mind and thereby culture.

Man’s progress from Bronze-iron ages to feudal age or industrial age or the modern age of today is the progression of rationality of thought from a lower level to a higher level. One cannot say that as civilization advances man becomes more rational. Rather when man becomes more rational civilization advances. And when civilization advances rationality creeps into society and culture comes under the hammer of scientific inquiry. So the irrational elements of culture are progressively shed off and hence the hold of culture on human mind declines.

Those cultural ideals which were prevalent in the yester years are rendered rather irrelevant by the progression of science and technology. In earlier days the farmers used to indulge in festivities to impress the Goddess of fertility to have good harvest. But now-a-days the farmer rather invests more money on tractors, insecticides and hybrid seeds than in cultural festivities to have a better yield. An epidemic like cholera or chicken pox is not perceived as a wrath of the presiding deity but treated by medically approved norms and procedures. So the advancement of civilization has created awareness among the mass and people are beginning to stride the kingdom of reasons.

The advancement of civilization is coincident with the advancement in science and technology. New technology and new methods of production requires a definitive change in the existing division of labor in society. And thus associated changes do occur in the cultural aspect of the economic society. With the prevalence of factory mode of production the labor forces have become mobile instead of the fixed labour in case of feudal economy. Mobile labor force gives rise to urban culture. So the earlier human culture which was predominantly rural has been diversified into a urban culture.

Certain norms and values of the rural society are not applicable in the urban society. So a certain amount of changes do occur in the culture. Some cultural traits are negated and some new cultural traits specific to the urban area people do develop. The earlier joint family structure breaks to give rise to the new neo-local nucleus family structure. Religious rituals in the daily life go to a back stage. And new subcultures like shopping mall culture, multiplexes and other agencies of entertainment become important in case of city life. So as culture advances there occurs a change in the culture.

In some cases the old cultural elements are thrown to back burner, new cultural traits arise or in some cases the old cultural elements are reinterpreted in a radically different way. But one has to agree that the advancement of civilization effects changes to the culture.The change in culture with associated advancement of civilization is not always in a constructive way as depicted above. Advancement of civilization especially the rise of urbanism as a way of life has effected some irreparable damages to our olden culture.

The most pronounced change in the culture is the break down of family. In the earlier societies the family was the most important unit of society. As it was also an economic unit there was not much division of labor in society and all the family members are involved in the same economic pursuit. There were greater dependence with each other along with greater volume and density of interaction amongst them. Family acted as a conditioning device in which people can bank on each other at times of stress. But the new urbanization has made family an atomistic entity as imagined by Zimmerman.

As the volume ad density of social interaction decreases due to the break down of the extended family the expectation of people from each other increases manifold in a nucleus family. So family instead of a soothing device becomes a pressure cooker as remarked by David Cooper in his master piece the death of family. Other psychologists like Robert Laing talk that the family itself has become the biggest enemy of man by putting him into a catch 22 situation of immense pressure and enormous expectations. So individual in the family itself is at the receiving end.

This results in break down families, divorces and other familial discord including domestic violence. So urbanization has clearly broken down the earlier existing harmonic family culture. The effect of the advancement of civilization is also felt in the sphere of the morality in society. The earlier society has prescribed certain moral codes of conduct. But with the advancement of civilization and progress of scientific thoughts the moral codes are under attack. Some of the moral codes are, no doubt, established in irrationality; but they help to represent the collective conscience and preserve the social harmony. But scientific thoughts do not think in that direction.

Moral codes are discarded like anything in the new society. The simpler norms like honesty, punctuality, integrity, brotherhood, camaraderie etc are forgotten and in turn importance is given on individuation. Too much individuation results in less degree of integration with the society. This results in individual conscience influencing the collective consciousness more and more. This results in deviant behavior, corruption, dishonesty and other such social evils. Advancement of civilization throws up new values and techniques which also give way for social mobility. New level of stratification are created, older levels are destroyed and modified.

This reduces man to a marginalized one. A marginal man does not know about norms to follow and what norms to abhor. He is in a state of flux which is rightly said as the state of anomie. Culture is an integrating force. But certain development in the level of sub-stratum like at the level of civilization weakens the impact of culture. This makes the socialization process unhealthy and weak. This causes a lot of strain in individual. In a society the individual has a very limited existence.

Compared to the enormity of the society the individual is minuscule and powerless. His existence depends on the collective representation. But the new norms of the modern civilization weaken the collective representation and man becomes less integrated with the society and feels great stress. Besides the modern values bring out some such basic changes in the existing culture that the culture that the morality of society is endangered. Adoption of western values and life styles, though they are not at all harmful, but highly unsuitable for the Indian society.

They lack the collective representation of Indian mass. So the western yo-man becomes marginalized in the great Indian tradition. Certain values like freedom in sexual endeavors etc are not accepted in India even today. The so called moral police add fuel to the situation and make the situation more difficult. The adoption of western values also increase the conspicuous consumption in society and that creates a great amount of social divide and polarization among the people.

Besides in the age of globalization when a society integrates itself with the global society especially in the sphere of economics there is always threat that the existing indigenous economic base may collapse. Civilization and culture are related with each other intricately. A change in the former creates a great stir in the later. Civilization advances through the advancement of ideas. These advanced ideas are bred in the mind of a few and the rest of the society do not share such advanced ideas. They stick to the traditional ideas which form their culture of the society.

When civilization advances there occurs a conflict between the reality and the idea possessed by the majority in the society. But as the reality always scores over the ideas, the advancement of civilization brings about change in culture. The change in culture may be a positive one or a destructive one. So one cannot emphatically say that advancement of civilization does not always bring about decline in culture though change in culture is inevitable.

However the inculcation of rational thinking and reasoning among the mass weakens the blind acceptance of culture. So the importance of culture in the society declines. S one can say, the importance of culture may be reduced in a modern civilization but the very culture, its ethos can never decline but they may change to adopt new norms and values.

Adoption of new norms or values may cause a stage of confusion and anomaly in the society but one need to understand that after this anti-thesis stage (anomic stage) there comes a stage of synthesis where new culture emerges, a culture more rational one. The more the culture becomes rational the less importance it exerts on individuals in the society. So the statement again may e repeated that the importance of culture may decline in the process of advancement of civilization but culture itself can never be negated in the society.

Source by Mitrabhanu Mahapatra

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