Civilization describes a particularly complex society, one which flourished in the particular climate of the Holocene interglacial period, and which proved untenable in the new climate of the Fifth World.
We often associate civilization with music, art, storytelling, literature, philosophy, science, and other such hallmarks of social sophistication and achievement, but all of these pre-date civilization by tens of thousands of years. The earliest civilizations emerge in Africa and Asia about 15,000 years ago, but we find our earliest evidence of music, art, mathematics, and religious rituals more than 25,000 years before that. We can either accept “civilization” as a synonym for society itself (since every society has shared these characteristics for tens of thousands of years), or use it more narrowly to mean, specifically, those societies which employed a particular level of complexity marked by cities (as the word ultimately derives from the Latin civitas, meaning “city”).
With cities comes a number of characteristics which civilizations do seem to uniquely possess, in particular:
- The state as an organizing political body, as opposed to a chiefdom or an egalitarian band.
- The market, which removes economic transactions from the realm of personal relationships (as in a gift economy), allowing for impersonal exchange.
- The institution of laws, which the state can enforce with violence, as opposed to individual relationships.
Most people in the Fifth World think of civilization as ancient history (when they think of it at all). They generally see it as unrelated to their day-to-day lives. Among those who do spend time thinking about their relationship to the ancient past, one can find several general attitudes (with unique stories and myths reflecting them from one family to the next).
- The most common opinion paints civilization as a brief anomaly, a sort of passing madness which nearly destroyed all life on the planet, and which they continue to struggle to recover from (e.g., “The Tale of the Locust People”).
- Quite often people will paint this as more tragic than villainous, referring to their civilized ancestors as misguided or enchanted rather than evil (e.g., “The Tale of the Grass People”).
- Some people remember civilization as something their ancestors survived, rather than something they emerged from (e.g., “The Tale of the Winged People”).
- A relatively small, but nonetheless notable, number of people see civilization as a lost golden age (e.g., “The Tale of the Wise People”).