Thursday, August 03, 2006

Decline and Fall, Part 3: Civilization vs. Culture


Prerequisite reading:
Decline and Fall, Part 1
Decline and Fall, Part 2: Flexible History

Ward-Perkins makes another excellent point about the contemporary sugar-coating of Rome’s decline: the fashionable semantic replacement of “Civilization” with “Culture.”

Before the last few decades, “civilizations” were judged by quantifiable means of the secular/economic quality of life. Most social groups that we can call “civilizations” can be called as such as a result of at least some degree social organization based upon a system of laws and ethics that provides quantifiable value and protections to the vast majority of its citizens. While it is true that Rome had its share of inequities, such as slavery and tyrannical rule (depending upon the ruler), the quantifiable quality of life for the vast majority of citizens of Rome was much greater than the rest of the social groups in the known world of the time. A simple observation of social, economic and built structures of Rome as compared to all other populations of the time proves this. The Flavian Amphitheater, while playing host to horrific bloodsport, was constructible only by a civilization of sufficient economic freedom and specialization to support such a mathematically and physically complex structure.

Frankly, and as Ward-Perkins argues, perhaps Ancient Rome is so much like our own civilization that it’s just too ordinary and therefore not embracing enough of “diversity.”

In the modern politically-correct world, it has become fashionable, for the sake of inclusion and non-offense, to value every person’s “culture,” regardless of whether or not one’s “culture” displays those quantifiable characteristics of a good quality of life. In this context, a contemporary group of people that actively impedes basic rights from some of its citizens based upon gender, race, ethnicity, creed, etc. can be of equal value to another group that actively defends those same basic rights, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, creed, etc. All cultures have equal value, it seems. To an “open-minded” academic-type living in a Western Democracy, this makes a whole lot of sense. To a Christian woman living in Iran or North Korea, however, it the height of idiocy – she is too busy trying to survive while living according to her beliefs to worry about academics and social theories. Then again, perhaps she has been oppressed for so long that she simply can’t conceive of personal liberty. I ask the “open-minded” academics: does this woman, like you, have the right to live according to her beliefs? Or are we not allowed to consider the justness of the “culture” in which she is forced to exist?

In the tradition of most Western Democracies, being an immigrant from a culture that is oppressive, racist, sexist, or otherwise unjust does not automatically mean that the individual immigrant shares beliefs in those unjust concepts. However, this concept of inclusion based upon the shared belief in liberty, regardless of where we come from, has actually mutated in to a system of entitlement (at best) and oppression (at worst).

In our quest to value diversity, we have forgotten what we share - the basic human desire that was codified in the origins of the United States - the idea that we should chart our own destiny and be respectful of the same in those around us. We have abandoned “Live and Let Live” for forced respect and support of others, regardless of their value to those around them. Or perhaps “do what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt me” has become “I have the right to do whatever I want and you will support and respect me even if it harms you.”

Next: Decline and Fall, Part 4: Palatine or Palpatine?

1 comment:

Mr.Atos said...

The Golden Rule would seem to have as much relevance in modern society as the Golden Section has in modern architecture. Propriety and proportion as mandated by natural priciples, so cherished by Greece and Rome, have given way to a mannerist folly of conceptual degradation in which 'anything goes' and everything 'not traditional' is valid. Aristotelian Ethics like proportion are abandoned to whim, and civilization like Gehryesque architecture bears no actual resemblance to anything ...manifestly human.

What then, does it represent?