what is civilization?


Mark Twain, through the mad philosopher tells us

Morally, it is the evil passions repressed, the level of conduct raised; spiritually, idols cast down, God enthroned; materially, bread and fair treatment for the greatest number.

Then he says of his (our) civilization, and here he seems to be speaking as a prophet, unless the conditions of 1900s reflect those of the present age. He writes

Our civilization is wonderful, in certain spectacular and meretricious ways; wonderful in scientific marvels and inventive miracles; wonderful in material inflation, which it calls advancement, progress, and other pet names; wonderful in its spying-out of the deep secrets of Nature and its vanquishment of her stubborn laws; wonderful in its extraordinary financial and commercial achievements; wonderful in its hunger for money, and in its indifference as to how it is acquired; wonderful in the hitherto undreamed-of magnitude of its private fortunes and the prodigal fashion in which they are given away to institutions devoted to the public culture; wonderful in its exhibitions of poverty; wonderful in the surprises which it gets out of that great new birth, Organization, the latest and most potent creation and miracle-worker of the commercialized intellect, as applied in transportation systems, in manufactures, in systems of communication, in news-gathering, book-publishing, journalism; in protecting labor; in oppressing labor; in herding the national parties and keeping the sheep docile and usable; in closing the public service against brains and character; in electing purchasable legislatures, blatherskite Congresses, and city governments which rob the town and sell municipal protection to gamblers, thieves, prostitutes, and professional seducers for cash. It is a civilization which has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life; replaced its contentment, its poetry, its soft romance-dreams and visions with the money-fever, sordid ideals, vulgar ambitions, and the sleep, which does not refresh; it has invented a thousand useless luxuries, and turned them into necessities; it has created a thousand vicious appetites and satisfies none of them; it has dethroned God and set up a shekel in His place.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

19 thoughts on “what is civilization?

  1. Barry says:

    I think what Twain writes of apply to every generation since the beginning of the industrial revolution, if not before. I think it applies to every generation that witnesses change.

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    • makagutu says:

      His writing is almost timeless. Look at most parliaments around the world; elected by the masses but represent mostly the corporation class and their own interests

      Liked by 2 people

      • Barry says:

        I canโ€™t speak for other countries, but I think most Kiwis believe it is not so here.

        Liked by 1 person

        • makagutu says:

          You guys are lucky, I tell you. I am sure it must have taken a lot of work to get there

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          • Barry says:

            I am sure it must have taken a lot of work to get there.” Not really. It’s the way we started out. Just as American society today is the culmination of extreme religious fervor, and a passion for individual freedom and liberty (as long as you were white and male), ours has come from settlers who were escaping the harsh economic and social conditions brought about by the industrial revolution. Their passion was for a fair, compassionate and egalitarian society. That’s what we have mostly inherited.

            Liked by 1 person

          • They’ve had a lot of help from Gandalf, Hobbits, and the Elves. If only the rest of us could be so lucky. ๐Ÿ™‚ If I weren’t so old and set in my ways, I’d truly consider moving to New Zealand.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Barry says:

              Actually, your age, (lack of) height, and especially that lightning bolt just might land you a role in Peter Jackson’s next fantasy film. If you played your card right, you might be able to get the starring role. And he wouldn’t even have to use CGI in your character’s creation. Come to think about it, your strange dietary habits might be of sufficient interest to be the subject of a movie.

              On second thoughts, there might not be enough Christians being born here to satisfy your appetite.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Speaking of the fine Mr. Jackson, he made a movie/documentary about WW1 that I desperately want to get but the blu-ray is not yet available here in the US of A. If you bump into him, please tell him to rectify that. Thanks. ๐Ÿ˜€

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                • Barry says:

                  You should have mentioned that 6 months ago before my daughter and her husband split up. He’s heavily involved in the performing arts and frequently rubs shoulders with Peter Jackson. I’ve had the good fortune to have met Peter on two or three occasions, and he’s a really nice guy. But due to the acrimonious nature of the breakup, I doubt the opportunity to meet Peter Jackson again will ever arise.

                  However, on the remote off chance that bump into him when next down Wellington way, I’ve made a note to pass on your message.

                  Liked by 1 person

              • makagutu says:

                Hahahahaha.
                Babies can always be imported or trafficked.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. So often, Twain’s words were the sharp mirror staring back at Man. This is a perfect example.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. judyt54 says:

    You have to wonder–if he wrote this 100 years ago and still nailed it for the 21st century, just how far have we really come? Are we there, yet, or moving forward? One foot in the future, one hand reaching out to a future that looks just like it did 100 years ago…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. renudepride says:

    Twain, when writing of civilization, knew what he was describing. The same is applicable today. We are all fools – some, more so than others! Have a great weekend, my Kenyan brother! ๐Ÿ™‚ Naked hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Swarn Gill says:

    I like the fact that he talks about at least some of the positives or rather that many of things that civilization has brought is also a double-edged sword. I think a good debate whether or not farming was the best or worst technological development by mankind. It’s rather more of a loaded question though because I don’t think the invention farming had any sort of intent to bring the positive and negative wonders of civilization. I think most of us in a hunter-gatherer setting might opt for a life where we didn’t have to be nomadic and could have a few portion of our people producing the food so that others could do other things. Of course the inequities that developed because of this are enormous, but I would assume that this isn’t why farming was developed. I’ve always thought farming led to a trap you could get out of, because once your population explodes, there really isn’t any going back. And likely once a few cultures develop farming others had to do the same at the risk of being simply overwhelmed in numbers expanding civilizations.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Eric Alagan says:

    Syphilisation spread with civilisation – so said the good doctor ๐Ÿ™‚

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