Culture and Civilization Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Culture and Civilization

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Culture and civilisation are often mixed up in people's minds. Culture is the passing of traits from one generation to another; civilisation is the result of culture.


Culture can only be found in humans; only humans pass down knowledge orally from generation to generation. Other organisms have instinct and they already know what to do the minute they are born. Humans either need their parents to tell them not to touch that fire, or discover the painful consequences; whereas dogs, for example, already know not to go near that fire. Humans can build up knowledge gained from their parents and their parents' parents, and their parents' parents' parents. Therefore, humans are forever learning and building up their knowledge. Humans also have the advantage of language and being able to identify in past, present, and future tenses.

Culture can be found in humans ever since Australopithecine man first used fire. As soon as humans started to pass down knowledge orally and materially, then so did they pass down a living culture. From there they evolved into the homo erectus then into the homo sapien - the 'modern human'. Humans have had culture for a very long time.


Now, civilisation is a different matter and is a result of culture. It was through culture that humans started to live in groups. These early groups would most likely be the hunter-gatherer groups that were always on the move.

In order to create and sustain civilisation there are a few basic things that must be accomplished:

  • A stable food supply is needed in order to keep people in one place all the time. Domesticated animals are an important factor; humans must be able to keep their food with them at all times.

  • Specialised jobs must evolve, such as basket weaving, which produce things essential to the static community, ensuring that it is necessary for people to stay in one spot for significant periods of time.

  • A means of transportation must become available in order that trade develops.

  • A police system is required to ensure that these merchants get around safely.

  • Most likely, then, a ruler will emerge who controls this policing group and he/she will ask for taxes for their services.

And there we have it - civilisation complete with its own ruler.

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