Saturday, January 9, 2010


I'm a curious guy. I need to know things. Civilisation has always been one of those topics that has astounded me. No-one told early humans to build cities that have their own cultural identities, laws, government etc., so why did it happen? Maybe it has something to do with evolution - that is we needed civilisation to occur for us to survive, you know survival of the fittest type thing (See: Socio-cultural evolution). Before civilisation occurred (which can be classified when a culture is sedentary) humans were basically hunter/gatherers; cave-men if you will.

Before I go on, let me put civilisation into perspective of not only how long humans have been on this Earth, but compared with the age of the known universe. Warning, this may blow your mind.

14 billion years ago: Big Bang occurred
13.2 billion years ago: Oldest known star in our galaxy (HE 1523-0901) was formed
4.6 billion years ago: Solar system formed as part of the collapse of a giant molecular cloud (This is roughly the age of Earth as well)
3.6 billion years ago: Life on Earth (Abiogenesis) began
200,000 years ago: Modern humans originated in Africa
12,000 years ago: Civilisation began (Natufian culture, Mesopotamia, Neolithic Revolution)

Earth is expected to continue supporting life for another 1.5 billion years, after which the rising luminosity of the Sun will eliminate the biosphere. Now won't that suck!

I was having a discussion with two of my amigos the other day, and we were pondering how scientists worked out the exact time frame of the above - and when you think about it, they are basing their facts on calculated experiments, they didn't actually live that long to experience it first hand. In other words, these are the generally accepted figures that I've used to prove a point. And that is humans have been living in civilization for 6% of the time that we have been on Earth; and only 0.000003% of the time that life has existed on this planet. It is safe to say that civilisation is a fairly new thing.

By putting civilisation in this context it becomes frightening just how quickly we are messing up this planet. When you look at the population increases of major cities in countries such as China and India, it seems as though we will one day run out of room to fit all these people. Civilisation not only causes massive increases in population, it also leads to cities pumping out enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses and other pollution that is destroying the Earth. In saying all this, I love big cities. Of the large ones I've been to, they all have so much to offer in terms of art, variety of people, experience to breathe and opportunities to embrace. I don't want to go to the length of boycotting these planet-destroying-places if that means missing out on the jewels they offer.

Another way you could look at civilisation is that the world itself now has a civilisation. If each of the civilisations represented in the diagram below were to possess a 'Captain Planet' style ring, with their powers combined we would become quite an influential force.

Clash of civilisations. Click to enlarge

Why can't this happen? Why can't each country put their differences aside and work together to breed a culture of love and not indifference. Of course this won't happen - but maybe if everyone read Beatles on the Moon then their mindset on living life would tweak in a positive direction, and it would start an acceleration of love that spreads across all civilizations!!

My fascination with civilisation will never die, not when people in Dubai just completed construction on the new tallest building in the world - the Burj Khalifa. To build something that is 828 metres tall is beyond my comprehension, surely no building needs to be that high, no matter how great an accomplishment it is. Urbanisation is a subset of civilisation that is also extremely interesting - but no matter how contentious it may be, it makes sense. I myself have moved from one rural area to another one that is closer to the city of Sydney, based mainly for work but also to be closer to a civilisation hub.

At some stage in my life I'd like to live as far away from civilisation as possible as well - get away from computers, blackberry's, cars, people with attitude. I was recently in Byron Bay, and even though that town is experiencing growth it still maintains a vibe that I am totally in tune with. A place like that is somewhere I want to live in, open skies with friendly people and crystal seas. It just seems that when you add more and more people with busier schedules and more money to be made, the collective psyche becomes tainted with a bad attitude.

Coming back to the stats that I layed out earlier - even though civilisation hasn't been around that long, it is growing at a rapid pace and probably will be the death of humans. This doesn't concern me though, because it is all part of evolution. Many different species have come before us and many will come after that will go through the same phenomenon - even though we may be smart enough to understand what is transpiring, we aren't smart enough to stop it; and if we were, would we stop civilisation?

- Russell


  1. Great read, man! Looking at that Machu Picchu photo just reminds me of how all civilisations will eventually fail. The Incans, Mayans, Romans, etc. and like you say, ours will most likely falter due to overpopulation

  2. dang this was a good one. Human culture is so complex at this point that there is no clear answer for the problems, as there are so many great things too. And one solution may create another problem. Worthy of a second read!

  3. Yeah v. good man. I could not agree more this this line: "It just seems that when you add more and more people with busier schedules and more money to be made, the collective psyche becomes tainted with a bad attitude." I'm looking forward to moving away from the city in many ways. North Sydney might not be considered 'city' but its close enough for me. Sure there are plenty of things I love about the city (the word is almost interchangeable with civilisation is some ways) - the buildings, the lights, the fact you can buy just about anything. But it's just that which I dont want. The lights of civilisation are glorious, but the quietness of suburbia suits me just fine... come to think of it, the stars at canoelands are where its at!