what makes civilization

what makes civil.png

(2010) by David Wengrow






civilization, we are often told, are entities of vast scale and long duration, operating over and above individual nation states. but it is nation states that undertake wars in the name of civilization and routinely demand sacrifices so that a familiar form off civilization – our way of life – will continue, and not be consigned to history..  – difficult to step away from immediacy of our own circumstance and reflect upon what it is that is being defended..


but in our assessment of early civilization we tend to neglect this slow transformation of everyday behaviours, emphasizing instead the ‘miraculous’ character of technological innovations (such as literacy and complex metallurgy) or monumental achievements (such as royal pyramids and temples), while too often ignoring the wider social and technological milieu from which they emerged


civilization, if we are to retain that term, should then refer to the historical outcomes of *exchanges and borrowings between societies, rather than to processes or **attributes that set on society apart from another

either way.. *exchanges or **labels.. killers of the soul.. no?

intro: a clash of civilizations?


nicolas-antoine boulanger advised the administrators of his day: ‘when a savage people has become civilized, we must not put an end to the act of civilization by giving it rigid and irrevocable laws; we must make it look upon the legislation given to it as a form of continuous civilization’

the idea of civilization has always been linked to the desire for universal history; a history that transcends written records, extending back in time to the origins of our species, outwards in space to encompass the full range of contemporary human diversity, and – at least in its early formulations – onwards into some improved future conditions..


samuel huntington – 1993 – harvard prof: ‘a civilization is thus the highest cultural *grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural *identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species’

again – labels.. killers of the soul.. no?


the first part of this book questions the validity of such distinction, arguing that cultural identities in the ancient near east were the product of interaction and exchange, rather than isolation..

part 1 – the cauldron of civilization

cauldron: a situation characterized by instability and strong emotions.

1 – camouflaged borrowings


marcel mauss, the nation (1920): ‘the history of civilization, from the pov that concerns us, is the history of the circulation between societies of the various goods and achievements of each.. societies live by borrowing from each other, but they define themselves rather by the refusal of borrowing than by its acceptance‘..t

see p 106


political historian such as karl wittfogel, adapting marx’s defn of an ‘asiatic mode of production’ argued strongly that centralized bureaucracy – and the hierarchies it supported – were ground in the managerial requirements and inherent inequities of large scale irrigation. but it has since become apparent the irrigation arrangements and the direct org of arable land feature little in early admin records from egypt and mesopotamia. most farming took place in a fairly decentralized manner, making use of the natural flood basins and well drained levee soils formed by the annual inundation as of their respective river systems, a view supported by detailed archaeological surveys in both regions..


it has also become clear that small scale irrigation networks – and the customary systems of cooperation and conflict resolution required to manage them – had a deep prehistory extending back to pre urban times (central iraq and western iran .. 6th millennium bc).. and continued to operate long after the emergence (and subsequent collapse) of centralized political systems.. recent fieldwork in n syria.. further demos a precocious growth of urban settlement and bureaucracy around 4 000 bc, in a region where rainfall was sufficient to support agri w/o recourse to irrigation..

as jonathan friedman and kajsa eckholm argued some decades ago, ‘to insist as is usually done, that the evolution of high cultures is based on the agri surplus of intensive irrigation is to systematically avoid the problem that surplus grain cannot be locally transformed into bronze, cloth, palaces (of imported stone), fine jewelry and weapons – hallmarks of the great civilization

agri surplus

it was precisely thru the acquisition and strategic deployment of these ‘outside’ resources – as markers of distinction, as forms of currency, and as signs of sacred power – that dynastic elites maintained their special relationship to the society of the gods, which in turn legitimated the hierarchical structures of human societies..


here we encounter a paradox to which i will return numerous times: it was thru contact w their gods that societies expressed their uniqueness, their distinct attachments to land, locality, origins, and place. yet the earthy bodies of the egyptian and mesopotamian gods were ritually manufactured, nourished, and cared for in similar ways, using similar materials that could not be found locally in either area. in seeking to understand the roots of cultural diff – the distinctive ‘forms’ of egyptian and mesopotamian civilization – we are therefore drawn inexorably into a world of mixtures and borrowings. – thru the lapis lazuli (blue stone)

2 – on the trail of blue haired gods


like the silk and spice roads of later antiquity, the bronze age lapis routes were more than just conduits for material resources. they were also the channels along which meanings and values spread between otherwise disparate groups, crossing the four thousands miles of mountain, desert, and plain that separate the mines of badakhshan from the mouth of the nile..

3 – neolithic worlds


claude levi-strauss, the savage mind (1966): ‘it was in neolithic times that mans’ mastery of the great arts of civilization – of pottery, weaving agri and the domestication of animas – became firmly established.. each of these techniques assumes centuries of active and methodical observation’


in a very practical sense, the vertical movement of resources from uplands to lowlands was integral to the transition from hunter gatherer to early farming economies, the hallmark of the neolithic period.. t

to evolve into fully domestic strains, the earliest cultivated cereals (wheat and barley) and managed herd animals (sheep and goat) had to be genetically isolated form their wild progenitors, a process which involved downward transplantation – by human, rather than natural, agency – from their native habitats on the slopes of hills and mountains (where the first experiments in domestication took place) to the seasonally watered soils of oases, lake margins, and river fans, where farming became full established..t


the story of the neolithic in the nile valley is not, then, the expected one of migratory hunter gatherers choosing to settle down in permanent villages, but rather one of settled fisher hunter foragers electing to go (conspicuously) on the move w their herds..t

4 – the (first) global village


this much neglected phase in world history – the developments in village life that came after the origins of agri (neolithic rev) but preceded the urban rev.. perhaps best described as the first era of the ‘global village’.. t


a period in which regional distinctions collapsed in the face of new communication media..creating a kind of mass consciousness which was nevertheless contingent upon the localized enactment of concrete activities: specific ways of making/doing things w/in houses/villages..t

it precedes invention of cuneiform script.. yet.. crystalized tech/social foundation upon which writing developed.. it antedates the first cities yet.. its settlements.. already exhibit many features of urban life.. such as bureaucratic procedures.. and complex division of craft activities..  modes of consumption and exchange were also very diff from those of early prehistory..

implicit in all these developments was an acceleration in the rhythm of exchange between lowland villages and their highland and coastal neighbors..t

marsh exchange law


the initial discovery of metallurgy could have been made in any number of places around the margins of the fertile crescent where fuel and metallic ores were obtainable in sufficient quantities. but only thru its wide dissemination could metals become valued as a general medium of exchange


no less striking than the spread of metallurgical knowledge was the dissemination of new farming techniques.


such transfers reflect, not just the transmission of new farming methods, but also of new modes of consumption and social display,

the combined result of all these changes.. prolif in range of consumables available.. their creative hybridization generated entirely new food products..  and modes of personal appearance..

meso lowlands.. ‘the diversification of desire’..  ideally positioned to play the role of go between, mixing/matching commodities..


meso villagers reshaped the social world of the household to increase productivity, new styles of consumption.. techniques of commerce .. ie: homogenization of built environs.. this new uniformity in pottery .. t

norton productivity law

(use of wheel) accompanied by disappearance of highly individualized handmade wares.. also symptomatic of a new rigidity in the control of domestic crafts (and perhaps specifically of female labour),  achieved thru the spatial segregation of tasks w/in the household and the intro of machinery that constrained movement..t


flow between ubaid villages may still have been relatively small scale. trade was nevertheless subject to new forms of reg thru the use of special accounting devices and techniques of commodity marking, all of which were based upon a single medium of communication: the clay from which customary tokens of contract were formed,..t..  and which later bore the impression of seals and the earliest written signs..

bauwens contracts law

across fertile crescent, clay figurines of pregnant women and domestic animals – together w geometric token  ad, since neolithic times, provided communities w a shared language of signification. almost since the beginnings of farming the manual process of shaping, firing and even breaking these miniature forms seems to have been closely linked to the conduct of important social transactions, perhaps involving exchanges of kin as well as animals and other goods..


around 7000 bc in n meso, the symbolic role of clay in regulating commodity transfers was extended thru the development of specialized sealing practices for storage vessels..  this involved placing a band of wet clay over the mouth of a container and impressing it w a carved stone amulet.. leaving a distinguishing mark that could be used to trace the product back to a particular individual or institutions: a point of origin..

still detectable in today’s consumer cultures.. presence of clay sealing demo’d the integrity of the package/contents.. to reduce risks involved in exchanges between unfamiliar partners..

but also intro’d a new potential for mystification into circulation/consumption of commodities.. *breaking seal always disturbs a prior set of relationships..t: between owner of object , owner so seal used to fasten it. and agencies evoked by image carved on the seal’s surface,

*and/or making the seal in the first place.. ie: 10 day care ness

therefore both something of a violation and of a temptation.. setting in motion a chain of consequences

and/or distractions

seals have the potential to rewrite social history, and as such have often been viewed as portentous and dangerous objects in their own right..t

portentous: warning; done in a pompously or overly solemn manner so as to impress


as range of commodities expanded ruing ubaid period, the miniature designs impressed onto their clay sealings became more vivid and diverse.. among them we find  new bestiary of real/fictitious animals in poses of violence or copulation, people drinking/feasting, rams head, snakes.. these characters  – and the real human agents behind their production – now stood guard over the world of commodities, occupying an important space of the social imagination between products and their consumption..  once broken and removed from their containers, clay sealing could also be stored as records of transaction.. and evidence  in n syria suggests that this was an aspect of their use form the very beginning..

new possibilities of control were thereby generated over a vital social commodity: the memory of relationships formed thru the exchange of goods..t

wow.. so resonating with today’s obsession with money/bitcoin/contracts/blockchain.. and 10 day care nessn daycare center ness.. *new possibilities of control/social control

let go

by middle of 4th millennium bc, another new commercial technique had been intro’d involving the enclosure of groups of miniature commodity tokens  – w seal and numerical signs corresponding to tokens w/in .. followed quite rapidly by appearance of first clay tablets impressed w numerical signs and seal impressions..t

too much


urban institutions, responsible for *the org of unprecedented numbers of people/things, provided a context w/in which the established role of clay as a recipient of signs was further **abstracted from physical process of storage and exchange..  here the stylus would soon come to supplement the seal, allowing abstract info to be classified, quantified and ***otherwise manipulated in a bureaucratic manner..t

*carhart harris entropy law

**testart storage law.. marsh exchange law..

***inspectors of inspectors as violence


by early bronze age – 3000 bc – the aggressive northward expansion of meso trading contacts along the euphrates had decisively *altered the fate of societies from egypt to the deserts of central asia

*black science of people/whales.. 10 day care ness

5 – origin of cities


the beginnings of urbanization in meso can, in fact, be traced back a full 2000 yrs before the composition of the sumerian king list (kingship comes down from on high.. sets in motion a cycle of violence.. each city holding onto –  abducting – kingship.. taking on narrative structure.. which takes existence of cities as a given – requiring no explanation).. to 4th millennium bc.. little is known about systems of govt in these very earliest cities..


it is the material record of the 4th millennium bc which – even in the absence of directly informative texts – provides our most reliable testimony of the nature of social/econ life in the world’s first cities.. t

human history

as point of entry to origin of cities in 4th millennium bc.. it is worth contemplating what becomes of a village based society when individual households are increasingly unable to regulate the content of goods passing thru them..t.. the 5th millennium bc  had been a period of spiraling experimentation/hybridization in dietary practices and material culture. it generated unprecedented diversity in the world of goods.. but also intro’d new uncertainties into the realm of domestic consumption and exchange..


let go

quit measuring

listen deeper

many commodities now in wider circulation, notable dairy products and alcoholic drinks, were susceptible to natural deterioration as well as deliberate adulteration and had potentially harmful effects when corrupted or wrongly consumed..

geno pheno gap ness


the multiplication of products also generated new ambiguities concerning the origin of goods..t

begs gershenfeld something else law.. so we don’t have any reason/desire to waste time/energy worrying about origin ness

such transformation cannot be adequately circumscribed w/in the realm of ‘economy’.. they touch upon fundamental areas of social life such as trust, personal health, and hygiene.. in this chapter i argue that the origin of cities, writing and centralized institution of unprecedented scale was in significant part a response to these uncertainties, pioneered on the southern alluvium of meso..


archaeologists recognize these intrusion by the appearance of uruk style buildings, storage and serving vessels, and accounting devices among otherwise local forms of material culture.. this was by no means the first great colonial venture in human history, among which we must count the initial expansion of our species throughout the globe, and the subsequent displacement of hunter gatherer groups by neolithic farmers.. it was however, the fist instance of a type of colonial movement – familiar form more recent eras – in which entire communities budded off from an urban metropolis, re establishing themselves in distant locations, yet maintaining distinct id’s and regular trade relations that linked them to their cities of origin

schooling the world ness


no less striking is what miller refers to as a ‘lack of individualization’ in the realm of material culture, from house forms to ceramic vessels..t


(on writing) – the ‘spiritualism of the state’

in the story of enmerkar, composes 1000 yrs after the invention of the cuneiform script.. writing is invented.. because king’s speech is too long for his messenger to remember..  given our modern reliance on writing to convey language at a distance, we might find this a plausible context for the origins of writing itself; but we would be wrong..

the earliest cuneiform inscriptions are in fact made up largely of ideograms; graphic symbols that rep ideas rather than units of language .. they are usually combined w numerical metrological symbols and among them we find signs for wide range of domestic animals…birds, fish , plants, stones, metal, textiles, dairy products, and professional roles and titles.. but the structural arrangement of these signs does not follow the linear structure of natural speech, and was never intended to do so..t..  instead it uses a visual format attuned to mathematical notation, dividing the surface of the tablet into boxes arranged in vertical columns each containing a combo of ideograms and numerals..


this is readily explained by the bureaucratic, bookkeeping functions that cuneiform writing was originally designed to fulfill.. the ‘muse’ which inspired its inventors was not epic poetry song, or royal decrees, but the no less compelling language of commodity flows, into and out of the great households of the earliest cities..  the subsequent adaptation of cuneiform writing to rep the grammar and syntax of spoken language, and eventually to record lit, took centuries to unfold..t

oy.. yeah figured.

karl marx described bureaucracy as ‘the spiritualism of the state’ creating carefully patrolled domain of phantom entities – signs that stand for beings and things – to exist alongside real people/objects. . t

graeber f&b same law

the earliest written signs were of precisely this nature, standing in for concrete things rather than units of speech, and signifying their changing relationships w/in a closed system where number, order, and rank were the only significant dimensions of value.. the emergence of writing had a similarly close relationship w the world of commodities.. t

write ing ness

of math and men

as in meso, script invention was tied to the standardization of material goods, and to the adoption of specialized marking systems – to classify and differentiate types of produce..  most of the earliest known hieroglyphic inscription relate in one way or another to the differentiation and ranking of consumables..  served to ascribe special origins .. in egypt the development of these marking systems was directly associated w the org and performance of elite funerary rituals, in which vast quantities of wealth were taken out of circulation to furnish the tombs of deceased kings and courtiers: a  striking case of bureaucracy in the service of sacrifice..


in order for such parallel worlds of admin rep to function, real objects and sentient beings also had to undergo a degree of change in the direction of uniformity: t.. one vessel, unit of metal, or head of cattle the same as another..

carhart harris entropy law (hard won order).. social control.. leading to black science of people/whales

the great number of non numerical signs in the early cuneiform corpus from uruk indicates strong cultural resistance to the imposition of such a rigid scheme of order..  but the turn towards standardization nevertheless had far reaching effects upon meso econ and society..t

black science of people/whales

write ness

beyond words


sacred commodities: the meso origins of product branding

a primary application of the writing system lay in distinguishing between subclasses of products on the basis of their constituent materials, ingredients and labour. labour was itself quantified in standard, commoditized units of timekeeping, from which our own sixty minute hour is ultimately derived



what more then can be inferred about the institutions responsible for producing these accounts? clearly they were in a position to influence the flow of labour and resources between various sectors of the sumerian econ.. measurements/classifications.. indicated.. systems of quality control..  signs often depictions of ceramic containers in which they were stored/transported suggested that packaging had itself become a strong marker of id for finished products..t

pkg deal – even applies/d to (and kills) humans

david’s tweet while i’m reading this:

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 9:14 AM on Sun, Jan 13, 2019:
I tend to assume trade (in a broad sense) is basically like art, ritual, and language – just part of the package of things that make us human and have done for as long as we’ve ever been around on the planet.

oh my.. no packages.. no measuring .. trading.. exchanging .. tit for tatting..


and containers in turn were sealed w mechanically produce images linking to the prominent public institutions. many of these images, applied w cylinder seals, appear to address concerns of provenance and trust quite directly

trust.. legit and proof and validity ness.. et al

theirs was already a world of standardized goods, quite familiar to us in some respects. most of the finished products that surrounded them in everyday life no longer carried any visible trace of their producers’ individual id’s, owing to the division of production processes along extended chains of specialized labour. and the complex blending of ingredients and raw materials form multiple sources further ensured that the origin of goods had become increasingly had to discern.


in much the same way as modern brand labels, seal images addressed these new uncertainties by creating fictional bios often of sacred origin – for good which were otherwise anonymous. no doubt seals were also used for other, more straightforwardly bureaucratic purposes, such as the authorization of econ accounts..

too much ness

the paradox of living in a society made up of individual actors, whose relationship must nevertheless be formed and sustained thru the circulation of impersonal (branded) goods..t

what we need most: the energy of 7bn alive people

undisturbed ecosystem

6 – from the ganges to the danube: the bronze age


potlatch was a ritual tournament. its aim was to secure legal access to intangible rights and privileges such as ranks, titles, and land tenure.. the public destruction of particular kinds of wealth, notably woven blankets and sheets of coper, formed an important part of the ritual process…  as marcel mauss wrote in the gift:

in a certain number of cases, it is not even a question of giving and returning gifts, but of destroying, so as not to give the slightest hint of desiring your gift to be reciprocated.. in order to put down/and ‘flatten’ one’s rival.. promotes self and family up the social scale.. conducted by indigenous societies.. ie: blankets and houses.. copper objects .. oils.. burnt down


gift ness and reciprocity


tit for tat ness

marsh exchange law

see marcel’s quote from p 19


we might then ask whether similar strategies of resistance were adopted in other parts of the world, in earlier periods of history and in less overwhelming circumstances than those created by recent european expansion (backed by large scale military force and catastrophic effects of diseases intro’d upon local populations).. mauss in fact assigned ritual systems of the potlatch type a distinct and important place in his comparative history of social contracts.. based upon the reciprocal obligations shared by members of a kin group.. and the modern world of impersonal contract:’of the market where money circulates, of sale proper, and above all of the notion of price reckoned in coinage weighted and stamped w its value’..


the relationship between sacrificial economies (of potlatch type) and the development of economies based on the use of ingot currencies does not conform to mauss’s vision of social evolution.. the former did not develop into the latter, as he envisioned..  theirs was a relation in space rather than time; one of contiguity rather than succession..

this contiguous growth of sacrificial and urban econs – so integral to early history of eurasia- appears quite alien to that of much of the african continent.. there, instead we find the ritual management of wealth sacrifice – that is the collective, deliberate, and permanent withdrawing of material goods from circulations – at the very foundation of the urban econ

7 – cosmology and commerce


*if currency is to circulate as a medium of payment or as wealth, it must be authorized, as it were, by its ties w some reality which does not circulate, which is kept out of the exchange sphere and which appears as the true source of their exchange value

*let’s just not


here the death of inanna’s divine body is poetically described as a process of commoditization.. the metaphor is chosen to reflect the fact that commodities belong to the world of humans who, unlike gods, must suffer death and destruction..


these materials are described as ..sacred because they transcend those properties of number that make profane goods subject to ordinary principles of quantification..t

of math and men


to treat it as a subject of human technology, or reduce its materials to the status of commodities, is quite simply to end its ‘life’.. t

this on statues.. but sounds like people


commerce and cosmology, the interregional conduct of ‘trade’ and the local performance of ‘ritual’, cannot then be logically separated.. matters of origin and matters of exchange were interwoven both literally and metaphorically.. one brought the other into existence

8 – the labours of kingship


the monarch’s original role as mediator between a frail and fragmented humanity and the mysterious totality of the supernatural..


royal mortuary cults were endowed w agri estates that continued to function long after the completion of the tomb and its associated structures.. the official function of these land allotments was to supply ongoing offerings for the statue cult of the tomb owner. .. while many of these endowments were under the control of the royal fam others were granted to private individuals distributed throughout the country; in this way, spaces occupied by the royal and elite dead gradually became the foundation of an extensive administrative network, which increasingly dominated the productive economy of the living..t

‘pyramid town’ as they have come to be known were centrally administered settlements of considerable scale, established adjacent to the royal tombs and mortuary temples they served..


central facilities were present for admin, food production, sleeping and other mundane activities.. such a totalizing scheme for communal life was not designed to foster the growth of a permanent population. it was geared, rather, towards the rapid socialization of incoming groups, who took up residence there for part of the year to provide skilled labour for monumental construction projects, or to otherwise serve the royal cult. these specialized groups are often referred to by the greek term phyle (brotherhood) which connotes both their restricted membership and their adoption of corporate male id’s, loosely modeled on the org of ships’ crews..


as w most such experiments in social engineering, the institutional ideal of the pyramid town was quickly undermined by the complexities of social life.. w/in a few generations, new neighbourhoods sprang up along their intended perimeter walls.. this twofold patter of urban growth – centrally planned spaces giving way to less formally org’d, but more durable communities – repeated itself throughout the history of dynastic egypt

(offerings to deceased kings.. foods et al)

like  B and b –  wasting resources.. and rendering us dead


in order to join the company of the gods, he must first overcome his dependence on their offerings, and regain control of his own food supply. he does this by an act of cannibalism, literally eating his way out of the earthly realm and back to a condition of wholeness that evokes the primeval unity of the cosmos.. what the king devours along the way are the bodies of the gods themselves, and the magical substances they contain..


with this last act of self fashioning, he leaves behind him the society of mortals – the world of exchanges, mixtures, and borrowings – and ascends to the enduring stars

part 2 – forgetting the old regime

9 – enlightenment from a dark source


artefacts.. have an objective age, which can be measured in absolute terms, ie: rate at which radioactive isotopes decay.. but when we declare a particular institution, form of behaviour, artistic style, or belief system ot be ‘ancient’ we are engaged in a measuring process of a quite diff kind. it is our own distinctiveness, our difference from the past, that is being asserted..


in previous chapters i have been concerned in various ways w the experience of distance in past societies: between sources of raw materials and their points of consumption, between mortals and the gods.. in this and chapter that follows, may attention shifts to the perceived distance between antiquity and modernity.. in particular i want to suggest that our paradoxical understanding of the near east – as both the birthplace of civilization and its cultural antithesis – is not just a distant legacy, tacitly passed down to us from ancient greek/roman sources. it is also a distinct product of modern europe’s attempt to grapple w its own, more recent history of sacral kings and dynastic power


the earliest glimmers of enlightenment had come from a dark source that produced – not only farming, literacy, astronomy and navigation – but also sacred kingship and the dynastic cult of the dead.. only when exposed to the ‘new light’ of european learning could they be liberated, retrospectively, from that dark moon of superstition and intolerance, and redeemed as a part of a new story of human progress, culminating in the rule of reason and law..


recent military action in iraq by america and britain has, in only partial contrast, been accompanied by the looting of museums and the destruction of archaeological sites.. often reported as ‘a savage attack by the iraqi people upon the unguarded ‘cradle of civilization’  .. closure of a long chapter in human history?

10 – ruined regimes: egypt at the revolution


the experience of the french revolution, and the chronic social instability and periodic relapses into old forms of authority that followed, raised urgent new questions.

how does a society function w/o rulers? what is the place/responsibility of the individual w/in the collective? is secular knowledge adequate to replace the precepts of a hierocratic order? ..t

meadows undisturbed ecosystem‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’


new ideas were needed to make the vision of a modern future understandable as part of a natural evolution form the past: ideas about the forces of cohesion and change that bind human beings together in to stable ‘societies’ and which in time induce some of those societies to move thru diff ‘phases of civilization’  while others.. ‘disappear and are buried in the sands of time’.. time itself as ozouf observes, ‘was not merely the formal framework w/in which the revolution took place; it was also the raw material on which it obstinately worked’..

diff/next experiment


how to commit the memory of kingship once and for all to the ground

jules michelet: ‘ how to bury and forever the dreams in which we once fondly trusted – paternal royalty, the govt of grace, the clemency of the monarchy and the charity of the priest; filial confidence, implicit belief in the gods here below’..

bonaparte’s true encounter is not, then, w a remote civilization, but with what michelet called the ‘vampires’ of europe’s own old regime, rising from the dead to lay claim to a future as yet unborn..


in 1793 the opening of the  palais du louvre as a public institution, the museum central des arts, signaled the democratization of ‘high culture’ in france.. the former became a venue for display of art objects confiscated by bonaparte’s forces

as cecil gould put it.. europe’s first state museum ‘was born of three parents, republicanism, anti clericalism, and successful aggressive war..


at the heart of the lavish salle funeraire stood at a large platform on which were arranged the upper casings of elab sacrophagi, their lower casings – containing the miraculously preserved bodies of the egyptian elite.. here any citizen could stand alongside royalty and measure their own being against the exposed figure of a divine king.. while at the same time measuring the human size of the latter against that of his boastful monuments, a selection of what was also exhibited..

on display to the people of paris was not merely the fantastic ‘otherness’ of oriental civilization, but also the very embodiment of dynastic rule, displaced onto the inscrutable remains of an ancient culture and located safely beyond the threshold of modernity.


the guillotine had given way to the intrusive public gaze as a means of unveiling and laying to rest the ghost of monarchy..

we have become accustomed to the cruelty of the modern state museum and its carnival like parodies of sacred kingship.. we have come to expect and even relish the sight of monumental gates leading nowhere, proud royal statues flanking nothing ..once hidden gods now revealed in transparent cases, and carefully preserved corpses exposed for inspection..t

and so we return to the them of distance, and to the emotional distance between subjects and sacred kings.. which .. with the fall of old regimes, from boston harbour and paris to shahyad square in iran – has been gradually remoulded into new relationships between ‘society’ and various forms of ‘the state’..  antiquity and modernity, cut form the same cloth..

conclusion: what makes civilization?


if the parallel development of meso and egypt demo anything, it is surely the deep attachment of human societies to the concepts they live by, and the inequalities they are prepared to endure in order to preserve those guiding principles.. t

the desire to realize this sense of order, and the sacrifices demanded in the process.. produced astonishing flows of materials, transforming societies and reshaping environments..but the god were never satisfied.. their work was never done..  in contemplating yet another remaking of our own world order, there is surely something here for us to learn..t

perhaps.. let go of our hard won order/control..

civilizations, from the perspective of history, are shown to be the outcome of mixtures and borrowings, often quite arbitrary things, but always on a prodigious scale..

their study draws us into a grand narrative of the past, a story built from the ground up by routine human activities, surpassing the limited purview of any one society, and of such a magnitude as to worry the gods


yet by elevating civilizations to the pinnacle of human achievement, or seeking to orientate our future around an idealized image of what they might become, are we not simply raising up new gods where old ones have fallen?

bauwens civilization collapse law

the problem, it seems, is both as old as time and as fresh as our tomorrows..


bauwens civilization collapse law


social control