Conclusion: The Evolution of Civilizations

A civilization, in its entirety, is a crowd - so understanding the manner in which crowds function may shed some light on the progress of civilizations in general. That is: if we examine the genesis, growth, maturity, and fall of civilizations that preceded our own, patterns common to one another as well as to crowds become evident.

The fundamental unit of any society is the household: parents and their children, who customarily live together for long period of time. Even when children leave the next to begin families of their own, they remain proximate.

Thus, the clan is formed: multiple families with a common ancestry. The first generation creates a village of siblings, the second a village of cousins, and subsequent generations form larger villages of individuals who are distantly related.

As clans come together, by intermarriage, they become a tribe: a dense population of individuals of different but interrelated bloodlines, living in close proximity. This is the extent of primitive society, and is an arrangement common to most savage and barbarian peoples.

A civilization arises as the tribes band together, negotiation for their interests, and seeking to coexist by a blend of cooperation, assistance, and non-interference. Each tribe, clan, and house has its own interests to pursue, and is defensive of them - particularly of other groups that seek to gain by exploiting their fellows.

But to the degree to which coexistence is negotiated, the tribes become a nation, and may in time lose their tribal identity. They are not families but members of their city, state, or country, and the connections between people are eroded to become part of an amorphous collective. This collective is a civilization - whose institutions, beliefs, arts, and philosophy are not designed, but negotiated among the members.

Thus, a civilization is born - and once born, immediately begins to destroy itself, which requires a slow process of years. The values for which it was formed are compromised based on the exigencies of the day, the demands of the majority oppress the minority, and each member of civilization is discomfited in some way by the desires of other, and resentment grows as he considers whether being part of the collective is such a good idea.

The values of a civilization may be abandoned all at once, in the face of some terrible crisis that requires a temporary change in behavior - and once the crisis has passed, behavior does not change back. Or it may be eroded over time, as discussed in the previous chapter, by a government that is not content to simply leave things be, but by successive acts of legislation intrudes into the most petty of everyday affairs and becomes cumbersome.

With the loss of its values, a civilization loses its identity and cohesion. It perpetuates as a sheer act of inertia, until it is challenged by a different set of ideas and values. If these new ideas of values are supported by a sufficiently large crowd, regardless of whether the ideas are legitimate, a change may take place: a civilization may reform, split, or collapse entirely.

The rebirth of a civilization is in essence the birth of a new civilization: its ideals and values are supported by individuals and households, which form clans and tribes, which negotiate the terms of coexistence. And then the cycle repeats.

In our time, we live under the illusion that our present civilization will be permanent, and that the ideals and values are immortal - but it is never in history been so. Civilizations have a beginning and an end, and the history of mankind shows a repeating pattern of coming together as nations, splitting apart, going through periods of barbarism, and then reforming. Such is the cycle of human existence.