DATE: 8:37:00 AM
The Course of History
I promised that I would continue this whole discussion on history and how historiography has affected our understanding of the world around us. I wrote about divisions of history before and commented on how I believe dividing history into ancient-middle-modern times is superficial and largely based in European historical experience. This is a very complicated subject, and there have been many books written about it, so many that I cannot possibly mention them all. There is no way for me to provide a complete and academically sound explanation of all the details of the subject here. All I can hope to do is to give a very brief summary of what I understand and accept from the points made by almost all of the scholars involved in the subject. This bears a great amount of ideas from me, among them what I call the "grand transition of knowledge". For deeper look into these subjects, I suggest the following books: "Europe and the People Without History" by Eric Wolf; "The Colonizers' Model of the World" by James Blaut; "The Black Athena" by Martin Bernall; "ReOrient" by Andre Gunder Frank; "Before the European Hegemony" by Janet Abu-Lughod; "Almuqadimmah" by Ibn Khaldun; and "The Venture of Islam" By Marshal G.S. Hudgson.
Here, I want to touch on the subject of the course of history and the development of civilisation. Before I attempt to talk about so grand a subject, let me provide my own definition of "civilisation". This is one of those tricky concepts and it is also very sensitive, and there are many definitions of it. I tend to define civilisation simply as the development of human societies into more complex settings. I do not put "savagery" in opposition to civilisation, since then we would wonder if many civilisations were really "civilised". I think all human beings who have been in reasonable contact with each other belong to the same civilisation, and all of them contribute to the development of this single civilisation.
One of the major problems with our understanding of the world is the association of civilisation with culture, and even worse, with religion. It is common to mention "Western Civilisation" or "Islamic Civilisation" or "Chinese Civilisation" and look at each case individually and sometimes in opposition to each other (as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington tend to do). The point is that the fabric of these "sub-civilisations" is so interwoven that we cannot really tell them apart safely, and furthermore, their roots in other "sub-civilisation" (or cultures, as I prefer to call it) makes their division quite confusing. They all have different cultures and ways of conducting themselves, but they are all based on the same basic principles and beliefs.
If instead of separating our view into categories and looking at these cultures from the eyes of Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, and Economy, we step back and look with a united social science eye at these cultures, we will easily see a common civilisation. This civilisation consists of societies based on sedentary agriculture, controlled by a central government with taxation power, possessed of a universal and all inclusive religion, and strongly bound to the idea of individual ownership, and very keen on trade and exploration.
I will follow-up on this subject in the future.