Sep 21, 2016


Culture and civilization are not the same things and so they do not always go hand in hand. They are not synonymous terms and so if we accept that there is no such thing as a perfect synonym- these two words have significantly different meanings, each one rather interesting, and so we won’t confuse them.

The distinction between “culture” and “civilization” has been the subject of an extensive and complex debate dating back to at least the end of the 18th century. Indeed just when it was thought that this discussion had been forgotten it was revitalized by the controversial “clash of civilizations” theory put forward by Samuel Huntington. We will briefly note the nuances and meanings that separate them.

Traditionally the term “civilization” was reserved for collective, public, objectified, intersubjec- tive and materially observable aspects. On the other hand the word “culture” was used mainly for personal, subjective, mental or spiritual aspects which reveal personal singular character and its individual value. Hence why Immanuel Kant stated in 1784 “the idea of morality belongs to culture", whilst “customs relating to matrimonial matters and exterior decency is called “civilization ”.

In short popular customs and socio-political institutions from a country’s laws to its museums are principally part of “its civilization”, whilst the current and subjective knowledge of individ- ual people, as well as the particular specificities of their great classics, belong to the idea of “culture”. In agreement with this distinction Norbert Elias published hid famous book "The Civilizing Process”". His main theory is the evolution of social strategies designed to pacify so- cial life by controlling individual instincts, desires, habits and behaviour.
We can therefore compare a more immaterial, intangible subjective and personal Kultur with a more material, tangible, institutionalized and collective Zivilisation. Yet according to sciences such as socio-biology both of these are similarly necessary for the cultural and hyper-social spe- cies that is man. As humans we have to construct for ourselves a complex (sense of) socio- cultural recognition based on a shared heritage, in which each generation has to absorb and edu- cate itself in.

This says a lot about human complexity, given that - as Bruno Latour highlights - science, tech- nology, culture etc advance through inseparable dialectics that link individual and collective hu- man actors, material artefacts and possibilities and theory-conjectures (Karl Popper’s “World 3”).Along these lines the archaeologist considers there to be a “fractal relationship“ between ma- terial culture and the immaterial-symbolic, between social order and the subjectivity of its mem- bers  in  that  they  are  different  levels  in  which  an  analogous  structure    can  be  observed.

Classical philosophers such as Hegel, - demonstrating that his “idealism” has been misinterpret- ed, considered “property” to be essential for integral human development. The underlying idea, which modern studies have basically shown to be right, is that humans inevitably need to take on and throw themselves behind a heritage that is at the same time both material and symbolic in order to fully develop themselves in socio-cultural individual recognition and be collectively recognized.

According to Axel Honneth, we can state that the different facets of social, cultural and political recognition presuppose adequate areas of tangible, material, institutionalised and collective Zivi- lisation, “monumental”, “incarnate” and, if you like, “fossilized” in particular “opuses” and the results of creative acts carried out in the past. Now these are conditions that also may sprout and update immaterial, intangible, symbolic, subjective and personal Kultur. Full recognition has as conditions of possibility these different types if “culture”, “possession”, “appropriation” and “tradition” which, significantly, have the same etymology as the words “pater” (father), posse/ poder” (to be able), propi” (own) and trade” (trade).Hannah Arendt distinguishes between three types of activities for which humanity not only survives but also defines its “condition”, and through which it recognizes itself: Labor-Arbeit, Work-Herstellen-Poiesis and Action- Handeln-Praxis, Thus these three types, like previous dichotomies, presuppose a certain relation between cultural “heritage”, what they classify and what they specify.

Only through integrating these aspects - which are, at times, not correctly connected - can we begin to come close to an interdisciplinary, synthetic, holistic and “macrophilosophical” version of the contemporary socio-cultural reality of “heritage” and recognition. Therefore the traditional vision of human culture used to respond to a very partial and unilateral selection. For this reason we have to broaden the notion of “heritage”, culture and civilization by clarifying and evaluating that which has not been thought of as such, that which has been avoided, concealed and deferred, but which is key to human self-recognition. Therefore it will be evident that heritage, culture and civilization is all that which allows humanity to recognize itself in its complexity diversity, wealth and plurality Thus we are starting to approach a more complete, integrated and interdisci- plinary definition and we are overcoming ancient partialities and dichotomies(e.g. placing the material above the immaterial, limiting oneself to high culture whilst avoiding popular culture, etc.),including and conceptualizing aspects that traditionally have not been thought of, that have remained hidden and even that have been excluded from human heritage, civilization and culture.

As can already be seen one must not confuse the distinction between culture and civilization with software and hardware. Both of them have to coincide both in civilization and culture, both cannot exist in a completely immaterial state. However the important difference lies, as we will see, in how civilization can be reduced to a computer with its programmes “closed” and without the life force of electricity updating the software in this piece of hardware. However culture needs these three things to be and to realize fully its potential: it must have hardware with software functioning “in real time”.

On the other hand and for this exact reason “civilization” can survive, even if it is lacking, when “culture” can no longer exist. Precisely because culture has an existence that is sometimes very ethe- real and is connected to the people that “cultivate it”, it needs to be specified and institutionalized publically and materially in “civil, civic and civilized” institutions that may house, maintain and pro- tect “cultural heritage” and more immaterial and subjective culture.  Thus in its purest form “culture” only persists as long as it lives, is thought about by people, whilst “civilization” maintains many of its monuments and impressions until long after people or humanity has disappeared entirely.

What’s more, we must not forget that being “cultured" is above all a personal quality and merit that can be seen but which refers to the “cultivation of the spirit” that one has had to carry out for one- self. Whilst on the other hand “civilization” is public, collective and material shaping that is achieved thanks to the fact that many cultured people (indeed whole generations) have been con- structing a type of “shared city” (a “civilization”) precisely so that subjective does not disappear when the person who “cultivated” it dies.


For example an illiterate shepherd may have an enormous amount of personal culture related to na- ture and their environment, but if he dies alone and without having constructed a lasting collective civil environment (something that is closer to “civilization”) he will simply leave no trace or simply a vague memory that will also disappear as those who remember him and knew him personally dis- appear.

We can therefore say that in order to survive in the long term has to become civilization and breed an idea of “heritage”. However simultaneously, to be alive, to develop oneself and to progress as a human, a civilization needs to be cultivated personally by people in order to penetrate and give life to their souls, and to be lived by them. On the other hand “civilization” and “heritage” can simply boil down to monumental ruined buildings and empty streets (or full of tourists that are alien to the real “culture” of the people that built them, such as Palmyra, Luxor, the Great Wall of China or Machu Picchu. There only the visitor with great personal culture will even begin to be able to understand and imagine the “culture” and the people that created these now dilapidated and silent relics of “civilization”.

Let us recall the well-know speech delivered by Napoleon to his troops during the campaign in Egypt in 1798. He told them "Soldiers:—You are about to undertake a conquest the effects of which, on civilization...are incalculable. And indeed this conquest did have enormous consequences for “civilization” although relatively little on the personal culture of the soldiers themselves. This was without a doubt different for the scholars Napoleon brought with him to study Ancient Egyptian civ- ilization. But surely this was not, for example, the same for the group of soldiers who took great fun in using the nose of the Great Sphinx as target practice, destroying what had survived centuries of ravage by sand and wind. Similarly this has also been the case for more recent attacks perpetrated by Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

As we can see sadly “civilization” and “culture” do not always go hand in hand, thus weakening the “human heritage” that belongs to us all.

A similar thing can be said of books and writing. As Umberto Eco beautifully explains at the end of The Name of the Rose, many times in life so little has been saved, like a fire in a library: “fragments, quotations, unfinished sentences, amputated stumps of books.” So little remains of the “civilization” that the mythical library preserved and of the “culture” of the people that built it. But as Adson so clearly states “The more I reread this list [that has been saved from the fire] the more I am convinced it is the result of chance and contains no message. But these incomplete pages have accompanied me through all the life that has been left for me to live since then; I have often consulted them like an ora- cle [...] nor do I know whether thus far I have been speaking of them or they have spoken through my mouth.”


Ultimately, what Eco is trying to tell us is that those fragmented pieces of “civilization” have been capable of bringing to life the “culture” (and life) of those who read them, investigate them and con- serve them in their minds. Only then really “civilization”, culture and “human heritage” go together hand in hand. But very easily can “heritage” lie abandoned, “civilization” have no one to keep it up- dated, alive and “cultivated or “culture” not find how to survive in a relatively more persistent form of “civilization” and “heritage”. Therefore sadly “civilization” and “culture” do not go hand in hand, and humanity loses an essential part of its “heritage”.

Exactly for this reason in the bookLa societat de la ignorància”, we have denounced a lack of cul- ture, the sensation of existential insecurity and the unawareness that is growing amongst people, para- doxically under the “civilizing” splendour of the Internet and the knowledge society, and enormous libraries and the increasing “museumization” of heritage. Therefore at times no one really takes con- trol of “culture”; they relate themselves to "civilization" and "human heritage" in a purely mechanical and unconscious form. This sense of common lacks interest and even true value for many people, who more and more tend to close themselves off in privacy, “private property” and “their” profes- sional hyper specialization.

Meanwhile, the common, “human heritage”, “culture” or “civilization” built between them and which has affected us all, is each day more forgotten, estranged and unconsidered. Therefore people main- tain an important working professionalism (if not they would be joining the growing number of un- employed) and even make the effort for an apparently “cultural tourism”, but deep down they repudi- ate, in the best sense of the terms, the “cultural”, collective, civic and “political” norm..., that is to say, people, by renouncing culture and the cultivation thereof, now have very little real and profound contact with what is constructed between us all, common heritage, even with civilization itself...they are alone, dusty and in ruins, even though they do not seem to be.

In this case perhaps it is still being “civilized” in the sense of enjoying or having inherited a great “civilization” but it is not cultured nor is it a matter of having culture, given that this civilization real- ly has not been cultivated nor updated, and this is happening more and more during our time. Surely some of the tourists from the United States and other powerful “advanced” countries that visit seem- ingly poorer countries can present themselves as “civilized” to the villagers (who are only there to conserve the ruins of their ancient populous “civilization”). But many times the latter has as much culture as the former. Therefore, like the example of the shepherd, the villagers today may not have such powerful economic, cultural, political and social institutions as these tourists, but perhaps they know their surroundings better and are more profoundly developed culturally.

We thus see that to be "civilized” is more a collective “value” than a non-personal or individual one. It says more about society itself, its power and its institutions than about any individual person.

Therefore “civilization” usually manifests itself in formal and public symbols such as clothing, “manners”, the type of language used, economic capacity, classifiable “heritage”, and other institu- tions that “respond” or “attend” to the needs of their citizens.

For this reason both today and during the age of colonization people consider certain customs, types of relationships and lifestyles, types of cooking or construction, technology and “social capital” to be “civilized” or to be signs of “civilization” to the detriment of others... which in reality are collec- tive capacities, heritages or inheritances rather than skills, merits or fruits of “personal cultivation”.. So we can also see that we often disregard authentic personal achievements in a totally unfair way.

We refer to, for example; values, capacities, skills, sensibility and conscience “cultivated” and effectively developed by oneself.

Such injustices were opposed by Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio when they demanded the cor gen- til” in the face of the cold, inherited and almost dead “civilization” supported by aristocrats. These individuals unjustly boasted about that which they had not developed within themselves and be- lieved that this gave them superiority over people who had indeed done it and were considered “more civilized”. Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio and many other Renaissance scholars thus reacted to an indiscriminate accusation of "vulgarity and of being “uncultured” by those who in reality only benefitted from being born lucky and the previous success of the class into which they were born.. For this reason Walter Benjamin advised that “any monument to culture is also a monument to bar- barity ”, Horkheimer and Adorno demonstrated the perverse dialectic that converts what should be liberating illustration into oppressive myth and Voltaire lamented that sometimes “civilization does not suppress barbarism, but refines it”.

Interviu by MAYTE DUARTE. Catalonia is at a critical moment in the history of its civilization. Why Catalan “civilization” and not “culture”? In agreement with Dr Mayos we must confine ourselves to the facts and collective, public and institutional creations made by Catalans and/or those that have taken place in Catalunya with a perspective that goes beyond mere archaeological and reductively patrimonial interest, far from life and the present. That in order to be confront a sovereign future we have to raise awareness and advance and progress, – like any country or people or village does or should do as part of “common human heritage” and thus in addition to being called “civilized” they can be called “cultured”, “cultivated” and “with culture”. Which is why we wanted to get the opinion of one of our most famous philosophers Gonçal Mayos, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona.

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