I was at a loss last weekend when I realized I needed to come up with a topic for Tuesday's essay, so I considered myself lucky when a friend of mine began telling me about his own writing assignment on human civilization. I decided that I was out of ideas, and I took civilization and ran with it. It might be worth noting now that I use "Civilization" intentionally as a physical object, and so as a proper noun.
Since humanity first climbed from the clutches of its primordial hovel, it has sown the seeds of creation. It has striven to master its own world, to triumph over itself, and to rise to yet greater ingenuity. Mankind's greatest achievement is the Civilization, a complex system of agriculture and labour divisions contained within an intricate evolution of mankind's total social heredity. Yet, mankind's greatest talent is not creation, but destruction. It is fitting, then, that the nature of the Civilization is that of the phoenix, and that from smoldering ash arises a new era for mankind to bask in his own glory; for the Civilization is not merely a collection of farms and social ranks, it is a cage in which lies the brutal savagery inherent in the race of man.
Even in Sumer, the cradle of civilization, is this aggression evident. The great cities that birthed writing, astronomy, arithmetic, legal systems, the calendar, and the wheel laid siege to themselves and fell to obscurity as they were annexed by another rising power. Two thousand years later along the banks of the river Tiber the great Roman Empire raised the Colosseum, a grandiose achievement in architecture and engineering devoted to the entertainment of man through spectacles of bloodshed and battle. A full millennium later on a continent halfway around the world the Aztecs erected the first Great Temple, a man-made mountain paying tribute to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, the gods of rain and fire. For days on end, human sacrifices would be conducted atop the great pyramid, and the bodies would be cast down the steep sides to pile at the base of the sacred grounds. This civilization, like all others before it, eroded itself from within only to be devoured by another larger, more destructive culture.
Six thousand years have passed since humanity first ascended from its cradle, and little has emerged to keep its brutality in check. Even today, so-called "humanitarian" efforts against mankind's nature uniformly fail to prevent sectarian bloodshed across the globe. In more "refined" societies around the world, violence is siphoned away from its homeland through war, only to fuel more destruction. Often, even the prospects of war and administrative action fail to completely stifle a population's violent tendencies as crime runs rampant in urban areas. Not even the impending depletion of resources could manage to abate mankind's thirst for the blood of his own; rather, it has thrown him into a panic and further stimulated his aggression. Modern civilization has no Colosseums, no warlords, and no sacrificial temples; the hunger of the populace is stymied only by rigorous regimes of violent media. Humanity has found not a way to tame its brutality, but to divert it with technology, effectively moving the gladiator from the arena to the television screen.
From the construction of the first ziggurat to the launching of the first space shuttle, mankind has struggled to contain his aggression, to move forward unhindered by his savage tendencies. Instead, he has merely set it aside, channeling his talent through his rage in order to create. The fatal flaw in the Civilization lies here, in that humanity does not overcome its brutality insomuch as it harnesses it as impetus for growth, encouraging mankind's killer instinct to grow and elevating itself higher still to create, eventually, a destructive force well beyond imagination. It is the self-destructive aspect of the Civilization that is imperative to its remarkable ability to renew itself. Like the phoenix, the Civilization will crumble with age and fall to fire, only to emerge from the ashes anew and stronger than before. Even so, all things must come to an end, and the question must be asked: can the ultimate destruction of humanity's greatest invention be deterred; or will the Civilization at last collapse - as it has so many times before - once and for all?