An Indian paradox

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by rcscwc, Jan 19, 2011.

  1. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    Fraggle, you still have not resolved the paradox.
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The words "civilized" and "civilization" have many meanings depending on context. In discussions of ancient history "civilization" has only one meaning: the building of cities. A "civilized" population is one that has built cities and lives in them.
    In this corner of the acadamy, yes. As I have explained before, the key paradigm-shifting attribute of city life is that the people have to be able to completely transcend their tribal instinct and learn to live in harmony and cooperation with complete strangers.

    Of course village life also required the first step in this transcendence. We are a pack-social species by instinct, programmed to live in harmony and cooperation only with our extended-family unit: people we have known, trusted and cared for since birth--and the occasional child traded with another tribe at the summer festival, unknowingly giving the gene pool a healthy stirring. During the rest of the year other tribes were regarded with suspicion and hostility as competitors for the scarce food supply available to hunter-gatherers, especially in a lean year.

    The Agricultural Revolution quickly floated the notion that a larger population can be more productive: they didn't know the terms "divison of labor" and "economy of scale" but they could envision the phenomena they describe and the increased prosperity they would bring to a farming village. So it made sense to send ambassadors to these former enemies and invite them to come live together for the good of all. The upshot of this was that our ancestors had to learn to live in harmony and cooperation with people they had not known since birth, people who were not familly, yet people whose very proximity would make life easier. This required overcoming the pack-social instinct.
    As I said, I'm using the terms "civilize" and "civilization" in their very narrow prehistoric sense. No insult is intended so please stop assuming one.
    Preagricultural societies have culture. We talk about "Paleolithic culture" all the time. They invented musical instruments and had very sophisticated artistic technology. Even the Neanderthals had burial rituals.
    I'm not sure what you mean by an "advanced" language. Language is apparently one of our species's best skills, because we all develop languages that precisely suit the purpose of our individual communities. (After all, we have a brain center devoted entirely to speech.)

    People are fond of insisting that their own language is "advanced" while someone else's is "primitive." Yet, for example, people in industrialized societies don't even realize that languages in other cultures have a vast vocabulary of very precise terms for family relationships that we don't have. Many languages, even those of other industrialized nations, have much more nuanced terms for honor, respect and politeness than English does.

    So please don't accuse me of asserting that any contemporary language is "more advanced" than any language of antiquity. And please also don't assert that any of those languages are more advanced than their modern descendants. They're all tools that work perfectly well for the people who speak them. Language, is, after all, a technology: a tool humans invented to make life easier.
    Well forgive me for making the transition to the more contemporary, colloquial use of the word. But I did expect to make that clear by putting it in quotation marks.

    I have to accept the fact that modern dictionaries for laymen don't list "the building of cities" as the primary definition of "civilization." But we're supposed to be speaking like scholars here, not laymen.
    Don't get me started on my attitudes about the Abrahamic religions. We have another subforum for that discussion.
    The Harappans were there first, with a civilization already built. We have very few clues to their ethnicity, but it's generally assumed that they were not an Indo-European people and, if anything, could more likely be related to the Dravidians.
    Every agricultural economy from the Neolithic to the present day produces a surplus. That's the whole point. Otherwise there'd be no reason to go to all the trouble of transcending our instincts and giving up the "carefree" life of a hunter-gatherer. Each Paradigm Shift resulted in an orders-of-magnitude increase in that surplus, so today only about three percent of the population (in the industrialized nations) have to work in the food production and distribution industry. Even they work forty-hour weeks like the rest of us and earn enough money to use their free time for leisure.
    The Mongols came from central Asia. Tibet is in central Asia. I don't know what you define as the "central" part of Asia, but the Mon-Khmer people came from what is now western China.
    The urheimat (a German word for "original homeland") of the Proto-Indo-Europeans is now accepted by most scholars (but not all) as the Pontic Steppe. Of course ultimately we all came from Africa so obviously that was merely one stop in their journey. (See the work of Dr. Cavalli-Sforza for maps of the migration routes of all the major ethnic groups.) We highlight this particular stop for two reasons: A) Until very recently this was the first place at which they could be identified, and B) It was at this point that they became of interest to historians because from here they began the various migrations that established them as one of the most prominent ethnic groups in history. Greco-Roman civilization now dominates a major fraction of the planet.
    No. A previous wave of migration of Homo sapiens had reached Europe many thousands of years earlier. We call these people the Cro-Magnon and their only surviving descendants are the Basques. (And we're not even 100% certain of that.) There were other people in Europe when the Celts arrived (the first Indo-European tribe to reach the main part of the European continent who ultimately spread out to dominate it until the Hellenic, Italic and Germanic people arrived), such as the Etruscans, who, like the Greeks after them, had built a civilization modeled on the ideas and artifacts brought to Europe by Phoenician traders. But we don't have any DNA from the Etruscans and we can't decipher their language so we don't know where they fit in history.
    Timing, dear friend. Timing. The technology of city-building simply had not spread to the Pontic Steppe yet. It was limited to Mesopotamia, northern India, Egypt and central China. Travel was slow: the wheel had been invented but horses had not yet been domesticated. Communication was slow, limited by the speed of travel. There were no cities in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, northern Asia, southeastern Asia or Australia. The Olmecs in Mesoamerica were just on the verge of building their civilization, but the Incas in South America were not.

    As I said, the Proto-Indo-Europeans had simply not invented (or learned) the technology of city-building yet. This was true of most regions on earth at that time.

    Those who migrated south, to become the Iranic, Indic, Armenian and other peoples, walked into a region where cities had already been built. Those who migrated north into Russia and Scandinavia, and east into Europe, walked into a vast region where no cities had yet been built. The Hellenic people learned the technology from the Phoenicians (and perhaps from the Etruscans, the historical record is missing a few pages from this era). The people of Latium, an Italic people who spoke Latin, learned it from the Greeks, one of the Hellenic peoples. The Romans, their Latin-speaking descendants, spread it to the entire continent. The people of those cultures (English, French, Spanish, etc.) spread it to other continents.
    I am not a paid professional scholar. That does not mean that I am not a scholar. By contemporary American standards most people here regard me as a professor.

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    The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the people who domesticated the horse, which aided them in their migrations. The wheel was invented in many places, but always by Bronze Age societies because Stone Age tools don't have the precision needed. I don't know the chronology of the region that well so I can't say which nation had the brilliant idea of inventing small, nimble, lightweight carts that could be used for hauling people very rapidly behind a running horse. Bear in mind that chariots are so light, tall and fragile that they're almost useless without roads, so this had to happen in a place where roads had already been built.
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