Civilization? Weasel word...

Civilization is a weasel word – it sneaks an assumption into people’s minds. It comes with two meanings, and consequently people associate the two ideas without thinking about it.

The first meaning is this: a way of organizing society on a large and complex scale, with people over a large area, typically many of them in towns and cities, all part of the same large society – as distinct from tribal society, which is somewhat more simply organized on a smaller scale. The second meaning is this: people being well-behaved towards one another.

The consequence of the association in people’s minds is that people have the idea that people in societies organized on a large scale are well-behaved, and that people in societies organized on a small scale aren’t. This simply isn’t true, but it can be quite hard to dislodge the prejudice from people’s minds.

I’m not saying that all savages are noble, just that they’re as likely to be noble as anyone else – and conversely, civilized people are as likely to be savage as anyone else.

There’s another weasel word: savage. Does it mean violent, or does it mean a person belonging to a less complex society? Neither necessarily implies the other!