What is the difference between culture and Civilization?

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Civilization denotes utilitarian things used as apparatus. To understand the term ‘culture’ clearly it would be desirable to distinguish it from civilization. Writers have many different concepts of civilization. Civilization is considered to have begun at the time of writing and the advent of metals.

As history begins with writing, so does civilization. Ogburn and Nimkoff conceived of civilization as the latter phase of the super organic culture.

Some based civilization on civil organization as contrasted to clan or kinship organization. Since civil organization was found more commonly in large towns, so people living in these towns were called civilized. A.A. Golden Weiser used the word ‘civilization’ as synonymous to ‘culture’ and applied the term to non-literate people.

Others reserve the word ‘civilization’ for some selected part of a culture. Brooks Adam thinks his concept limp lies order maintained over an area by government power.

To Arnold Toynbee, a civilization is essentially a religious and ethical system holding away over an area of the larger than a state or nation. Such a system is unified by customs, institutions and ideologies. Some sociologists divide culture into two parts, the material and non- material.

By material is meant one can create objects. Like dwellings pens, radio, articles of clothing, utensils, tools, books and paintings, by non material is meant the abstract creations of man such as language, literature, science, art, law and religion.

The sociologists Jhon Lewis Gillin and Johan Phillip Gillin explited the term ‘culture’ to designate the ideas and techniques behind the concrete objects and cultural equipment to describe the objects themselves. According to them civilization is a more complex and evolved form of culture.

Mac Iver uses the word ‘civilization’ to denote utilitarian things the whole mechanism and social organism techniques and material instruments which have been devised by man in his endeavour to control the conditions of his life. These things operate as means to ends.

They are wanted because by using them as means we can secure certain satisfactions. Civilization in this sense would include the radio, the ballot box, the telephone, rail-roads, the schools, the bank and the tractor, etc.

All these belong to the realm of civilization. A.W. Green Golds remarks that “A culture becomes civilization only when it possesses written language, science, philosophy, a specialized division of labour and a complex technology and political system”.

Following Mac Iver, the important points of difference between culture and civilization may be described as follows.

1. Civilization has a precise standard of measurement but not culture.

Civilization is susceptible of being quantitatively measured on the grounds of efficiency. When comparing the products of civilization we can prove which, is superior and which is inferior. Their efficiency can be estimated and in fact be measured.

A lorry runs faster than a bullock cart, an aeroplane runs faster than a lorry, a power loom produces more plough. The modern currency system is superior to the barter system. None can dispute these facts.

On the contrary, there is no measuring rod by which we can assess own standards, the paintings of Picasso may appear to some an abomination while to others they are invaluable models of art. To some Bernard Shaw is a better dramatist than Shakespeare. Some like songs, others prefer film songs.

2. Civilization is always advancing, but not culture.

According to Mac Iver, ‘Civilization not only marches, it marches always, provided there is no catastrophic break of social continuity in the same direction.’ Civilization shows a persistent upward trend. It is un linear and cumulative and tends to advance indefinitely. Since man invented automobile, it has continuously improved.

Similar is the case with other means of transportation like railway, ship, aeroplane which are constantly growing more swift, more efficient and better designed.

They are vastly superior to those employed by our ancestors. Culture on the other hand, advances slowly and is often subject to progression.

It does not march assuredly to higher or improved standards. Our paintings are not as good as or better than those of Ajanta caves. Can we say that our poetry, drama and literature are superior to those of ancient times.’

3. Civilization is passed on without effort, but not culture.

Culture is transmitted on a different principle from that of civilization. The former can only be assimilated by the likeminded. It can be had only those who are worthy of it. No one without the .quality of the artist can appreciate art, nor classical music can be judged by those who do not have an ear for it.

Civilization in general makes no such demand we can enjoy its products without sharing the capacity which creates them. Everyone can use the breeze from a ceiling fan whether he knows the mechanism of the fan or not. A.J. Toynbee writes, “It is the easiest thing in the world for commerce to export a new Western technique.

It is infinitely harder for a western poet or saint to kindle in a non-Western soul the spiritual flame that is a light in his own.”

4. The works of civilization can be improved by anybody but that is not possible in the case of culture.

Lesser minds can improve the work of the great inventors, but lesser artists instead of improving may rather spoil the poems of Milton or Tagore.

The accomplishments of culture can be perfected only by the persons who produced them. Again the product of the artist is more revelatory of his personality than is that of the technician.

Culture, being the immediate expression of the human spirit, can advance only if that spirit is capable of finer efforts, has itself something more to express.

5. Civilization is external and mechanical while culture is internal and organic.

Civilization is inclusive of external things, culture is related to internal thoughts, feelings, ideals, values etc. Mac Iver remarks “Civilization is what we have culture is what we are”.

In Mathew Arnold’s words, culture, is the study of perfection and of harmonies perfection general, rather than in having something, in an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circuit areas.”

6. Civilization is borrowed without change or loss, but not culture.

The transference of civilization from one generation to another is quick and easy. Given adequate means of communication things of civilization quickly spread to the whole world. Radio, television, X-ray, automobiles are no longer the monopoly of any one country.

The corporate form of industry has encroached everywhere in older forms. The factory has displaced the domestic system of production. Even the savage is ready to give up bow and spear and two adopt the gun. The new techniques of constructing buildings and building roads, have everywhere been adopted.

Culture, on the other hand has an intrinsic quality and can only be imbibed. It will have a limited appeal. In India we have borrowed much Western civilization “borrowings” but they are only a few aspects of culture which are borrowed and even in this act of borrowing, borrowed culture is clear that expansion of a civilization follows different principle from those which determine cultural development.

Civilization proceeds more rapidly, more simply, less selectively always spreading outward from the face of technological advance.


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