An Essay on Human Civilization

Categories: Civilization

There are some irrefutable facts that almost everyone accepts in the history of humanity. Existence of the first man, Adam, is one of these facts However, this information is not merely enough to characterize our greatest ancestor. People have always wondered what he looked like, his life and his interaction with nature. This wonder is not only a result of personal interests; it is also a question that examines the origin of humanity and civilization. People have assumed that primitive humans were like animals therefore there was a huge gap between the life of primitive man and today’s civilized man and they began to investigate the reasons for this change and several questions were asked: When did the civilization process of human begin? Was foundation and development of humanity a revolution or an evolution that progresses relatively to the time? How can this progress be called: “the taming of a beast of prey” as Friedrich Nietzsche claims or a development in ideas and life styles of humans and improvement of technique? All these questions are to be answered in the rest of this essay

First of all, the image of the first man -or more generally ‘primitive man’- has to be described.

The image that evokes in today’s people mind is the portrait of an animal’, which has not met with civilization yet.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh describes this image by characteristics of Enkidu: “In the wilderness (?) she (Annu) created valiant Enkidu…His whole body was shaggy with hair, he had a full head of hair like woman …He ate grasses with the gazelles and jostled at he watering hole with the animals; as with animals, his thirst was slaked with (mere) water.

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”(Gilgamesh, I, 6). Here Enkidu seems to reflect the uncivilized human as a ‘wild animal’. This resemblance is also used by Freud and he defines primitive men as “our animal ancestors” (Freud, 42). These descriptions make humans hesitated about their origins and they ask such a question: were our ancestors really animals? It’s kind of an evolutionary related question and many scientists try to find the answer; however, in terms of social attitudes instead biological aspects, analytical thinking will uncover the intended meaning while using the word ‘animal’. Animals are strongly bound to the nature and investigating general features of them will exhibit that their life completely are consisted of the nature and its elements. Animals don’t have the control of their instincts, they are wild and aggressive. They are also far away from technology and do not live in an interactive community. Although it is difficult for people to conform the features of animals to humans, many of them believed that primitive humans were like animals at least in their behaviors. However there is a fact that these people don’t consider: the ability of thinking, which changes the animal-based portrait of our ancestors in such a way: Primitive humans may behave and live like animals but they are also capable of thinking. This capability provides humans the way to improve of their characteristics and get rid of their animal-like characteristics gradually in the time. Within this activity, human life is differed from animal life and as a consequence the history of civilization may have been initiated even with the first man. Because he was also capable of thinking and probably he started to think the ways to control nature” -basic idea of civilization by Freud- just after his creation. Thus there exists a claim that the first foundations of civilization were commenced by primitive humans and the civilization is a long process that covers all humanity including the first man’. Before examining the claim, the word ‘civilization’ has to be clarified in the way that it’ll be used.

“The word ‘civilization’ describes the whole sum of the achievements and regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes-namely to protect men against nature and to adjust mutual relations”(Freud, 42). Here Freud gives a brief definition of civilization by establishing it on achievements and regulations. He sees civilization as a systematic fight of humans against nature -although Freud’s reference point of definition is animal ancestors (primitive people), it would be better to consider our ancestors as reflections of nature instead animals in order not to conflict with the final thesis – The systematic fight draws a straight line between nature and human. This line was almost invisible in our primitive ancestors; however it became visible and thicker whenever humans demanded more control over the nature and more strengthened social relationships. Almost every person, even those in the dark ages, has contributed this formation by using their inborn mental abilities. As people found the ways of overwhelming the natural powers and making these powers their own, they became more socialized and civilized. The overwhelming tools were products of increasing technology, which makes people “a kind of prosthetic god” as Freud asserts. During the progress of civilization, people became more docile and are forced to lose the inherited features of their ancestors such as aggressiveness, wilderness. In fact these are not losses, they are earnings in terms of civilization.

The introduction of Enkidu to the civilization illustrates these fundamental earnings and loses of the civilization: “…for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused, and had intercourse with the Harlot… …But when he turned his attention to his animals… … the wild animals distanced themselves from his body… …Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before. But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened… … Shamhat clothed him with one piece… … The shepherds placed food in front of him; they placed beer in front of him…Enkidu did not eat but squinted and stared” (Gilgamesh, 9-11). The text reveals many requirements, sacrifices and gaining, for being civilized such as clothing, eating, loss of physical power and wildness and the gain of intelligence. However the most important one of these concepts is the loss of wildness which suddenly disappears after the first step (sexual intercourse with a woman that is a sign of socialization, interaction) to civilization is taken. This loss is a clear sign of change and draws the line that separates nature from Enkidu. Enkidu becomes a part of civilization, not a part of nature where he came from, after losing of his wildness; because all the animals -materials of nature- have excluded him and he has to find a new place that is not natural for him after that moment. This displacement is obligatory and requires revolutions. Therefore Enkidu has to give up some instinctual behaviors like aggression and wilderness in order to be civilized.

Now it is clearer that civilization is a process of change and it has some necessities. Comparing the argument with Nietzsche’s thesis, they are almost same. Claims both agree on the fact that civilization is a developing process that lies from “beast of prey man” to the civilized animal and it has some restrictions including ‘disposing the wilderness and aggressiveness off’. However, there is one more concept, “taming”, which has to be clarified, so one more question has to be asked: can this process be called as ‘taming’?

The dictionary meaning of taming is to reduce from a wild to a domestic state; to domesticate’. It is used for animals and taming of an animal means making it innocuous and useful for humans. After domestication, animal is not wild and free anymore as it is in the nature before. Civilization also requires the reduction of wildness and some other natural instincts. Up to this point, ‘taming’ and civilization seem to be the same. However, thinking ‘taming’ in more detail would reveal some controversies. First of all, animals lose all of their liberty after domestication and they became slaves of the human authority. On the other hand, “civilization brings human the fair liberty, before civilization human had more liberty but this one was natural and had no value” (Freud). Then domestication causes animals to lose their freedom completely while civilization supplies protected liberty for humans. Therefore civilization cannot be represented as domestication in terms of independency.

Taming has to be examined more deeply in order to clarify the difference. What arose in people’s mind when they hear the word “taming”? Is it an obligatory action or animals voluntarily want to be tamed? Of course, humans constrain animals for domestication and animals don’t have the right to choose their way. Then what about civilization? Civilization and its consequences are not obligatory unless human desires them because civilization is the change in human ideas and this change is not forced by any authority. Humans decide whether choose or not to choose the way that brings civilization. Furthermore, there are many examples of uncivilized societies like some Africans who maintain the hunting and gathering” life style of their primitive ancestors even in today’s world. Enkidu was also living isolated from society until he met with the harlot. Thus, this phenomenon forms the second controversy which is important to understand the difference between functions of “taming” and civilization.

To sum up, the thesis and Nietzsche’s claim has been observed in two parts: First one is related to the functions of civilization. It is common that civilization has some requirements including the reduction of instincts and there is no controversy on this issue. However in the second part Nietzsche’s consideration of civilization is named as “taming” and this word does not completely define the process of civilization. Therefore the thesis can be corrected and combined as ‘civilization is a long process that covers all humanity; it starts with “the beast of prey man” and maintained by the civilized man’ -not animal. Civilization process is not “taming” because civilization is a voluntarily action and it is the product of human’s mental activity’.

Works Cited

  1. Freud, Sigmund. Civilizations and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961.
  2. Kovacs, Maureen Gallery. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Cite this page

An Essay on Human Civilization. (2021, Sep 13). Retrieved from

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