Is civilization really important in today's world

Why do civilizations go under?

BY BERTHOLD SEEWALD


Berlin - When the Iron Curtain was lifted nine years ago, "the end of the story" seemed to have come. At least that is how the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama saw it, and numerous people in Europe and America were willing to follow him in this hope. Because his book title only apparently associated apocalyptic things. In fact, he revealed mankind's dream: to finally break out of the eternal rise and fall of cultures. The end of history meant that there would be no end to civilization. The Occident would last forever. Today, just a few years later, we know that the dream did not turn out to be a nightmare, but that we have not made any further progress on the way to its realization. Civilizations arise, rise and pass, that's the passage of time. History proves it. But we don't know why this happens. Let us take the example of old Europe. When the century we are still living in began, it ruled the world. After the First World War, it ruled more countries than ever before. After the Second World War it was no less, but Europe's power and influence waned in a few years. Why? The possible reasons fill libraries. The answer to the question of why Mesopotamia was the center of empires for 2,500 years is even more difficult, only to sink into their plaything. Or: What led to 1500 BC The Chinese civilization together. It was only around 5000 years ago, according to the prevailing opinion, that people on the Euphrates and Nile learned to record thoughts with writing. This invention took millennia to complete its triumphal march over the earth. So today we do not even know with absolute certainty which people ruled over Troy, which has been so well researched for 125 years and with whose fate Western literature began. And even if a Chronicle of Troy were found, if we learned to read it and in it we learned about the great war at its gates, it would still be unclear whether the author would have recorded all the causes for Ilion's fall in it. Perhaps he too only talks about the beautiful Helena and the anger of Achilles - and keeps silent about the fact that the decline began with a drought that dried up the tributes from southern Russia. In 1984 the historian Alexander Demandt attempted to systematize the causes put forward by researchers for the "fall of the earth", the fall of the Imperium Romanum. He found more than 200 interpretations that seem to connect to a Gordian knot. Such surveys should not be a reason to persist in an exaggerated skepticism or to seek salvation in scientific explanatory models just because they claim to offer "exact" verifiable answers. This WORLD series has made it clear that the natural sciences are far from delivering ultimate wisdom. And the hope of the social sciences to be able to represent the phenomena of civilizations by means of mathematical formulas experienced its Waterloo a few years ago, when the bipolar world order dissolved into nothing that had been held for eternity. In fact, over centuries, the humanities have formulated answers. In the forefront these were always the philosophers and theologians, who, depending on the case, suspected the Holy Spirit, the world spirit, class antagonisms, luck or morality as the power center behind historical change. However, historical exams can hardly be passed with such answers. The historians and their colleagues from the linguistic and spatial sciences were able to provide too many plausible explanations in a specific case - not least thanks to the rise of new scientific disciplines. This is how paleozoologists can now write the menu of ancient cities. Archaeometallurgists decipher which alloys were used by artisans long ago and which sites their metals came from. Or archaeometry uses physical processes to clarify the origin of ceramics. The example of the Maya shows how much new research methods are changing our image of past cultures. Until the 1950s, it was a foregone conclusion that their civilization, which flourished in the first millennium AD, was based on slash-and-burn agriculture. Since only small yields could be achieved with this in the tropical climate of Central America, it was assumed that the huge pyramids of the Maya were the remains of uninhabited ceremonial centers in which priests prayed for the salvation of a peaceful people who - unlike their neighbors - in the Lived in harmony with nature until a catastrophe wiped out the whole people. For what else could it have done to tear down such a stable society? This picture began to crack as the deciphering of Mayan script made progress in the 1960s. It quickly became clear that the Mayan princes were striving for power and wealth just as much as their peers all over the world. The sources made it clear that wars, overpopulation, and social conflicts ultimately dominated everyday life for the Maya. Modern interdisciplinary settlement research now assumes 100 to 200 inhabitants per square kilometer in rural Maya regions, which is also assumed for the densely populated regions of China and Java. There can be "no doubt that the Maya ... ventured into a whole series of intensive cultivation methods. The effect was certainly that in this way the livelihood of twice as many people could be guaranteed for a time. However, this changed as a result the Maya drastically change their environment, "writes the renowned Maya researcher Patrick Culbert. The forest disappeared, weeds and crops took its place. The Maya had reached a critical point of vulnerability. Civil wars, invasions, epidemics, hunger - any plague in itself or all of them together could ultimately have brought about the Mayan catastrophe. With absolute certainty, we will probably never find out what it really was. Because when we come to a judgment, there is another factor that significantly determines the contrasts in our historical perspective: the zeitgeist. In the age of imperialism, when power was primarily defined militarily, the collapse of the Persian Empire against Alexander was explained by warlike deficits. In the age of National Socialism, racial aspects were added. And in the 80s, when Eurocentrism was no longer popular, the Persian world empire was portrayed as a powerful great power whose demise could hardly be explained if it weren't for the reprehensible luck in the battle. "Every breath of the zeitgeist creates a new soap bubble", writes Alexander Demandt, every epoch creates a sign of its own future from the image of declining civilizations. The Maya are again mentioned as an example. "In today's world, the curve of population growth over the past centuries also speaks for itself," states Culbert. The rainforests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. At the same time, the structures of the industrialized nations are showing cracks. Corruption is increasing, and ethnic differences lead to murder and manslaughter. So Culbert asks representative of an epoch with our experiences: “Are we facing a catastrophe like the collapse of the Mayan culture?” The longing to find answers will persist as long as there are human civilizations. Because curiosity is human, always END OF THE SERIES