Rethinking Civilization - Crash Course World History 201

11 Jul 201413:42
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TLDRIn this Crash Course World History episode, John Green explores the complex and often controversial concept of civilization, challenging the traditional narrative that uncivilized barbarians inevitably progress into settled, agricultural societies. He discusses James Scott's 'The Art of Not Being Governed', which argues that hill cultures like Zomia in Southeast Asia were formed by people escaping state control and civilization, rather than being primitive societies waiting to be civilized. The video examines the intertwined relationship between agricultural surplus, state formation, and civilization, questioning the assumed superiority of civilized life over more sustainable and่‡ช็”ฑ hill cultures.

  • ๐ŸŒ The concept of civilization is complex and often controversial, with implications of privilege and insult when used to describe individuals or groups.
  • ๐ŸŽฎ The traditional narrative of civilization suggests a progression from barbarism to settled agriculture and state formation, but this may not be entirely accurate.
  • ๐Ÿ“š James Scott, in 'The Art of Not Being Governed,' challenges the view of hill people as primitive, suggesting they formed their societies to avoid state control.
  • ๐Ÿž๏ธ Hill cultures, like those in Southeast Asia's Zomia region, may have developed as a means of escape from the oppressive nature of early civilizations.
  • ๐ŸŒพ Agricultural surplus is a key factor in the development of civilizations, enabling population growth, concentration, and the rise of states.
  • ๐Ÿ›๏ธ The creation of states often involves coercion, with power resting on control over resources like food and the ability to levy taxes and maintain armies.
  • ๐Ÿ”„ The relationship between agricultural production and state formation is deeply intertwined, leading to aspects of civilization like property rights and social structures.
  • ๐Ÿน The idea of hill tribes being 'uncivilized' is questioned, with the possibility that they chose a different lifestyle to avoid the downsides of state-controlled civilization.
  • ๐Ÿ“– The lack of written records from stateless societies like Zomia means that much of what we know comes from external sources, potentially biased against these communities.
  • ๐ŸŒฟ The sustainability of hill people's lifestyles, such as swiddening agriculture, is highlighted as potentially more viable than resource-intensive agricultural practices.
  • ๐Ÿค” The video concludes by acknowledging both the accomplishments and the limitations of civilization, encouraging a continued examination of how societies organize themselves.
Q & A
  • What is the main theme of the Crash Course World History episode discussed in the transcript?

    -The main theme of the episode is the concept of civilization and its relationship with state control, as well as the idea that hill cultures may have formed as a response to escape civilization rather than being primitive societies waiting to be civilized.

  • How does John Green introduce the topic of civilization in the video?

    -John Green introduces the topic by discussing the complexity and controversy surrounding the concept of civilization, highlighting the privileged status associated with being called 'civilized' and the insult of being labeled 'uncivilized'.

  • What is the traditional narrative of the development of civilizations?

    -The traditional narrative suggests that uncivilized barbarians from various regions eventually adopt settled agriculture, give up their barbaric ways, and assimilate into civilized society, leading to progress and the establishment of civilizations.

  • What does James Scott argue in 'The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia'?

    -James Scott argues that the view of hill people as primitive and tribal barbarians is incorrect. He challenges the assumptions about civilization by suggesting that hill cultures were formed by people escaping from the control and constraints of valley civilizations.

  • How does the episode address the relationship between agricultural surplus and the development of civilizations?

    -The episode explains that agricultural surplus led to population growth and concentration, which in turn led to the formation of states and civilizations. The surplus allowed for specialization of jobs and the development of aspects of civilization such as writing, arts, and complex societies.

  • What is the significance of the Mongols in the discussion of civilizations and states?

    -The Mongols are significant because they were great conquerors but are not typically referred to as a civilization due to their lack of settled agriculture and state-like structures, despite eventually establishing a state in Yuan China.

  • What is the term 'Zomia' and what does it represent in the context of the video?

    -Zomia is a term used by James Scott to describe the mountainous and jungle-y region of upland Southeast Asia and southern China. It is characterized as relatively stateless and was partially created by people fleeing from slavery and the control of civilizations.

  • How does the episode challenge the idea that civilizations are necessarily associated with states?

    -The episode challenges this idea by presenting the concept of Zomia and the argument that hill cultures were consciously formed by people who chose to avoid the state structure and its associated controls, taxes, and coercions.

  • What is the significance of the 'swiddening' agricultural practice mentioned in the video?

    -Swiddening, or shifting cultivation, is mentioned as a more varied and less labor-intensive agricultural practice used by hill people. It is presented as a beneficial alternative to the more intensive and potentially exploitative agricultural systems associated with civilizations.

  • How does John Green conclude the episode regarding the discussion on civilizations and stateless societies?

    -John Green concludes by acknowledging both the extraordinary accomplishments of civilizations, such as agriculture and global interconnectedness, and the freedom and sustainability of stateless societies like Zomia. He emphasizes that the question of the best way to organize social orders is still relevant and requires ongoing consideration.

  • What is the main source of evidence for the claims made about hill cultures and civilizations?

    -The main source of evidence is the writings of historical figures, such as Portuguese friar Father Sangermano and British colonialist Sir Stamford Raffles, as well as the arguments presented by anthropologists like James Scott and Pierre Clastres.

๐ŸŒ Introduction to Civilization and Anarchism

The video begins with John Green introducing the topic of civilization, referencing a video game and noting that the concept of civilization is complex and often controversial. He discusses the traditional narrative where 'uncivilized' people are seen as barbarians who eventually assimilate into 'civilized' society. Green challenges this view by introducing James Scott's book, which argues against the notion that hill people are primitive and offers an alternative perspective on civilization. The video aims to explore the idea that civilization doesn't necessarily require a state and questions the benefits of state control and agriculture surplus.

๐ŸŒพ The Interconnection of Agriculture and State Formation

This paragraph delves into the relationship between agricultural surplus and state creation. It explains how surplus led to property rights, patriarchy, and the subjugation of citizens. The narrative that 'barbarians' were attracted to the benefits of civilization is questioned, as the downsides of state control, taxes, and forced labor are highlighted. The main argument is that hill cultures were formed by people escaping from the confines of civilization, not as a step backward in progress. Historical and contemporary examples are provided to illustrate the difficulty states have in controlling hill people.

๐Ÿž๏ธ The Region of Zomia and Stateless Societies

The focus shifts to the region of Zomia, a stateless area in upland Southeast Asia and southern China, home to millions of people. The video discusses how Zomia was shaped by people fleeing from slavery and civilization. It challenges the idea that hill people are primitive by suggesting they consciously chose a lifestyle outside of state control. The lack of written records from Zomia is attributed to the avoidance of civilization, which typically relies on writing. The video also mentions the work of anthropologists who support the idea that stateless societies are a conscious choice rather than a lack of development.

The term 'civilization' refers to a complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, and a diverse range of cultural and technological achievements. In the video, the concept is explored as both a positive force, enabling advancements like writing and agriculture, and as a source of oppression, with state control and taxes being highlighted as downsides.
Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that rejects hierarchical authority and advocates for self-governance and voluntary institutions. In the context of the video, anarchist historians question the necessity and benefits of state-controlled civilization, suggesting that some societies chose to live outside of state structures to avoid coercion and oppression.
A 'state' is a political entity with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its territory. The video discusses the state as a form of civilization that often relies on agriculture for surplus and control over its population, using mechanisms like armies and taxes.
๐Ÿ’กAgricultural Surplus
An 'agricultural surplus' is the excess of food produced beyond what is needed for the subsistence of the farmers. This surplus is crucial for the development of civilization as it allows for the growth of population, the specialization of labor, and the emergence of complex social structures.
๐Ÿ’กHill Cultures
Hill cultures refer to societies that have chosen to live in mountainous regions, often adopting lifestyles such as shifting cultivation or swiddening. These cultures are seen as alternatives to valley-based, state-controlled civilizations, offering freedom and sustainability but with fewer of the amenities associated with urban centers.
Zomia is a term coined by James Scott to describe the highland regions of Southeast Asia and southern China, which are characterized by their stateless societies and their history of resistance to state control. The term refers to the large, diverse area that has been inhabited by various groups seeking to avoid the imposition of state structures.
๐Ÿ’กShifting Cultivation
Shifting cultivation, also known as swiddening, is an agricultural practice where plots of land are cultivated for a few years and then abandoned to allow the soil to regenerate. This method involves a lower input of labor and provides a varied diet, making it suitable for societies living in areas like hills and mountains.
Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. In the video, it is mentioned that civilizations often led to the establishment of patriarchal structures, although it is acknowledged that this is not an inevitable outcome.
๐Ÿ’กStateless Societies
Stateless societies are communities that do not have a centralized governing authority or do not recognize a state's legitimacy over them. These societies often prioritize autonomy and self-determination, and they may employ alternative forms of social organization and conflict resolution.
Anthropology is the study of human societies, cultures, and their development. In the video, the term is used to describe the academic discipline that seeks to understand the diverse ways in which humans have organized their social lives, including those that have chosen to live outside of traditional state structures.
Interconnectedness refers to the state of being closely connected or interrelated. In the context of the video, it highlights the benefits of civilization, such as the ability to collaborate globally and the exchange of ideas, but also acknowledges the risks associated with such close connections, like the spread of diseases.

The complexity and controversy of the concept of civilization, as it implies a privileged status to some and insults others.

The traditional narrative of civilization where uncivilized barbarians assimilate into settled, agricultural societies.

The exploration of James Scott's book, challenging the conventional view of civilization and the role of hill people.

The idea that history is not just about events, but also about how we interpret those events.

The founding of early civilizations in river valleys due to the ease of agriculture and predictability of water supply.

The significance of food surplus in enabling the development of civilization, population growth, and job specialization.

The historical association of civilization with state control, and the equating of barbarism with being beyond state control.

The Epic of Gilgamesh as an example of the town vs. country debate and the assimilation of 'barbarians' into civilization.

The argument that hill cultures were formed by people escaping from the control and coercion of states.

The difficulty for states to control hill people, as exemplified by historical and contemporary examples.

The concept of Zomia, a region of upland Southeast Asia and southern China, characterized by its statelessness and history of avoiding civilization.

The role of slavery and flight from it in the creation of Zomia and its stateless societies.

The lack of written evidence from Zomia due to the avoidance of civilization and its reliance on writing.

The possibility that hill people's way of life might be more sustainable and free than that of settled agricultural states.

The acknowledgment of the accomplishments of civilization, such as agriculture, technology, and global interconnectedness.

The ongoing relevance of questioning how we organize our societies and the implications of different social orders.

The introduction of alternative perspectives on civilization and state control, challenging the conventional understanding of progress.

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