How does one behold a civilization? One might start by beholding the man, to paraphrase Pontius Pilate. Archaeology and deconstruction are fine tools for understanding the civilization, however, a rigorous intellectual approach distances the intellectual from the underlying humanity of the social construct called civilization. A civilization is best appreciated in motion; the flow of traffic on the streets, the celebration of festivals and such.
The largest peaceful religious gathering in the world, Hindus congregate here to bathe in the Ganges and cleanse their sins.
“The pursuit of happiness takes on a moral quality when one’s own happiness becomes contingent upon the happiness of others, or at least what one believes is the happiness of others.” – Arthur Danto, Mysticism and Morality: Oriental thought and moral philosophy.
The great depression saw the proliferation of breadlines, which would eventually evolve into soup kitchens in future decades. When government relief programs died out in the 1930s, volunteer groups, private charities, and Churches stepped in to fund breadlines that became the lifeline for thousands of poverty stricken Americans.
The famine of Gujarat, India (1900).
The famine of 1900 was one of the worst to hit India in modern history. People sold of their possessions (including the doors of their houses) until they had nothing left, after which they starved. The Brahmins slept well, their conscience clear on grounds of their vegetarianism. The Jains slept well, their conscience clear on account of the hospitals they built for animals. The Vaish/Trader castes slept well, as they packed up their capital and fled to Mumbai. The only relief came from Catholic and Methodist groups in Europe. The upper castes scoff at these Christians for their simplistic view of God. I’m certain the corpses in the above photo died with content knowledge that their scriptures are far more philosophically advanced than the primitive Bible.
To return to the very first question of this article, how does one behold a civilization? There is the way of the scholar, that is, the way of the discursive intellect; and then there is the intuitive way of deconstructing the man that inhabits this mighty social construct. I lean towards the latter, to observe the man that has been wrought upon the anvil of his civilization. I would thus rephrase Plato and say that Man is civilization writ large. Ecce homo.