Human beings are social creatures and have been since we emerged from the trees some six million years ago. We live in a society or civilization. A society is usually made up of a number of independent cities, each with its own culture, language, and religion. Some societies are more advanced than others, and the differences between societies often center on the types of religion practiced. A society is sometimes referred to as a polity, and there are sometimes separate political entities within a society such as a city or country. A society is often made up of various ethnic groups, with some living in towns and villages and others in large cities or nations.
The key defining feature of a society is the social organization it creates. There are many different types of societal organization and structures. Some societies are based on family units, some on tribe and clan systems, some on nation states, and some on religious groups. Religious differences sometimes seem to cause conflicts among societies, and sometimes they do not. The major differences in civilizations are often identified by the differences in economic philosophies and political systems.
A major part of what defines a society is its political system. Political systems usually consist of a government that allocates resources to various public services and projects. Taxes help to support this government and spread the wealth. When societies have a common goal to achieve a higher standard of living and do not wish to compete with each other through war, the political system usually works well. The major difference between a capitalist society and a communist society is that in a capitalist society everyone is guaranteed a right to be employed; however, in a communist society an educated person may be denied this right.
Culture is also an important part of what makes a civilization unique. There are some broad differences between cultures, and these can sometimes be hard to identify. It is difficult to determine the exact definition of culture because there are so many differences. In theory all human beings share similar cultural traits, but in reality very different cultural patterns have been discovered.
For example, in our society a sport like track and field has long been considered a masculine activity. This is especially true in American football, in which the wide receiver is often the strongest player. While it is always a competition, it is usually viewed in a way that privileges the player and denigrates the rest. This is not done consciously, but it happens on a subconscious level.
Gender is another significant factor. Not all societies are as equal as others. The concept of “women’s rights” was unheard of in ancient Egypt. The only way to express these rights would be to murder a woman. Today, a rape is reported outnumbering the reported crimes of any other type of crime more than two hundred to one.
Religion and nationality also play a major role in defining a civilization. There are many groups within a civilization that have very different beliefs and practices. Christianity is the most popular religion in the world with about seventy percent of its population. Islam is about forty percent, and Hinduism and Judaism are close behind. A society that is composed mainly of Hindus will tend to value material possessions quite highly and have a great need for clothing.
However, what are the similarities between all these groups? Many differences, some seemingly insurmountable. Differences in education, values, and customs create differences that are very resistant to change. As a result, societies are forced to adapt and change or they become stagnant. The question is can a society survive by itself if it cannot find the ability to recognize and adapt to its own pasts and its own present.