Serial Bus

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Primitive and Modern

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I am going to describe two very different places below. I want you to guess which one is primitive and which one modern.

The First Place

The first place represents a string of settlements by a river somewhere in the tropics. Since we do not yet understand their language, we need to extrapolate their beliefs through what we see in their cities. A city’s design reflects the prosperity of its people and prosperity is always indicative of progressive values. Such values must be abundant here, as the people living in the region have constructed themselves elaborately-designed cities bedecked with beautiful public places and private residences. The city (along with others in the region) is well known for its impressive, organized and regular layout, road and street networks, drainage and step-wells for water. The harmony amongst its people is visible in the way the city would cater to its people’s needs – it includes differentiated living quarters, flat-roofed brick houses and fortified administrative and religious centers. People in the street can assumed to be happier since we do not see any indication of crass submissiveness to positions of authority – in fact, the city completely lacks any priestly “pomp or lavish display” that is common in other contemporary regions.

Talking of the lives of common people, we know that cotton is woven and dyed for clothing; wheat, rice, and a variety of vegetables and fruits are cultivated; and a number of animals, including the humped bull, are domesticated. Water is abundant and therefore, agriculture is the mainstay of the economy but overtime, the production surpluses have allowed its people to establish a largely urban culture with a strong emphasis on commerce. They are able to trade with far-flung regions, some more than a thousand miles away. Presence of trade itself is a good proof of how much these people have embraced technology – it is also obvious through other means – a very well-calibrated system of weights and measures, including distinctive seals for identification of property and shipment of goods. You can tell that their arts and culture are evolved by observing their beautiful metallic works (their unique artifact ‘The Dancing Girl’ is world-famous), their pottery and their cultural insignia. Once we are able to decipher what they write, perhaps we will appreciate them even more.

The Second Place

The second place lies in a lush and scenic mountain valley, also crossed with a river. The place is largely rural and is ruled by an extremist clique that has forced all the people into submission. Today, the valley is living in the shadow of fear. This closed society has snapped all links with outer world. In the name of religion, the clique has imposed anachronistic laws that eliminate freedom of expression and and personal liberties. Every form of entertainment has been outlawed including dancing, hanging pictures in homes and clapping during sports events. Women have to cover themselves from tip to toe and men are forced to grow facial hair as a sign of adherence to the code of laws interpreted arbitrarily by the clique. Not only are girls not allowed to attend schools (which have been largely bombed and wiped out), women are lashed publicly for ‘offenses’ that include being seen with a man not directly related to them. If anyone raises a voice against oppression, the person can be tortured and executed without a fair trial by an armed thought police. In keeping with their philosophy of non-tolerance, they seek to destruct any symbol of views that are different or opposed to theirs – this may include defacement of beautiful sculptures and burning of libraries. The place has no technological or cultural achievements of its own and it berates the cultures of people who do not share their points of view.

Their hatred of foreigners is not limited to just boycott of alien culture (however popular) and goods (however useful); they also believe in annihilation of such people. The clique masterminds acts of terror outside of the valley, in cities near and far. They believe all their barbaric acts are condoned, nay, glorified by their religion and anyone who does not subscribe to their intolerant views deserves to be massacred.

Any guesses? Which one of the above two places sounds backward and primitive, and which one sounds modern and civilized?

In its original sense, ‘primitive’ means something that existed long back (like primitive tribes) and ‘modern’ means something that exists today. However now, ‘primitive’ is used to also describe anything that is backward and ‘modern’ alludes to ‘developed’.

I guess most would agree that the second place is decidedly sinister and definitely avoidable, but here is the kicker – if you apply the original meanings of the words, the first place is actually ‘primitive’ and the second place is ‘modern’.

The description of the first place is that of the Harappa city as it existed 5000 years back, during the heyday of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The second place is Mingora, the largest town of Swat Valley, as it exists today.

Both places exist in Pakistan, not so far from each other. Harappa now lies in ruins but Swat is the center of much international concern, as the local Taliban-affiliated groups imposed the sharia law in the Swat region after a controversial deal with the Pakistani government in Feb09.

So much for 5000 years of ‘development’ that converted a ‘modern’ place into a ‘primitive’ one!!


Written by serialbus

April 26, 2009 at 2:57 pm

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  1. […] The Huffington Riposte added an interesting post on Primitive and ModernHere’s a small excerptThey are able to trade with far-flung regions … be tortured and executed without a fair trial by … non-tolerance, they seek to destruct any […]

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