Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a project that’s caused me to look up the exact meaning of a variety of words.
Over the same time – and probably for even for longer – I’ve become aware of the number of doomsters who would have us believe society is going to hell in a handcart.
As a result, it occurred to me to check out the real meaning of ‘civilise’ and its partner, ‘civilisation’, and to wonder if – leave aside the doomsters – we really might have lost our way.
Not the meaning of life
My battered Chambers tells me ‘civilise’ means: “to reclaim from barbarism : to instruct in arts and refinements”. And that ‘civilisation’ means: “state of being civilised : culture : cultural condition or complex”.
Now I’m no expert, but it does seem to me that, for centuries, mankind has been trying to ‘civilise’ almost every aspect of what we’ve come to know as society: our way of life, our habitat, our behaviour, our environment, our laws and much more have all been subject to civilising forces.
And yet, when I look around – were you to look around – it’s hard not to conclude that we still have a long way to go before we can say we have reclaimed the world from barbarism.
True, we don’t still wear animal skins or live in caves. Well, not many of us do.
We are generally polite towards one another. Well, most of us are.
We are, by and large, mindful of our environment. I think.
And our laws do have the effect of controlling the wilder elements of society. Well, most of them.
But couldn’t we do more?
The search goes on
I’m not advocating a society in which everyone is so well behaved, so well housed, so well fed, so well dressed and so polite to each other that ugliness, non-conformity, eccentricity and individualism is never found anywhere.
That would be akin to living in a custard coloured world, with nothing to eat but custard and nothing to wear but custard-yellow clothes.
I’m sure no one wants that.
But wouldn’t it be nice to see a little more progress towards civilisation?
A little more grace and dignity here and there?
Not quite so much noise. Not quite so much of the isolationism borne of headphones and mobile phones and a little more of the interactive behaviour that’s often associated with more “civilised” times.
I’d like to think the search goes on, and that you’ll want to be a part of it.