CIVILIZE ME

1 Sep

The power which resides in us is new in nature, and none but she knows what that is which she can do, nor does she know until she has tried. Emerson, please forgive my license. I’ve slightly amended them but they are not my words. I could not say it better:

The power that resides in us is new in Nature. We are new. And why?

I had a long conversation about sex and violence before. Why, she asks me, this connection. Why? We are animals. Most life forms do not sexually reproduce. And amongst many that do, roses for example, there is no violence in their courtships. But, for us, the word that most often denotes the fundamental act, that precipitates its most primitive connotations is an ancient German word that means ‘to hit’.

And it still does. Right now my country has no government. And tho’ I wish it were otherwise, it needs one. There are two contenders, the acting Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. Their fate will be decided by people who were committed to non-alliance when they ran. Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott will be spending a lot of time holding court. Each will be dreaming schemes to fuck the other. And they’ll be saying it that way too. Fuck Abbott, fuck Gillard! They are not making love.

Why do we fight? The answer:

Moose fighting

(From Alaska in Pictures)

For the same reason they do: territory. For males, ‘territory’ includes the females in the pack. Defending the perimeters of the territory is how males make themselves useful (and get out of your hair). But our principle motivation is sexual. And males fight to win the ‘right’ to mate. So violence is mostly a boy’s game. But the girls can do it too y’all:

Tigress

(Source: People’s Daily from China via XinHua agency)

Territory. We are animals. New in nature yes, but not so much as we imagine. Moose aren’t known to blog much. But moose fuck and so do we. That’s not new, what applies to them does so to us. And we have forgotten that. We act, unconscious, in accordance with a set of rules that have withered and faded. We have won the victory over Nature; culmination of the dreams, deaths and toil of so many before us. We have blotted out the stars with our own light. We have subjected chaos to order and made everything everywhere straight and parallel, clean and hard.

But at the heart of all this… drama; at the heart of the planning and the tables of figures. The six, seven, eight-digit figures on plasma screens in high places zapped about by satellites and optic-fibre cable light. Underneath this light-speed connection to everywhere at once, the god-like imagery of ourselves: at the heart of this lurks the urge to live and to create life.

Long we have dreamed and as humans we may speak of our dreams in the day. We may make with our hands that we have dreamed on. We can imagine the impossible and strive to make it so. We can conceptualize problems, chart history and develop better ways. Much of our culture is founded in and grows out from our need to see what we can do and obtain the necessaries to make it so. To dream we need peace. To make dreams whole we need prosperity and civilization is a word that describes the consequence of those fields of technology that serve this need.

We make rules and develop rituals, to curb and channel Nature’s relentless, ruthless energies in ways concordant with our desires. Nietzsche remarked that fundamentally women were mothers, men warriors. This sounds outrageous to post-feminist ears but Nietzsche’s ‘sexism’ was put simply to remind us moderns of the type of creatures we are.

Men are made for war. And that young men form societies organized around physical but not necessarily violent co-operation is this phenomenon manifested. From it we get the code of chivalry. The gentle man is the descendant of the violent one.

And despite our world, X-Boxed as it is, this basic human fact still obtains. In my grandfather’s time men were made by their fathers and by wars. Men understood what ‘being a man’ meant. After the Great Disruption of the 1960s – the assertion by women of their rights, the abandonment of patriarchal codes of sexual conduct – this thing ‘a man’ has become a hazy concept.

Film theorists have argued that Clint Eastwood is the last real man in the sense of a screen icon who conforms to the traditional masculinity embodied by such as John Wayne. Conrad, the hero of A Man In Full must rediscover this thing ‘manhood’ having been brought up by self-indulgent, addlepated hippies. He does so by reading Epictitus in prison. And by applying it in a conflict situation.

Outside of fiction there is a sense that boys are in danger somehow. That somehow they do not belong anymore. In America where the option to determine the sex of your child is now a commercial service the overwhelming preference is for girls. Why? Perhaps because a girl is less trouble? Boys take risks, boys fight, boys are a lot more likely to ruin their good clothes by mischievous sport. It’s a no-brainer.

There are polemics like this one from The Atlantic Monthly that suggest a future without male humans. Maureen O’Dowd’s book Are Men Necessary is in this vein. I was bemused to see a picture of the author in fuck-you boots, standing on the sill of a skyscraper window. Has Ms O’Dowd considered perhaps the unlikelihood that skyscrapers will be built and maintained in a world without men. After all, at least in my experience, women don’t take stupid risks like working 300 metres off the ground unless they really have to. Many guys, contrawise, live for it. Dudes do all sorts of stupid shit. For fun.

The secret history of civilization, I suspect, is a dance between the male and the female in fulfillment of their dreams. Without women, humans would probably still be eating fleas out of each other’s hair. But without all the stupid shit boys do, we wouldn’t have any of the smart shit that comes from risk-taking either. We are necessary. We’ve just forgotten why. And how. Boys dream of being superman. Girls dream of being the queen of the castle. Both are fantastic but only one is possible. It is this collision of dreaming that has made the modern world what it is.

And now that we have it, what? We have gained much but we have lost the traditions that marked our lives and gave them meaning. In an era where casual sexual experimentation is a normal phase of adolescence what gravity bears on a girl her wedding night? What significant event marks a boy’s passage to manhood? Is it any wonder that we persist as teenagers well into our 20s?

Where culture is silent, nature will out and raw. The raw human creature is aesthetically displeasing and all cultures tribal, patriarchal and modern are born of this fact. What happens when nature is raw?
Caspar Wanderer

The mythological and gentle man of nature is a pleasant fiction, the truth can be much less pleasant. Shakespeare’s shrew declares “If you strike me, you are no gentleman”. What of boys who rape and sell the video? What of a society that treats such as if it were they that were victims?

The Great Disruption with all its disruptions was a good thing. What limitations on our dreams and aspirations obtained before the young waged war on the old? But now we deal with the aftermath. And one of the casualites of our great leap forward into the abyss is chivalry. We are hunters and collectors no more. We are post-industrial workers and capitalists. We are consumers.

Society may change with technology: the monkey changes but little. The subject of biology lags behind that of economics. We need our rituals and our place in the world is defined by our bodies. What new rituals will give profound meaning to those bodies? And who will invent them? A new civilization requires a new civility. Who creates this? We do. It’s called raising children.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: