Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Veneer of Civilisation

From Theodore Dalymple, in the WSJ

"Writers have always loved to describe situations in which a man or men (rarely women) have been isolated in the most difficult circumstances, individually or collectively. Generally speaking, what those writers have tried to show is that the civilization of civilized men is but a veneer that is easily stripped off by a little (or much) adversity. Man is thus what he has always been: a wolf to himself. They rarely draw the conclusion that the veneer is the most important thing about civilization."

It is indeed.

Incidentally, this forms part of the basis for why I love Heart of Darkness so much. At the end, the narrator shies away from stripping away the illusions about Kurtz from his wife - civilisation may be hypocrisy and sham, but if the alternative is savagery, then one must embrace the sham, however reluctantly.

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