Monday, February 22, 2016

One cannot understand what it means to be civilized until one has lived as a savage.

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
-Robert E. Howard

On it's face I agree with Howard, but the deeper I look at this quote it rings false.
People have lost contact with violence and death, and that gives us an unreasonable view of life. When you understand what it takes to kill something, you don't threaten people with death. When you understand what it feels like to be in a fight you don't threaten people with violence. When you understand what it feels like to be physically dominant you don't feel the need to be domineering.
Our society in many ways disconnected from violence and death, and yet we have all of these armchair experts. I'm no expert, I have just enough knowledge to see that I barely have any knowledge.  This is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which can be essentiallized as: the more you know, the more you understand there is to know, and if you know nothing you think you have a good idea of something.
People who are discourteous are not civil, and thus have not been civilized. When one lives a life stripped down to it's savage bones, one is more likely to be civil.
I'd go even further:
One cannot understand what it means to be civilized until one has lived as a savage.
I have wrestled, played rugby, done judo and boxing, hold a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, I am a hunter and outdoorsman. I put myself outside societal norms by fighting, by seeking to put myself in the food chain, by sleeping outside, living in the woods off my back.
Admittedly, I'm only a visitor. I do these things when I choose under controlled conditions. Even in short visits you get course corrections. Moments where you have to face the reality that "if this were real, you'd be dead."
In all of these different venues I have constantly heard "those people look scary, but they're the nicest people you've ever met." I have found this to be consistently true.
These so called "savage" activities are completely honest. There is no lying when you are fighting; you can fight or not. If you're in the backcountry either you have it together, or not. If not, you freeze, starve, go without water, or have to call it quits. If you're hunting, you either make the kill or not. If you do you know what it means to kill something. The honesty of these activities temper you in a way that you have a hard time selling yourself a bill of goods. It is nearly impossible.
Find a way to connect to your place in the cycle of life and death and you will have more empathy. You will treat others better.
Only once you've learned to live as a savage will you understand what it means to be a civilized person.