No matter what we tell ourselves, the difference between people behaving in a civilized manner or downright barbarically is a gossamer thin line.
The word “civilized” falls under a broad umbrella of terms which include advanced and refined. When we speak of someone as uncivilized, we imagine someone of coarse in behavior and speech. Some may picture a caveman.
In truth, a greater portion of our society than we care to admit tends toward the deterioration of values resulting in less than civil behavior. It is the path of least resistance.
We come into the world helpless and uncivilized. The entire focus of our existence is food, sleep, and comfort, which includes clean diapers and a warm environment. Aside from dealing with blowout diapers, more sleepless nights than they would prefer, parents have the herculean task of civilizing the fruits of their loins.
If you think guiding an uncivilized being through the process from baby to toddler to tolerable is not difficult nearly an impossible undertaking, you never gave birth to nor raised an urchin. Some children like the status quo of toddlerhood and manage to drag their uncivil antics long past the terrible two stage. In fact, some exceptionally stubborn tots manage to hang on to their terrible two temperaments far into adulthood.
To put it in biblical terms, Thou shall know them as the folks in charge of your livelihood. The kindest way to describe such regressive adults is toddlers or teenagers. Of course, the more crass terms applied to such folk begin with either the first or the second letter of the alphabet.
Does power give people designated as top cats the ability to reach back in time and drag forward their toddler power? Or, have they held onto that unpleasant trait throughout their lives?
Although, each and every person is capable of regressing to those good old troglodyte days of the less than civilized. All it takes is the right incentive and opportunity to drop the veneer and show what lies beneath. People will revert to uncivil behavior.
A couple of great examples come to mind. The novel “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding puts a group of British boys in a situation where survival through savagery is the path most of them chose. As is often the case in a group situation, mob mentality rules with a bit of behind the scenes urging from one who stands to gain something. In most cases, the winner wants and gets power.
We came across an old black and white movie “The Visit” made in 1964 starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. Revenge is the name of the game and Ingrid is its wealthy mistress. The game is simple. The wealthy woman promises the downtrodden citizens and the leaders of a small town two million dollars. All they have to do is kill the man who got her pregnant when she was seventeen and then denied he was the father.
Ingrid’s character manipulates the population with laughable ease. She offers credit to buy nice things, to upgrade their businesses, and the price is to murder one of their own. At first, it is unthinkable that the town council would reinstate the death penalty just to facilitate the man’s death, but they do.
Greed is an effective tool for stripping the veneer of civilization from those who considered themselves decent, law-abiding citizens. The movie is worth watching as a case study in regressive human behavior.
When the reward is right, people seem to have little trouble casting aside the rules of behavior that separate them from the cave-dwellers. For those inflicted by greed, either for wealth or power, it is a simple matter to whip a group into a mindless, uncivil entity to achieve their lofty goals.
The fly in life’s little ointment is that in spite of our protests to the contrary, with age we tend to regress to the uncivilized state of the infants we once were. But some reach that goal sooner and by choice.