Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Civilisation and barbarism

It's been a long time coming, but here it is, a post that starts with a banality and ends with a big question mark.

An important purpose to human life is continual improvement, striving to apply ever-greater standards of civilisation, moving away from barbarism. Sometimes the momentum towards civilisation is faster, sometimes slower, sometimes it goes into reverse (Today's Middle East in particular).

European civilisation briefly slipped back into the darkness of barbarism under Nazi occupation, but since then progress has been visible across the project known as the European Union, the western and central parts of his continent have enjoyed progress towards the light.

Civilised behaviour is evident, barbarism in its extreme form (murder on religious grounds, invasion for the sake of territorial gain). But it's the petty barbarism too. Egregious driving, dumping rubbish, mindless graffiti tagging...

What is the civilised response? Yes of course there are laws, by-laws, international tribunals, the mechanisms of imposing civilisation on those who prefer to behave barbarically. But does this work? To what degree? When I see scenes like these (ul. Sporna, Jeziorki), my gut instinct is to respond to barbarism like-for-like. Catch someone doing this - flog them. Publicly. Put them in stocks and have a supply of rotten eggs and tomatoes at the ready to have them pelted mercilessly by a jeering crowd.

But fighting barbarism with barbarism would only serve to lower levels of civilisation across society. Much as I would like to force whoever dumped this rubbish below to eat it - on prime-time television while a studio audience roars with laughter.

How does one deal with barbarism? The algorithm of the Prisoner's Dilemma (which I mention here in the context of Putin's Russia) offers a tried-and-tested answer: get on with people who get on with you. But should they step out of line, punish them - swiftly and hard - and continue doing so until they repent. Then instantly get back to getting on with them. There is no better way of getting a long-term win-win result than that. Proven by computers playing out the scenario millions of times. The only problem is with defining the terms "step out of line" and "punish".

Armed forces are the embodiment of institutional barbarism, ready to defend the state using barbaric means (putting enemies to death with bullet, shrapnel or high explosive). A civilised world would have no need of military force. Yet the planet that our consciousnesses occupy is not civilised in an equal manner. Barbarism, brutality, the notion that might-is-right, prevails in many corners of our globe and cannot be expected to contain itself.

Civilised societies need to be ready to impose barbaric solutions - such as putting fist-sized holes through the bodies of invading soldiers, or incinerating invading tank crews alive in their vehicles - so as to protect the civilisation that have been have built (or rebuilt) over the decades. Unless civilised societies can demonstrate a credible response against barbarism, they will be overrun, and civilisation will crumble, evil will take hold.

But what solutions should be used for those who perpetrate those little barbarisms - those who dump household waste on public land or in forests, those who insist on driving under the influence of alcohol, or those tagging graffiti on public or private property?

I'm convinced that a little bit of corporal (as opposed to capital!) punishment would be useful. Public mockery of those convicted under due process of law, via the social media, I'm sure would work.

Getting the balance right is crucial. A civilised person should not stoop to the level of the barbarian to defeat him (and it is usually a 'him'). But the barbarism of Imperial Japan had to be defeated by the incineration of hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children, the barbarism of Nazi Germany by the firebombing of civilians and a merciless war on all fronts.

The outcome of any conflict is determined by will. The side with the stronger will to win prevails. Civilised society should never lose the determination to defeat barbarism, whether it be the threat of barbarism on the international stage, or the 'small barbarisms' that we encounter in everyday life.

The Rule of Law is a great weapon in the hands of civilised society, along with transparency and trust. The Rule of Law depends upon enforcement and the wise interpretation of the law's regulations. And this requires vigilance of civilised people, who should identify themselves as such and be prepared to defend civilised values.

Finally, the question mark. We can see symptoms of barbarism large and small all around us. What can we as individuals do to ensure the continued progress of civilisation?

This time last year:
Ahead of the opening of Jeziorki's Biedronka

This time two years ago:
New views of Jeziorki

This time three years ago:
Motorway finally links (the outskirts of) Łódź and (the outskirts of) Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Kraków Air Museum

This time seven years ago:
Quintessential Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
Little boxes, Mysiadło


AndrzejK said...

The main reason we did not turn into hooligans was the fear that if caught it would not be a case of an ASBO. Rather the local booby would beat the living daylights out of miscreants, take then home and the father would repeat the process. I understand that in the old days in Poland the dzielnicowy would do the same. And good behaviour was rewarded.

Of course part of the issue with dumping of rubbish in Poland is that there are no public dumps. My own pet hate is the local "moher" who not only tells me off for gardening on a Sunday (I did try to explain that for me this was not work) and has the audacity of dumping HER rubbish on top of my dustbin which the contractor (French) refuses to take away. I understand that thanks to over zelous environmental viragos various types of rubbish can no longer be taken to the local dump!

I do applaud the Russian cyclist who picks up rubbish thrown out by car drivers and "posts" it back.

Anonymous said...


student SGH said...

1. I'm surprised no one has called into question the European Union has been a step towards the light nor derided the progress is has brought

2. After Friday's terrorist attacks I mused over one efficient way to crack down on the ISIS. Dropping an atomic bomb on the terrains occupied by ISIS would be far from standards of civilised world, would involve killing many innocent humans (a cruelty every warfare invloves), but would not kill the muslim barbarians. Conversely, they would emerge stronger and spread across the world and revenge on the West...

3. One good question - among definitely civilised people I work with I see no tolerance for drinking and driving right away, but sitting behind the wheel next morning when it's pretty sure alcohol still remains in their blood, is absolutely OK. How to explain that?