When you hear the word uncivilized, what mental picture do you form? A grizzled trapper? Atilla the Hun burning and pillaging eastern Europe? American Indians before the Puritans and the Spaniards?
And when you hear the word civilized, what comes to mind? English barristers wearing wigs? Nobility dueling and drinking tea? Miss Manners?
By definition, civilized is variably described as one who is courtly, urbane, educated and refined. Qualities indicative of good breeding. A king vs. a peasant. A business tycoon vs. an immigrant laborer. A professional politician vs. a cowboy. A Wall Street banker vs. an Amarillo cattle buyer.
Underneath this broad definition is the implication that a civilized person has accomplished the departure from manual labor. Has removed himself from the basic requirements to feed, clothe and shelter himself with his own hands.
To become civilized means no one can survive without the knowledge of how to grow a crop, build a log cabin, dress a deer, tan a hide, sharpen a knife, find water, read a sign or make a ham.
Civilizations are not new. They are as old as Noah’s banker. I’m certain there were civilized people in ancient Rome who could not milk a goat or catch a fish.
Is America becoming more civilized? Certainly, according to the definition, there has been a mass exodus from the country to the city. The percentage of people who make a living off the land continues to decline. And the stigma of being less civilized still applies to farmers, lumberjacks, fishermen, hunters, miners, ranchers and cowboys. Those whose jobs require exposure to the elements, manual labor and physical risk.
This stigma is a benign prejudice that allows opportunists to manipulate urban opinion to our disadvantage. “Stop the mining, curtail the drilling, up their grazing fee, steal their water, condemn their land, cripple their dirty little towns. After all, they’re only peasants. Not really civilized, you know.”
We fight back with righteous indignation, bluster and the moral conviction that we have rights. That our cause is noble, that our labors are worthwhile for the good of mankind. We feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and our urban neighbors.
So the fight goes on. From the Ottoman Empire, through our century and into the next. And we of the land manage to cling to the outskirts of civilization as unwelcome but as necessary as an I.V. tube in the vein of a feverish man. Consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we can live without them but they cannot live without us.
Being civilized has as little meaning as being polka dot. It says nothing about the heart and soul of a man. ❖