The thin veneer of Civilization

Civilization is extremely fragile…

Sometimes it’s the very people entrusted to maintain  that veneer,  law enforcement, who short-circuit the civilizing forces and take us into chaos. We hold our cops and soldiers to a higher standard because we know what can happen when they lose sight of their primary role. Who can protect us from the protectors? There are no shortages of examples where law enforcement crossed the line to become a menace to life and liberty: Argentina and Chile have histories of systematic abuse toward their civilian population, pre-WWII Japan, Germany and Italy became states where nobody was safe, in Cambodia Pol Pot’s followers targeted the educated pillars of their culture, in the Southern US, civil rights workers were targeted systematically by local police, in China dissidents are targeted by party hacks who enforce law … the list is endless.

Sometimes it’s well-intentioned lawmakers who screw it up. The road to hell is paved, they say, in good intentions. Prohibition and the war on drugs are probably the best examples of well intentioned laws that created greater problems than the one they were intended to solve. As Prohibition gave rise to new and better organized forms of organized crime, the war on drugs, initiated by Richard Nixon,  increased the profits for the cartels who manufacture and ship drugs across borders into our neighborhoods. The anarchy in Mexico, the financing of terrorism in Afghanistan, the disruption to the social fabric in neighborhoods across North America … it is all a byproduct of well-intentioned laws that have universally failed to curb drug use. The price of drugs has been driven so high that organized crime finds little risk in doing what it does.

Sometimes the veneer of civilization is shattered by the hungry or  re-possessed who no longer see civilization as a benefit to them. The Russian and Chinese revolutions, The French Revolution, the Arab Spring … people turn on the cleptocracy that governs them (Wall Street is increasingly being seen as part of a larger cleptocracy because of its influence on elected leaders). They eventually say “if this is civilized, it’s not good enough” and run gladly into anarchy …

Sometimes it’s the greedy SOBs at the top who need just one more yacht. By taking that last perk they destroy the house of cards that sustained them. These are the folks who preferred chaos over stability when they sparked our current economic crisis. The Great Depression lasted about seven years. This chaos may last much longer with greater social disruption because it is global in ways that the 1929 crash could never approach.

Enjoy every moment of peace and tranquility while it lasts. It never lasts, just as the chaos never lasts.


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