How Civilized Are We?


We sometimes think we are now civilized and no longer prone to cataclysmic upheavals. We no longer subject people to tortures like being drawn and quartered or being burned alive. We don’t bring our children to picnics to watch beheadings; we no longer use crucifixion as a punishment. We vehemently condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. After World War I, World War II and the Holocaust we swore “Never again.” So are we finally progressing?

Progress happens but it is not in a straight line and not continuous. It is more like a spiral, going up and then down. It reverts back. It regresses. Summer Solstice is followed by Winter Solstice. Civilization is fragile and easily shattered.

In Lord of The Flies, young people left to themselves without a moral structure gradually revert to savagery. In the 1930’s, after centuries of civilization, Germany dramatically reached bottom. And now, night is descending rapidly over some parts of Islam. In Somalia, Al Shahab (The Youth Movement) is terrorizing the “enemies of Islam.” It attacks Western aid workers and humanitarian groups. It follows the “right path,” cutting off hands for theft and stoning for apostasy.

Boko Haram (Western education is a Sin) based in Northeastern Nigeria is also a Western hating organism, grounded in ignorance. And finally Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, founder of the Islamic State, is reverting back to the Sharia and its cruel and unusual punishments. He is embracing a great wave of regression. In his belief system, a woman is considered to be half of a man and violence against women is legitimized.

What reduces people to this state of brutality and viciousness and allows them to proudly publicize the beheading of “the other?” Is it fear, loss of power, rejection, alienation, a belief in their own righteousness?
Whatever the cause, this is very frightening to watch.
We have to remember, however, that this virulent rage is by no means new and is not the privilege of the religious only. Extreme ideologies of any kind rationalize their beliefs while resorting to extreme savagery.

During the 1787 French Revolution, the goal of the rebels was the destruction of Catholicism and of religion itself. During the Reign of Terror under Robespierre, priests were imprisoned and deported. And during the French Commune of 1871 all religions were banned. In one of the ugliest episodes of this movement, The Archbishop of Paris was seized and then killed in cold blood.
This is not very different from the killing in cold blood of French cartoonists whose irreverent pens “blaspheme” sacred cows.

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  1. I liked your comments on this topic since i was thinking – where does all the current madness come from…. what actually set us on this left and right wing religious madness? I see your comments as being tip of the iceberg – since everything is written for 3 Second Attention spans of the modern world.

  2. I believe in going to the roots of problems. The trouble with the Middle East is IMHO some facets with Islam that has been part of it since the start, plus a long term problem since the 13th centuy.

    Islam regards itself as religious perfection, the ultimate truth, that its holy scripture is the fountain of every worthwhile knowledge.

    There is a fundamental belief in the invisible divine hand micromanaging everything great and small that happens and for some obscure good reason, to punish or promote something or someone.

    The Quran is declared the eternal source of wisdom of how things should be for a person, an organization or a state. It just takes looking it up in the correct chapter. But then comes the fact that Arabic language is by nature a poetic language, excelling in metaphors, allusions and figurative speaking. This is great for poetry but for precise law paragraphs it is hopeless, it gives rise to endless debates about interpretations of texts written in Arabic.

    These three points make for strife without end, when embittered people in social trouble seize an obscure predicant and makes him their front for remedying grievances: In spite of obeying the last letter in the Sharia code I’m still not a success story. Why not – must be because the state I’m living in doesn’t care enough about rules – which rule in so case? Enter a religious man who claims to know why.

    It is true that the Middle East was way ahead of Europe until the 13th century in science and technology. But then the Middle East stagnated – the Mongolians invaded… What happened was horrible ravages in Iran, Iraq and the Levant. A deep economical crisis ensued, dragging down areas of Middle East where the Mongolians did not come, like North Africa. Just when they were starting to gain back stability, Timur Lenk came and destroyed even more. Finally, fourteen years after his death the Portuguese conquered Ceuta, initiating the Age of Discoveries, starting the heyday of Europe.

    Now that the Middle East was no longer a commercial go-between between Europe and the Orient, trade dwindled and the region sank down into poverty that only was remedied by oil. But the Arab world lulled itself into a sense of complacency. The eminent social scientist Ibn Khaldun from Morocco once said “There are rumors that the Franks (i.e. Europeans) have some good heads too but God only knows what is going on there.

    The first rude awakening from this complacency came with Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. Suddenly Arabs realized how far ahead European civilization had advanced, and the echoes from the shock are reverberating still. Illustrating: Why are London and New York the financial center of the world and not Baghdad? Why are Paris and Milan the center of fashionable design and not Damascus? Why are Harvard and Oxford regarded as the most prestigious universities of the world and not El-Azhar in Cairo? Why has God allowed this to happen to those following the one true religion? Surely because the commandments are disobeyed by state or some followers! So shake up the state and weed away the sinners and then God will allow us greatness!

    This makes for eternal and unremediable bitterness between West and Middle East, the existence of the state of Israel isn’t the root of the ill but only a symptom, it is salt in a wound that is already burning. When will this conflict end? Not until people in the Middle East start to regard religious commandments as not strict demands but as poetic allegories.

    A pessimistic diplomat once said that Islam is six centuries younger than Christianity so they’re still in the 14th century. That means that Reformation, Age of Enlightenment and Industrialization are all still ahead of them, there will be bitter conflict at all these thresholds.

  3. This comment from Simone is responsive to AB Norway and is being posted by the editor:

    I agree with this comment. Islam has stagnated and missed the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and Age of Reason. Its learning still consists in memorizing the Koran by heart and regurgitating it,

  4. “A pessimistic diplomat once said that Islam is six centuries younger than Christianity so they’re still in the 14th century. That means that Reformation, Age of Enlightenment and Industrialization are all still ahead of them, there will be bitter conflict at all these thresholds.”

    The above quote shows the ignorance of Islam and I advice to learn Islam thoroughly than commenting by looking so called ISIS is a creation of western world for their own interest to protect Zionism and Israel.

  5. Article started out on pretty solid argumentation but soon after tuned in to a ” modern-day propaganda” reinforcement.

    Without going in to details here is a statement – Islamic awakening has already started for some time and it is actually in the next phases.

    Also Islamic approach will be different than the “golden” opportunity squandered by the “civilised” West!!!. I just add that material(ism) can’t win over idea(logy).

    Keep on living in your dreams!!!

  6. Islam: The most misunderstood religion. Not that I am religious or something. “If you kill even one human being its like killing all of humanity.” This is just one of the teachings of Islam. It is imperative that you know that Islam was supposed to be a direct link between you and God. It was intended so that so called Mullahs and Religious leaders may not thrust their own version of Islam on innocent people for their own ends. Hence the formation of so many sects.
    The first verse of the Holy Quran- ‘IQRA’ which means learning and education and as ably translated by Lord Marmaduke Picthall, an aristocrat from England who converted to Islam when he was sent to Saudi Arabia for whatever obvious reasons…continued in next comment

  7. I was not able to complete my email. The translation of the first verse Iqra is as follows. “Read in the name of the Lord Who created you from a clod Who sayeth that the pen is mightier than the sword”
    Lord Marmaduke translated the Holy Quran in the most beautiful English ” The Glorious Quran ” He was very adept in the Arabic language and his translation verifies that. This is just to show a different way of looking at Islam.

  8. Boy, that escalated quickly!
    The author starts with “we” and then continues the story about how uncivilized the Muslim is.

    Good to remember that the Germans were also uncivilized back then. I don’t think hating Jews specifically was the point that made it uncivilized, though.

  9. A ridiculous question. Civilization is relative. In two thousand years time they will think of us as uncivilized. We still believe in sky-gods and possess 15,000 nuclear weapons to destroy ourselves with while half the world starves. We are ruled by our bankers, by money, and the military-industrial complex who welcome war, violence and upheaval. And more wars are to come – we havn’t reached the end of history.

    As I say, a totally ridiculous question.

    1. Mr. Kaufmann is on the nose except for his belief that the question is “ridiculous.” The question is worth pondering for each generation because it helps us define (and refine) our notions about progress and regress.

      In “Civilization and Its Discontents” Freud laid out the uncomfortable idea that a “death wish” is active in the psyche of every individual, and therefore, in the fabric of every culture. Idealists and Utopians who “seek the light” and rise to save us from ourselves tend not to reckon this factor in their plans and schemes. These reformers eventually herald in their own waves of darkness, despite their best intent. We turn our back on the devil at our peril, especially when he rises disguised as “the other,” but is truly an outcast from our own depths. The Buddhist canon speaks to this throughout the centuries. Freud just recast it in “modern” terms.

  10. I am surprised that the author mentioned examples from Islam ONLY, as proof that we are not civilized, plus some historical facts from the French revolution, without explaining why the French (Christians) wanted to DESTROY CATHOLICISM. Maybe the problem are not exclusive to Islam, but the Idea of Religion itself. Otherwise how can you explain that Christianity was responsible again and again for the annihilation of whole societies through the last two centuries, or the Hindus burning churches in the 21st century. Please when you make an argument to prove a point, be objective and lay all the facts bare, otherwise it is just PREJUDICE.

  11. I fully agree with you. And again just wonder, why they (US & West European) are everywhere and will decide for everybody. Could not the world be a little better without their undue interference? All their good deeds are marred by their selfish interest in other countries.

  12. I found your article interesting and I woud like to share the following from my own perception. When we put LIFE at the centre of our existence, not as an IDEAL but from a DEEPER CONNECTION with the very essence of LIFE itself, we begin to acknowledge that ALL LIFE is SACRED then all our actions become those that nourish and cherish LIFE. We should aim to go beyond idealism and connect with the intrinsic value of Life itself. This would go beyond all outer forms and belief structures and come from a deeper connection with life from within. I am reminded of Albert Schweitzer’s search for a new Ethic – “Reverence for Life”.

  13. As a scientist I like the conception that God = Nature. We learn to respect Nature as a baby when crawling and feeling the pain to neglect gravity and falling down getting the straight punishment for not obeying laws of Nature.
    I believe religions were created to support wars when sending our children on defense in the communities that had always being fighting each other. Man is stronger that woman because weak ones did not come back home for procreation during our evolution. Religions are changing from defense to business nowadays.
    Human are now in the turning point of its evolution when we are being hunted by food. We are molding a modern landscape that deeply hurts our physiology with excessive food and plenty of machinery to replace our muscles. The truth is too shocking as the country that leads the world cannot even control their bellies as obesity is taking its toll.
    I ran two half-marathons during my PhD as I know what is going on. I bumped to a sort of breakthrough opening a room for a new science I call Hydrotechnology, or Hydrogeology to artificial porosity, something man started playing around 70,000 years ago developing oil lamps. I see no difference dying in the end wealthy and famous or just poor and unknown, as my luggage to heaven is gonna be the same. The most important accomplishment in my entire life was started doing jogging at 22.
    Americans spoiled the economic system, then the health system and now science is being violated shamefully in the patent system by a reinvention policy in a shameful conspiracy. Science is the functioning of nature having no room for distortion unless by unwise people that pretend to understand.

  14. that is great comment , yes the world is heading to wards the dark days. people are not developing the contemporary world thinking and vision.particularly those religious fanatic and ethnic centered thinker added to the conspiracies of the west for attaining untargeted objective are the treat of this world civilization.because the existing civilization has already produced enough weapon to vanish itself.

      Civilized = 2. Showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement; humane, ethical, and reasonable.
      Just have a look at the profile of uncivilized people like those ‘uncontacted tribes in the Amazon’ that do not use salt, money, clothes, electricity, machinery, etc. They live in balance with Mother Nature building shacks, having fire, and cropping some plants. They are so behind that, their obesity rate is ZERO, and probably they do not get cancer. Their birth rate is enough to cope with their mortality rate. The civilized world is led by Americans that spoiled the economic system, is one-third obese and two-third overweight. Now Americans are running a conspiracy and brainwashing on reinvention policy pretending they honor and understand science.
      The truth is that our so called ‘civilized world’ is failing to guide us on a balance with Nature. We do have capacity to produce lots of food and machinery but we do not know how to feed ourselves decently and keep our bodies in a good healthy shape.
      Our educational system is teaching on how to make money but not how to adopt healthy lifestyles. Our faculties are as obese as illiterate ones meaning that all their knowledge is just a waste to guide society to safer grounds.
      Nevertheless, we are born to solve problems and down the line, all such dilemmas will be handled as we grab the consequences.
      Now the weaponry industry is destroying some countries profiting from an ugly business. The consequence is that those millions that survived migrate and become your neighbors. Profitability is becoming very subtle as your squeeze one side the reaction comes in other directions.
      It is so funny as we are searching for other planets. But, we have not yet learned to live on earth our own home.
      Some people pretend to know while others even think that we can be called civilized.
      It all depends on how deep you can see through.

  15. Very good article, though I can’t help but notice…Quote: After World War I, World War II and the Holocaust we swore “Never again.” End of quote.

    Why do we always have to separately mention the Holocaust? Isn’t it part of WWII, just like all the other holocausts, done by Russia, Japan, US, Britain and the others? You could just as well say “after WWII and Churchill’s crimes” as if Churchill’s crimes are somehow more worthy to be mentioned separately, as if they were more barbaric than the others. Can’t we just realize and acknowledge that the brutal killing of tens of millions of innocent people by a German dictator is just as bad as the brutal killing of millions of innocent people by a Russian dictator, or a Chinese one, and so on. “After WWII and the HOLOCAUST”…as if the Holocaust alone was the real problem back then, as for the crimes of the other belligerent nations…no big deal. As always, might makes right. Indeed we’re light years away from a true civilized, humane and sincere society….

  16. You are right. The Holocaust was part of WWII and its horrors. It is just that it was not done in the heat of battle but in cold blood and methodically; Stalin and Mao were just as bad but somehow left wing Europeans managed to make a cult out their crimes. (Think Sartre and Beauvoir among many)

  17. French guy here. SUPER off and false idea near the end with teh French revolution. The heart was a rich upper class creating a middle class, that will throw power in general in revolt and has nothing to do with religioun other than it was the symbol used as state power. A LOT of revolutionists WERE catholic… It was power struggle, and the Empire that follows under Napoléon will also guard a Catholic heart (and also deal the power blows where they need to go). His economic plan and use of putting budgets to make sure there is always bread ensure other business did not regain uncontrolled power (his entire reign was to stop British corporate global rule). Then it falls apart to the republics today that Even US is using, that all try and echo a Disney land “human rights” that echo to times that did not welcome their movement…but…yeah…your trying to show “civilized” through acts of violence etc. and needed some historical time changing war to base it on…

  18. Ridiculous article about how civil we are. It barely touches on monstrous inhumane things that Europe is famous for namely two genocides just half a century ago, costing lives of more than 60 million people around the world. Both perpetrated by Christians and backed by church. In Germany Catholic church gave their special blessing in cleansing their nation and the same did the Orthodox church in Serbia. But this article barely touches these facts,but elaborates in great detail how Muslims have regressed into villains. Yes what extremist Muslims do today is inhumane but so is what zionist Jews do, and so is what the CIA does its all inhumane. If we want to point a finger at someone how about we start with ourselves first. People all over the world are just sick of being treated like collateral damage of power hungry, psychopaths, who by definition are those who have disregard for laws and social norms, disregard for the rights of others, lack any empathy – reminds me of inhabitants of the White House and many other governments around the world. There is true democracy anywhere, we are never to be civilized until we stop pretending to like everybody. We need to talk about our differences and maybe one day we will be able to accept that we shouldn’t expect everyone to conform to us but rather just deal with them the way they are. Who is civil who is not is a big question. There are no civil countries in this world, billions of people billions of hearts and minds, how dare we box them up and put a label on them, we are humans not things.

  19. From the Editor. This one came in via email from the Librarian of the Northern Seas.

    There is a taboo on all food made of intestines. That means that sausages are banned because they are made by small intestines, so is blood, liver etc. It is simple to deduce why the prophet banned such food, they get very quickly spoiled unless taken special care of. BUT two inventions have come since the time of the prophet: The refrigerator and the freezer… But since there is a ban on the food, moslems won’t touch it. Meaning that lots of highly nutritious food is discarded – since blood is the distribution system of a body it means that all nutrition is transported by it, food made of blood is almost the perfect nutrition. They knew what they were doing in old Sparta, they made a soup out of blood, vinegar, salt, meat and flour – really nourishing food for strong warriors!

    This is just a small tidbit, I could have chozen others like the ban on credit – instituting feudal part ownership instead. And others.

  20. Ignorance compounded by conceit__answer an argument with logic not through histrionics.I am a Muslim but greatly perturbed by the actions of my co-religion zealots who seem to be settling old scores.What is the contribution of modern Islam in say,technology today!

  21. I am quite surprised about your statement that Hindus have burned churches. Where in the world have than happened? In you are referring to incidences in India, sadly these are all creation of the Media. Even if a common theft occurring in a church seems to be come an international issue and even an recent lynching of a Muslim due to personal reasons have led to a Media flare up as if Muslims are getting killed all over India. The fact remains that India is the only place in the world where the Muslims are living without any fear and peacefully. To end this, let me also tell you that there is no religion called Hinduism. There are only humans who have a choice of 33 million gods to pray to (if at all they want). 90% of Hindus have not even heard about any religions texts and 99% of them will die never reading a text.

    1. Then what is your PM doing encouraging violence, not only to muslims but also to Sikhs and the lower classes. Why are more and more authors, journalists artists and movie stars returning or refusing their awards. The huge defeat in Bihar speaks volumes about the way even righteous Indians are rejecting him. Its not long before be is no more the PM,

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