The Thin Veneer of Civility


by Jahred Dell, Articulate BJJ

Civility, noun; meaning formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.

Civilization is a fairly modern concept in the bigger picture of human history. In roughly the last few thousand years, we have seen different iterations of cultures, civilizations and societies rise and fall like peaks above the clouds of dark ages and chaos.

It’s a thin veneer however, a fragile veil placed atop a creature that only the most terrifying of horror writers have attempted to describe- the human animal. Just below that veil lies a deeply potent creature; one that is  capable of enacting the most calculated of plans, the most gruesome of tortures and the most depraved of acts.

It’s not a far stretch to see our raw nature dancing in another’s eyes, even as you shake hands and meet eye to eye in civility. When we press- even just so slightly- that small candle light dancing in the darkness can become a raging firestorm.

Each time I slap and bump fists with my training partner, I feel the welling up of the most ancient parts of our nature. The hairless ape’s urge to fight, to grip, crush and throw is as old as the dry heat of the Savannah, the bracing cold of the Steppe and the oppressive humidity of the Jungle; the cradles of human evolution.

Why are we like this? The answer is simple: Survival. When the veneer of civility falls (or even merely wears thin), there are no social contracts left to protect you. There are no agreements, written or unwritten, that prevent another from killing you for any reason. The parts unknown of our brain evolved in a time where civility did not exist, when killing was part of the daily run of things. It can be hard for us to imagine, sitting in a comfortable home or office somewhere, that  in recent history our ancestors had no qualms tearing another human to pieces simply for the right to mate or possession over food.

Robert E. Howard showed this to us in the world of Conan, we see it in the world imagined by George Miller in Mad Max, the rapture, Ragnarok… We have seen the snapshots of the harshness and dread that lies just below the veil. Very few capture the real sense of dread which we should imagine this world with. We should be very afraid to inhabit a world where social contract and the all too thin veneer of civility have dissolved.

If you think we already live in a world with ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ people in positions of power, imagine the horrific tyrants that would thrive in the dystopian dream state. That veneer is so thin… so very thin. I’ve seen it first hand in the dirty corners of the world that we prefer not to think or ask about. It takes literally a generation to decay completely. The fall of empires and civilizations are not slow like their growth; it is dramatic, full of fear and fire.

Rome, Egypt, Alexander’s conquered world and the dignified dynasties of the East… they all descended into darkness in single generations. No single person was a factor in these events, however millions would fall victim to the chaos the ensued because they were not prepared to deal with the level of depravity that exists just outside the walls of civilization. Barbarians, hardened by lifetimes of violence and suffering, rode off the wastes to pick clean the bones of these empires like so many vultures. No ‘civil’ person was ready to protect themselves against those who crush skulls with their bare hands or inflict suffering by such nefarious means that even history has chosen to forget.

If this little exploration isn’t sufficient enough motivation for you to get out there and hone your martial arts skill, then I suppose nothing will. If you can’t defend yourself and those you love, somewhere deep in your subconscious there is a very real unease. It’s an unease that should make you aware that when the time to choose fight or flight comes, and you can’t fight… you’re fucked. Now go train.

Thanks for reading.


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