On Civilized Men And Ruthless Savages

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.” — Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard is best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, but this quote from him may be my most favorite thing from him.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis
Photo by Dennis Jarvis

You see, he’s right.

Take a look around you for a moment.  The world is filled with people being discourteous to others for any number of reasons.  Just yesterday I watched a video of a student group being besieged for an hour by their political opponents, belittled and accused, told they don’t belong in their college because they’re not liberals.

The whole thing wasn’t a pleasant experience for those surrounded, I’m sure, but what if there had been repercussions for that act?  What if these special snowflakes had been forced to deal with real violence for their discourteous behavior?  What would they have done then?

Years ago, I remembered reading about how animal rights activists were tossing red paint on the fur coats of the wealthy in New York City.  They were lashing out at people who wore the skin of animals.  They were sticking up for their furry friends!

Why haven’t these same people ventured out to do the same at the Sturgis Bike Rally?  Thousands of bikers, most of them wearing leather, it should be a target rich environment for people like these animal rights activists.

Yet, they don’t go.

The reason is pretty simple.  They won’t go and act like that because there’s a high probability that at some point during their time there, they’d be pummeled into the ground, and they know it.  They are more than willing to stand up…so long as they’re safe when they do it.

One of the trappings of civilization is that those who use violence are typically segregated away from society through incarceration.  For the most part, this is viewed as a good thing.

Unfortunately, the problem with this is that people take it as license to behave in any fashion they choose unless there are some other ramifications for such actions.

Even the biggest jerk tends to behave politely to their boss or a romantic interest, after all.  There’s a reason, something to lose.

Civilization lets these people like this act in any way they want, to treat their equals as if they’re inferiors.  They know that if you deck them, you will end up arrested.

Let me ask you, is this a benefit of civilization?

Earlier today, a friend of mine told me a story.  He and his wife were out, and someone who had been drinking a little bit too much started hitting on his wife.  In an of itself, not the most horrible thing to happen.  When the guy found out she was married, he commented to my friend about how beautiful his wife is.  My friend said thanks, and if that had been the end of it, so be it.

It wasn’t.

Instead, this jackwagon decided to reach out and touch the wife’s cheek.  Now, we can agree this isn’t appropriate behavior, but this guy figured the rules of civilization would protect him.

He was in for a rude awakening when my friend grabbed him by the collar and threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t walk away.

Suddenly, now that the veil of civilization had fallen for a brief moment, he was faced with either violence or the need to retreat.  In this case, he chose the latter.

“But violence doesn’t solve anything,” someone might argue.

That someone would be wrong.  Don’t believe me?  What solved the Holocaust?  What solved slavery?


Violence has solved plenty, but the threat of violence has solved even more.  In fact, our society–civilization itself–is hinged exclusively on violence.  More specifically, on the government holding a monopoly on violence.

When you get pulled over by the police and get a ticket, why do you pay it?  Some would say that they pay it because if they don’t, they’ll go to jail.  However, if you resist going to jail, the police will force you to go.  That is violence.

The government ultimately holds a monopoly on violence.  It is generally the only entity authorized to visit violence on people, with a few notable exceptions such as self-defense.

Yet that wasn’t necessarily the case in times past.

Back in the day, men would satisfy their insulted honor through duels.  Swords, guns, knives, whatever the tool, there were codified rules for behavior throughout the whole process.

Because violence was a potential outcome, it moderated behavior to some extent.  Even the civilized man was courteous because his skull might be split.  Metaphorically.

Now, duels ended because people died and civilized people couldn’t stomach that.

So today, we get students yelling at other students, announcing they’re unwelcome at a major public university, and harassing them and those besieged having no real recourse.

Honestly, how is that better?

Unfortunately, there’s no way that society is realistically going back to the age of the duel, even if the duels were something like a UFC fight with a ref, a doctor, the works.  While some individuals might go along with such a thing, it would be decades before it became part of society as a whole.

The civilized man may well think he’s superior, but I’d rather spend my time with the ruthless savage.



Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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