“Civilized” is often used to denote, in propaganda most notably, a high standard of moral regard. For instance, if two countries are fighting one may use propaganda to sway their citizens they are fighting as a civilized nation, one on the righteous side of the battle, while the other side is uncivilized and barbaric. However, defining civilization based on specific moral values is too subjective and arbitrary. Civilization is a concept of man-made societal standards in the most refined culture; man-made because civilization is defined by wide cultural and socioeconomic differences between peoples/nations. Therefore, a civilized person abides by societal standards.
Being a civilized individual is relative to the society or nation to which the individual belongs. In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Linda is a character who lives in the developed, technologically advanced World State until she becomes trapped on a Savage Reservation. Discussing her experience first adjusting to the new society she recounts; “How it used to upset me, all that dirt, and nothing being aseptic. I had an awful cut on my head when they first brought me here. You can’t imagine what they used to put on it. Filth, just filth. ’Civilization is Sterilization,’ I used to say to them” (Huxley 81). In this case, Linda is civilized because she is adhering to the societal norms she was conditioned to accept; “civilization is sterilization’ is a mantra she was taught in her sleep as a child so the World States’ methods of ingraining societal standards were especially effective. Between the two cultures, the World State is more civilized because degree of civilization also refers to the refinement of a culture, and the World State is aseptic, sterile, so it is therefore more scientifically and medicinally advanced than the Savage Reservation. This, in addition to the World State’s advanced technology qualifies as a more refined culture.
While some nations are more civilized than others, civilization should not be used as a verb. Degree of civilization varies by and is based on one’s environment because it is contingent on societal values and norms which differ between societies. An individual’s degree of civilization depends on whether or not the individual abides by standards of the society, which is something that cannot fluctuate because it has been instilled onto that individual throughout childhood; therefore no one else can alter how civilized a person is. Naturally, not all children submit to how they were raised so there are exceptions to this generalization. This idea appears in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which focuses on colonization and imperialism, specifically between Belgium and the Congo. At the heart of this was the belief that Europeans were inherently superior because of the color of their skin. At the time, those in favor of colonialism insisted that it benefit the natives because it civilized them, as Kurtz references when he “had then, as you remember, just returned to London after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas – a regular dose of the East – six years or so, and I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your work and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilize you” (Conrad 5). Kurtz implies the explorers were unwelcome in Africa but exploited and tried to civilize the people regardless because they believed God had made them superior. However, their efforts were futile since one’s degree of civility cannot be changed. While the Company’s chief accountant teaches an African woman how to do his laundry, he does not civilize her through doing so. Just as one cannot make a parrot into a human by teaching it to talk, he could not alter how civilized she is; although laundry is a more sophisticated custom, he could not reverse her allegiance to the customs of her culture. A person’s level of civility cannot be changed or influenced by others because people adhere to the...
Cited: Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Penn State. Penn State University. Web. 20 May 2014.
Conrad, Joseph. The Heart of Darkness. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Online Book Initiative. Web. 20 May 2014.
Huxley, Aldous L. Brave New World. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Institute for Development of Human Potential. Web. 20 May 2014.
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