Do We Need “Rough Men”?

I came across this quote the other day on social media:

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand read to do violence on their behalf.

It was attributed to George Orwell, but it probably won’t surprise readers to learn that it was actually said by a right-wing cultural columnist named Richard Grenier. A look at a Wikipedia page on misquotations and a site called Quote Investigator suggests that it is a paraphrase of some ideas Orwell expressed.

Regardless of who actually said those words, I think the general sentiment is widely shared by a large number of people. I recall it being an underlying point in the many spy thrillers I read back when I was in high school (Len Deighton, John Le Carre, and even Ian Fleming, plus others who were big in the 1960s and later).

It’s also something you hear from police officers and people in the military. I think it has a strong following, particularly – but not exclusively – among men, regardless of their political opinions.

Back when I was in my early 20s, I had a discussion with a good friend who was a Vietnam War vet. I stated my strong opinion that the fact that the draft only applied to men led to increased sexism and that women could and should serve in combat if military action was necessary.

To my surprise – I didn’t expect a lot of push back from my friends for my radical opinions in those days – he disagreed vehemently.

Twenty years later, he explained to me that one of the things that he held onto for a long time that let him tolerate his miserable war experience was that at least he was protecting others from having to do it. He had by then thought the subject through more deeply.

The sentiment makes sense, in our violent world, but on the whole I think it’s a myth that many people, like my friend, tell themselves to deal with the trauma of the horrors of war or other violent actions.

In truth, one of the key things that makes us safe is that some people – and sometimes enough of them – stand up against various kinds of injustice. Continue reading “Do We Need “Rough Men”?”

Not Civilized Yet

It seems to me that, in much of the world and certainly in the United States, the prevailing belief is that we are civilized now. If there was something terrible we did in the past — slavery, for example — we weren’t civilized yet. But now we are.

In fact, as someone who has read a lot of western literature over the years, I think that’s been the prevailing belief of at least the upper classes in the west for centuries now. Of course, in most cases they believed they were civilized but most of the other people on this planet were not.

That last point may still be true among some of the ultra wealthy. Certainly the tech bros who are convinced The Matrix is a documentary think they’re civilized and the rest of us aren’t.

(I’d say it was a core belief among white supremacists, except the very idea that white supremacists are civilized is too laughable to even consider.)

As for myself, while I think I have some good ideas that would make us more civilized if they were adopted, I don’t think one person, or even a group of people, with good ideas can really make us civilized if most people are outside of that system.

We can’t be civilized by ourselves.

But the belief that we are now civilized is a strong one. I once suggested on a panel at a science fiction convention that we weren’t civilized yet and everyone else disagreed with me. These were intelligent people who did not dismiss the wrongs of the world as aberrations, but that did not enter into their idea of civilized.

Perhaps they were thinking of electricity and indoor toilets, and even rocket ships and vaccines. But while all these things are good, and can provide a grounding, they are not markers of civilization.

We’re civilized. Sure. People are living on the streets because housing is an investment and a way to make “passive” income instead of a place to live. Police officers kill people for the hell of it and we “reform” the cops by giving them more weapons and money. Politicians make up preposterous “crises” instead of dealing with the ones we have. We invent reasons to start wars.

We can’t even manage a pandemic sanely.

Civilized people would do better than that. Continue reading “Not Civilized Yet”