What will it take to civilise us?

A four-part attempt to ferret out the distinctive features that validate an educated person

Part II

Don’t be taken in by the red herrings of refinement

BEFORE GETTING to grips with the real deal, shall we first put the pretenders in their place?  Show them up for the phoneys they are?

There are many such frauds in our midst, mostly among the Big Three – the rich, powerful and famous – as aired last weekend in my pet peeve ‘doctorate’ vent.

Sure, they look, speak and dress well.  Why, they even smell good.  These self-styled patrons of the arts are bound to be at all the hotspots, to tick off the boxes as it were: gallery, recital, theatre, litfest,…

But are they truly civilised for all of that?  

We shall have to see, won’t we, if they can pass the litmus test that will separate, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, the wheat from the chaff.

Yet who can deny the posh crowd has taste, style and panache?  Still, don’t mistake all that skin-deep stuff for the real McCoy.  The sense of discernment they own (and flaunt) is an acquired trait, a mere cosmetic, just for show; real culture cuts deep, down to the bone.  One is aesthetic, the other visceral.

The first set of faculties comes from without, and is oft an affectation; the true blue is inborn, a product of pain and introspection.  Fashion is a flash in the pan, of the ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’ sort; graciousness is a life long asset that one takes to the grave and beyond.

So, don’t be misled by façades; trappings of wealth are as mere dross, more so when placed cheek by jowl with the genuine article.

One need but prick the thin skin of celebs, put them under pressure, y’know, as from the public glare, to burst the bubble of high-flying airs.

Civilised beings, on the other hand, are made of sterner stuff.  They have learnt the hard way, viz., first hand; come up through the ranks, you might say.  Manners, as some wise guy said long ago, maketh the man; cool threads look best on a mannequin.  Do not misread charm for civility, or grandiosity for grace.

Thanks to a crude grasp of the doctrine of karma, there’s a mistaken belief that to be rich is to be blessed (though it may well be glorious, if Deng Hsiao Ping is to be believed) and, by converse, that the poor are accursed.  There’s a lot more to that layered karmic equation than meets the eye; blessings can be double-edged, and curses misconstrued.

Make no mistake: a culture club is not the civilised world

IT’S A fact of life that the creative denizens of the artistic world are a tarnished lot.  From past master poets, playwrights and painters to present day rock (and sports) stars, from prima donna divas to drama queen matinee idols, no one in their right mind could call civilised these standard bearers of pop culture.  Their anti-social antics were and still are the stuff of mythic lore.

Angst is de rigueur among artistes; one needs a rough edge as raw material to sublimate into fine art.  If we were all goody two shoes, I tell you, there’d be no great art, music, dance or poetry.  We’d be bored to tears!

No, we need these flawed talents, enough to excuse their excesses, for the sake of artistic output.  They provide us variety that’s the spice of life; those hot bits of condiment that go into the melting pot of humanity.

These prodigies, though, are like exceptional necessary ills.

Too much learning goes hand in glove with minimal life experience

KNOWLEDGE IS no proxy for wisdom.  This is the common, and infamous, failing of the archetypal consultant, as and when s/he deals with support staff, say, like field hands.  Such experts tend to think the stuff they dream up in the rarefied atmosphere of some ivory tower is worth more in relevance (it’s certainly paid more for) than the hands-on experience of less qualified extension workers.

Theoretical knowledge invariably trumps empirical knowhow in the realm of development programs.

Pride can be a pitfall for the specialist.  Their book learning may blind them at times to the harsh ground realities in front of their noses.

Such conceit neither endears nor behooves them.  The intelligentsia falls well short of that elusive ‘civilised’ tag, thanks to prejudice and a rush to judgment on those their swollen heads deem to be less endowed.

These dons of the overworld, to coin a phrase, spent years in the cloistered environs of universities, while the rest of their peers, the unwashed masses, got down and dirty, getting on with the business of life.  Those average Joes ‘out there’ picked up a trade, found a job, and made a home, while their ‘better halves’ had their noses stuck deep in weighty tomes.

It’s a moot point though, when push comes to shove, as to who is better suited to the school of life.  All in all, and to be fair, it’s best to call it a tie ‘twixt the two, w.r.to their pilgrim’s progress to a civilised state.  Each is a dab hand in their field of expertise, yet have their own bespoke blind spots.

There’s no reason, thus, for bookworms to look down on blue-collars; or for the latter to defer, as if by reflex, to the former.  Some respect from the brain box for the pleb, and more self-esteem by the worker, would go a long way to fulfill each one’s civilisation goal.

To be continued

Next Week – Getting to that civilised target in three not-so-easy steps 

Contributed by 

John Michael Chiramal

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply