Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies

See Frank J. Fleming opening the discussion: “ And Mark Ellis: “The Future of Civilized Society: One World


Most people use the word “civilization” as a sign of progress, something to which we should aspire. We’ve slowly worked our way out of the muck, pulling ourselves towards enlightenment. Someday, we will all be shiny and happy. History will end.

That’s bunk.

The dirty little secret that people don’t want to admit is that hard men and women built our society. The soft could not conquer the New World or rise in the industrial revolution. The great conflicts of the twentieth century – two hot wars and a half-century of cold war – required men and women with steel in their bones and ice in their blood to fight.


We’ve tried to polish off those sharp edges and call it improvement.

And in doing so, we allow bullies to flourish.

Cruel prey upon the weak.

We act civilized. We pass rules, tell kids to talk to adults. I got bullied as a kid. And let me tell you something. Adults are useless. Rules are crap. The most well-meaning adults trying to enforce rules can’t be everywhere.

And when you fight back, zero-tolerance policies punish prey the same as predator. And it goes on. More rules get passed. “Civilization” isn’t the answer.

Violently making sure everyone on the playground knows you will not be a victim is the answer. Celebrating your son or daughter when they come home with a bloody nose and split lip is the answer.

Think back a couple centuries ago. People used to duel over slights to their honor.

Has “civilization” and departing from this tradition changed anything? Are our kids any safer with “zero-tolerance” rules that treat the predator and prey the same?


Can we honestly call that civilization?

We know it’s wrong. Our television shows, the windows into our cultural subconscious, prove that we hate how rules bind the good and empower the vicious.

My parents grew up in a “less civilized age,” when society possessed less formal rules but ran on unwritten consensus and understanding. They understood the system and watched Dragnet and The FBI, stories about hardworking men in gray suits working within the system to enforce the law.


Today, with all of our rules and regulations, we cheer for the anti-heroes.

I just watched Bosch this weekend. Aside from being a great adaptation of Michael Connelly’s series, LAPD detective Harry Bosch gives us a great example of a good man trying to find justice in a civilized world.

Bosch becomes aware that patrolmen who caught a serial killer screwed up the initial bust. If that came out, the monster would go free. So he talks with one of the officers who wanted to report the violation because, well, those are the rules.

Bosch couldn’t let the rules of civilized society allow the killer to walk.

On the other hand, when Bosch’s lover claimed that a suspect grabbed for her gun, he refused to back her lie.

Similarly, Everett Backstrom threads the needle of breaking the rules for the right reasons, as outlined by Susan L.M. Goldberg. Again, the detective doesn’t let himself be bound to authority or regulations, so long as he stops the evil that is plaguing his city.

The characters of Bosch and Backstrom are worlds apart. Yet the one thing the men have in common is they were bullied as children. Having been failed by the civilization designed to protect them, they ignore its rules when it’s a convenience.


We cheer them because of the part in us that recognizes what society has stolen: We all want someone to become our champions.

And that’s dangerous. In an age where the NSA monitors all electronic communications, when the IRS attacks political enemies, the lionization of police violating civil rights should give us pause.

The civilization that makes such violations appear necessary is in serious danger.

It’s a short journey from Everett Backstrom to Vic Mackey.

In Michael Chiklis’ groundbreaking role in The Shield, he played a cop who began ignoring the rules to protect the streets. In the end, he became a monster. And that monster found refuge in the rules, using them to protect himself from any liability for the destruction he created.

The reason we feel tempted to root for Chiklis in the beginning is that he is taking off unnecessary layers of authority and regulations when having to deal with the quintessential lack of civilization: South Los Angeles’ gang-infested streets. In dealing with a child predator, we cheer when he closes the door and draws the shades of an interrogation room.

He’s getting the bullies and we love it because we don’t believe the system can do it. We’ve seen its failures growing up and we want them set right.

In denying our children the ability to knock the bully in the nose, we make civilization nothing more than the layers of gold paint covering Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. And, much like Ms. Masterson, we will find ourselves suffocated by this “civilization.” And we won’t even get to hang out with James Bond for the effort.



Bosch, Backstrom and Mackey are all men trying to scrub that gold from their flesh so that they can breathe.

Bosch and Backstrom have found some of that breathing room, but Mackey shows it’s all too easy to draw blood.


Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the seventeenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I


February 2015

Image illustrations via here, here


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