Thursday, September 17, 2009

A knight, a miller & a reeve walk into a bar

So we have been working our way through The Canterbury Tales (that is not a royal 'we'; A***** is reading them, too) & I have been struck by the alignment with current events. Specifically Senator What's-his-face from South Carolina & the whole conversation about civility in public discourse. Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting we are not uncivil. My argument is we never were civil.

Let me start with Senator What's-his face. This is not actually the first time this particular jackass (or would he prefer the more Republican bull elephant?) has crossed my radar. After the interruption during the speech I asked myself "why is that name familiar?". So I looked up Senators from South Carolina & came up with that most civilized of Southern Gentleman Strom Thurmond. Right there in the archive was the story of how Senator What's-his-face was sure a black woman claiming to be Thurmond's daughter was 1) making it up & 2) smearing a good man's name. He ended up apologizing then, too. If you wish to look it up, save yourself some time: go directly to the NPR website as they seem to be the only news outlet that made the same connection.

There is a Canterbury Tales tie in, I promise. The Miller's Tale is a vivid account of one man's outrageous scheme to sleep with the wife of another man, her complicity & a third man's deliberate sodomizing of the schemer with a hot iron bar (because he was thwarted with same wife). But don't worry, everyone gets what they deserve in the end: the husband is viewed as insane, the wife & her lover get each other & the sodomizer gets no credit at all. It is all very uncivilized. The Reeve's Tale is not worse exactly: a miller steals grain from two customers who have sex with his wife & daughter for revenge.

Before these two is the Knight's Tale. It is a story of chivalry & order, where men lock each other up & throw away the key because they are battle field enemies, all the while acknowledging that former foes are now married to each other. Men fight to the death for love of a woman neither has ever met. & this woman is a shining example of white christian beauty, not something that would ordinarily have caught my attention as uncivilized if Emily were not the blonde blue-eyed sister of the Queen of the Amazons. All the other propaganda aside, inserting characters into other peoples religions/mythologies no matter how ancient, to emphasize how much more civilized your people are falls under the heading of uncivilized. I am certain the Knight failed to realize that & I think it is safe to say Chaucer wanted us to know he failed to realize that.

Being civil is not just not jumping up & down & shouting when you feel you are not being heard, although to do so is to be uncivil. Saying & doing disruptive, misleading & even untruthful or unethical things because you are sure the other guy cannot be right because of his skin color/religion/sexual orientation/car he drives/school he attends/food he eats & excusing it in the name of "I was sure he was wrong & this is what it took to show the world" is also not civil. In short, civilized people address their arguments to facts not characters. Most people do not know this because most people do not know any civilized people; they only know people who say they are civilized.

1 comment:

  1. civilization has never been civil it would seem.