The Fragility of Civilization


Tristan M. Lewis

“With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.”

– H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

Even though we build civilization in an attempt to understand and structure our world, it too can often contribute to the uncertainties of life. This dysfunction limits our ability to look beyond societal constraints and strive for further understanding of the universe. It is easy to become confident in our ability to persist against all odds, safe in the notion that civilization will carry on; we are invincible. This complacency and arrogance also hinder our desire for inquiry. Though civilization and its structures may appear to be the best way to understand the universe, they, in fact, can limit that understanding.

“Decline and Fall in Beowulf and Lord of the Rings” demonstrates that civilization is not always on the brink of collapse, but rather, what was once filled with splendour and triumph is slowly falling away, leaving a husk of its former self. Even in times of peace, a civilization that is falling away will find itself confronted by evil forces stemming from inside the society itself. Eventually, all great dynasties and kingdoms must fall for a new age, equally frail and certain in its downfall.

“H A R D  T I M E S” explores the relationship between a mother and her estranged son. In an attempt to create a new narrative for himself, the son leaves the simple country life he shares with his mother in order to find new opportunities in an urban centre. However, upon his departure, he insists that his mother never visit him, lest his humble beginnings be exposed. The story ends with a guarantee that the world the son has built up around him will soon fall apart. This world is built on falsehood and omission, and its uncertain foundation ensures its eventual demise.

Though seemingly infallible, the economic system upon which Western society sits is weaker than it may seem, and the cracks are beginning to show. “Theoretically Positioning Immigration Policy and Programming on PEI” examines the way in which immigrants to Prince Edward Island are chosen, and their treatment upon arrival. The government’s settlement program sees immigrants as a source of revenue or human capital, ignoring the humanity of new immigrants. However, the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada “provide[s] social activities for immigrants to form a sense of community.” Building a strong community is imperative to ensuring Prince Edward Island society remains inclusive and cohesive.

“Honey Bees” is an all-too-familiar reminder of the delicacy of our ecosystem, and a metaphor for the human condition. This poem uses bees to represent the mindless work humans put into mundane tasks, creating purpose where none is to be found. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, death lurks at the end of the poem, a bleak reminder of what awaits us no matter the amount of effort we put in to that which we deem important.

Nature will always win out against humanity, as evidenced in “The Moose.” Nature is bigger than we can even fathom, and is also more immediate than we often care to remember. Humanity is no match for the power and dominance of nature at its finest. The poet-speaker’s close encounter with the ruler of the forest, the moose, demonstrates the fragility of a single human life, and, on a larger scale, the fragility of civilization against the awesome power of a world untouched by humans.

There is a comfort and seeming stability in creating a structure for our society to abide within. But only the uncertain is guaranteed, which can be frightening. However, the flexibility of one’s fate is a remarkable opportunity. In seeing civilization not as a steadfast set of rules, but merely a boundary to challenge, humanity may yet find its proper place in the universe.


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Quod Erat Demonstrandum Copyright © 2019 by Tristan M. Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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