Civilization Never Happened
Anymore than Disneyland did...
There is a truly noxious moment in Kenneth Clark’s 1969 BBC documentary series Civilisation. The art historian, knight, and life-peer stands across the Seine from Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and ponders the meaning of the series title.
“What is civilization?” he asks before peering over his shoulder. “I don’t know, but I think I can recognize it when I see it.”
It isn’t roads or agriculture that define Clark’s civilization, not plumbing or shelter, modes of production or complex systems of governance. Not even the grand buttresses and spires he is obviously referencing as he glances across the river.
Just “I can recognise it when I see it.” Almost the exact same phrase used by a US Supreme Court Justice to describe pornography five years before. “I know it when I see it.” The definition is in the definition.
“I know it when I see it.” The refrain of the charlatan. Of they who believe that their level of education is its own argument, regardless of how much attention they may or…