The overall concept from this week was “civilized thinking.” Civilized thinking is the idea that a “civilized” or “advanced” population goes on the mission of bringing a “native” or “savage” people into the current modern age. This concept was essential for the justification of colonial imperialism in the of the 18th to 20th centuries. Along with the conversion to Christianity there were major cultural transformations that various European groups attempted to impose on the native peoples. One of these largest impositions was on the dress of the indigenous people. They expected the natives to adopt the Western suit and dress. This was expected regardless of the climate, which was especially illogical in the sweltering heat of India. The heavy woolen dress of British was well adapted to the cold wet weather of Northern Europe but was a great imposition in the hot Indian sun. There was a great debate among Indians as to which dress was appropriate, traditional or Western. Mohandas Gandhi sought to rebel against these sartorial burdens by emphasizing a reversion to traditional Indian dress, specifically the hand-woven cloth or khadi over the machine made materials imported from Britain. His decisions greatly changed his appearance from that of the British educated lawyer that he was, to the humble, impoverished Indian that he wanted to represent. His transformation has greatly shaped his legacy to the present day. It brings up the concept of what appearance makes one “civilized?”
One example of how expensive clothing and jewelry can give the façade of civility while the truth is far from it is the Bravo television show The Real Housewives of New Jersey. These women appear to be clean-cut, wholesome ladies, whose main concern is the keeping of the home and hearth. But in reality they are greatly concerned about gossip and trash talking one another.
If these two images were presented to a group of people who did not know the identity of either, many would chose the women as the more civilized and educated group. This brings to mind the immediate judgments we all make when we meet a new person completely based on their appearance. We pass someone on the street wearing a suit and we assume they are educated with a well paying job, overall very civilized. If we pass instead someone with an ill-fitting, unmatched outfit, we assume his or her life is not very well put together and he or she is not as civilized as the suit-wearing individual from before.
This feeling of “civilized thinking” is still relevant in today’s society. We feel polite civilized women should be dressed and have the same possibility of lifestyle as the housewives of New Jersey. This is apparent in the speech given by Laura Bush in November 2001 on the perceived oppression of women in Afghanistan. She proclaimed, “Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror – not only because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.” Again civilized thinking was used as justification for one country invading another to “improve” the lives of the native through introducing them to the more “civilized” practices and beliefs of the dominating country. In this case the civilized thinking led us to believe it was the American destiny to intercede and give the women and children of Afghanistan the same freedoms that Americans have. In both instances, either British colonist or the American freedom fighter, the larger world power believes that their own way of life is superior and that all others should transition to a similar lifestyle thus civilizing them. This brings to a the concluding questions of what appearance is necessary for one to be “civilized” and what does this say about the evolution of society as a whole?
by Jess Ray