When Things Fall Apart : Throughline Climate change, political unrest, random violence - Western society can often feel like what the filmmaker Werner Herzog calls, "a thin layer of ice on top of an ocean of chaos and darkness." In the United States, polls indicate that many people believe that law and order is the only thing protecting us from the savagery of our neighbors, that the fundamental nature of humanity is competition and struggle. This idea is often called "veneer theory." But is this idea rooted in historical reality? Is this actually what happens when societies face disasters? Are we always on the cusp of brutality?

When Things Fall Apart

When Things Fall Apart

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KenCanning/Getty Images
Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) fight for social ranking
KenCanning/Getty Images

Climate change, political unrest, random violence - Western society can often feel like what the filmmaker Werner Herzog calls, "a thin layer of ice on top of an ocean of chaos and darkness." In the United States, polls indicate that many people believe that law and order is the only thing protecting us from the savagery of our neighbors, that the fundamental nature of humanity is competition and struggle. This idea is often called "veneer theory." But is this idea rooted in historical reality? Is this actually what happens when societies face disasters? Are we always on the cusp of brutality?

Correction Feb. 27, 2023

Correction: A previous version of this episode description incorrectly spelled Werner Herzog.