Friday, August 13, 2010

"The Age of Bad Manners"

Rudeness is not just for the young any more.

Bad manners have permeated society and have invaded the most commonplace interactions. They seem to have been institutionalized.

When Peggy Noonan writes that we live in "the age of bad manners," it is increasingly difficult to dispute her point. Link here.

It's not just that bad manners have become something of the norm, but according to Noonan, we we are paying for them. They are part of the service contract.

In an economy that depends less on industry and more on service, people are bumping into people all day long, trying to develop a connection that feels real but isn't... all the better to sell them something, my dear.

Why do service providers demonstrate such remarkable rudeness and disrespect? Noonan reports that they have been taught to do so. They are trained to be overly familiar with people they do not know, to intrude on everyone's privacy, and to avoid all gestures that might spell courtesy.

I suppose that if it works in some forms of therapy, then why not apply its lessons to the marketplace.

As Noonan analyzes the culture shift: "At the same time we were shifting, in the past 30 years, to the more personal economy of service, we were witnessing and took part in a revolution in manners. We tore them down as too fancy, or sexist, or ageist, or revealing of class biases. Just when we needed more than ever the formality and agreed-upon rules of manners to act as guard rails, we threw them aside. And now no one knows how to act anymore."

The result is that: "everyone gets on everyone's nerves. Everyone wishes they could take the chute. Everyone understands someone who did."

She is of course referring to former Jet Blue steward, Steven Slater who famously slid down an escape chute because he had simply had enough rudeness and disrespect.

The more we become a service economy the more we need better manners. And yet, the 1960s counterculture decided that good manners were a bad thing, that they bespoke classism or sexism or even racism, and that they had to be thrown out.

The counterculture discarded much that was bad, but it also threw out much that was good. To coin a cliche, it tossed out the baby with the bath water.

Keep in mind that the overthrow of manners was a very conscious effort by leftist radicals. The world they hated was the world depicted in a television show like Mad Men.  In feminist eyes the show portrays a flagrant disrespect of women.

As Lauren Bans wrote today: "It's like admiring Mad Men ethos for all the surface demonstrations of sexy patriarchy-- beautiful dresses, male chivalry, the when-men-were-men-and-women-were-pretty philosophy-- and ignoring the forced smile on Joan's face when her boss tells her she has to 'wear the dress with the big red bow' to the office Christmas party." Link here.

Bans is offering what amounts to a counterargument to Noonan's point. To her a world of courtesy was a world where women were disrespected in the workplace. And therefore, we did well by discarding all forms of courtesy, propriety, and decency.

But, for those who remember those less-than-halcyon days, it wasn't all bad. Saying that it was makes that time into a grotesque caricature of what it really was.

Women did not have as many career opportunities as they have today; they did not have as many possible life paths as they have today, but they were also exposed to far less vulgarity, sexual violence, and gross disrespect.

It is also fair to point out that in those bad old days when chivalry ruled the land, women were taken out on dates, were not expected to have sex on the third date, and did not hook up.

Today's man will probably not tell a woman to wear the red dress with the bow, but he is far more likely to assume that she will be removing the red dress within hours of meeting him. And that if she does not, she deserves to be rejected. No man in the early 60s would have harbored such an expectation. Does that show more or less respect?

Today's women certainly have more freedom, but would their freedom really be compromised if men were somehow induced to treat them with more respect.

I have no statistics at hand but I am fairly confident that there is far more relationship abuse today than there was 50 years ago.

Bans is not the only feminist who does not yearn for the old days when women were treated with more respect. Julia Baird explains that Mad Men reflects a time when patriarchal oppression made women mentally ill. In those days, she writes, women were so disturbed that they were all in therapy or taking medication or going off to clinics to cure what ailed them. Link here.

And this continued until feminism came along to save them by providing social therapy.

Indeed! Does Baird really believe that today's women do not have any emotional issues or distress? Does she want to argue that today's liberated woman does not go into therapy, does not take medication, and never finds herself in rehab?

Which group of women had more drug and alcohol abuse, more eating disorders, more self-mutilation, and more STDs: the women of the early 60s or the women of 2010?

I hope it is not too much to expect that intelligent writers who feel ideologically compelled to slander an era that they only know second-hand would put aside their blinders and make a balanced appraisal about what is both good and bad about our progress.

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