Friday, July 20, 2012

Politeness

Simon Grey is one of the bloggers I like to visit and it's quite a mystery to me why he does not get more of comments on his blog. He writes well, can maintain a consistent line of thought and unlike a lot of bloggers in this bit cyberspace is not a one trick pony. He put up a rather good post a week ago, which I think touches on one of the motive forces of political correctness. From his post:
This pathology, it seems to me, extends beyond just emotional directness.  We lie to people about everything, for fear of offending them[ED].  I cannot even begin to count the number of times where I pretended to agree with someone just so they wouldn’t get angry.  I know that there are many people who tell me only what they think I want to hear just so that I will feel good about myself.  It is almost impossible for me to find anyone who is able and willing to give me constructive criticism about anything because most of the people I know are simply too afraid to say anything that might even begin to appear to be ever-so-slightly confrontational.
and
This modern American society, then, is founded upon a culture of lies.  The fact that we cannot be honest with how we feel about one another is but one microcosm of all the big lies we have bought into.  Dishonesty permeates every aspect of our culture, and so we hide behind irony, false insincerity, and false bravado.  Nothing is serious, even when it ought to be.
I'll disagree with Simon here. It's still my impression, especially amongst the SWPL crowd, that Americans have a degree of cultural insecurity and when they want to appear cultured they traditionally aped the habits of the Europeans,  particularly the middle to upper English. As a result, modern mainstream American culture is founded upon the high Anglo-Saxon cultural tradition.

Now, My upbringing was essentially continental European whilst I living in an Anglo-Saxon culture. I've now realised that this has put me in the privileged position  of being able to see both the strengths and weaknesses of both cultures. It's a common complaint amongst lots of Europeans that you can't trust the English. Perfide Albion and its variants are a common theme throughout Continental Europe, but I think the Europeans are wrong in attributing to the English outright dishonesty. It's my opinion that the English place a much higher value on politeness than the Europeans do. They are concerned with not giving offence and are hence more diplomatic or circumspect than your average German or Italian. The European, of course, interprets this as the Englishman lying whereas in reality he is trying not be offensive.

The Germans, on the other hand. are pretty forthright at what they want to do. For this they are considered coarse and brutal. Yet, to the German he is being forthright and "honest". Unlike the Anglosphere politicians. The Germans are quite frank about what Europe needs to do to balance its books and are less likely to speak in euphemisms like "quantative easing". i.e printing money. They're direct.

It's my opinion that one of the big weak spots in Anglo-Saxon culture is the cult of politeness which America has inherited as a consequence of historical circumstances. I imagine that that this cult has it's origins in the ideals of upper class behaviour; in the ideal of behaving in such a way to never cause offense. This ideal manifests in many ways; in always being considerate of the other, in not talking about "taboo subjects" and in being deferential to others. To put it simply, Americans are too polite to tell the truth.

I imagine that the reason that politeness is so entrenched in Anglosphere is because it is necessary pre-condition of a tolerant society. For a society to work,  people need to get along, and it's obvious that deliberately rubbing people the wrong way is going to lead to societal dysfunction. The ideal of politeness relegated contentious points of difference to the private sphere whilst the common good was freely discussed.

The problem with this ideal though, is that the private actions and beliefs can't be compartmentalised; private beliefs have public consequences. For example, the belief in the permissibility of divorce is a private matter but the familial dysfunction and societal consequences thereof are a public effect. What the cult of politeness does is stop us from dealing with common good problems which stem from private choice. Particularly, the problems of the social effects of personal morality.

But this cult of politeness also generates a far more insidious problem; that of self-censorship. The polite man does not want to cause offence, but what that means he is constantly trying to gauge what is offensive, and hence the level of public discourse is limited by "sensitivity" of his audience. A very "sensitive" audience can shut down discussion on a subject entirely by being offended or feigning offence. In days of old a man could be censured for lying but all he has to do now is be offensive, say something the mob doesn't want to hear, for him to be punished. This is why "hate speech" legislation is so insidious, it purports to do a good whilst in fact furthering an evil.

It is the shrieking violets in our society which now control the public debate. There are large areas of that are simply off limits to discussion simply because polite society finds the truth offensive, not factually wrong. It's this cult of politeness that makes a man a public enemy for speaking the truth.

Success in Anglosphere society is not only predicated on one's objective achievements but upon the social conventions that one assumes. Admission into this society, the society which still effectively governs and wields power, comes with the adoption of its habits and behaviours. Having the right attitude is just as important as one's achievements. Just ask Nobel Laureates James Watson or William Shockley. ( I don't personally support their views but their treatment at expressing them is a cause of serious concern). Politeness then becomes a mechanism that suppresses the truth and excludes it from the governing  Anglo-Saxon(High Protestant) cultured class. It's also why business is a big enforcer of political correctness. The boss's company is a refection of himself and if his employees are openly spouting certain positions on Middle East policy, Racial IQ or Game, he is going to look bad amongst his golfing buddies or the hot secretary he is trying to bed. He wants to be part of the club. Social pressure keeps him toeing the line.

The solution to this problem is not the elimination of politeness as an ideal, but the recognition that excessive "sensitivity" or offense to the truth is a vice and that pandering to these people is evil. It needs to be recognised that Politeness has its limits though Redneck Primitivism is no solution to corrupt Haute Bourgeois Socialism i.e SWPL (though the Rednecks have time on their side as reality always triumphs in the end.) The solution, of course, is the polite man who unafraid to speak truth to social convention. In the end, the good man can't engage in pretty lies of omission just to keep the peace or look good amongst his friends.

One of the things that I noticed on my recent trip to the U.S. was that Americans were very, very polite.

25 comments:

Ingemar said...

Sorry I haven't read your post in its entirety. I am an avid reader of Cygne Gris, but I hardly comment. I can only speculate why not, but I think what it boils down to is--

1. I prefer to comment in a blog that has a loyal, active followership as it stimulates discussion.

2. I tend not to comment on a blog/site where I my comments become wastes of bandwidth.

3. I've become less social in all arenas of life.


But none of these points are knocks on the quality of Grey's posts. Some blogs generate thousands of loyal readers that don't deserve them; others have virtually no followers that deserve more.

The Social Pathologist said...

Wow, that was quick.

Sometimes a blogger needs feedback just to know he is getting some traction.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

BTW I've updated the post.

mdavid said...

Funny. I align politically with CG, but find his writing pedestrian in both the social dimension and the scientific as well.

E.g., can you imagine him writing something deep like Heart of Darkness by SP, or something brilliant like Is Love Colorblind? by Steve Sailer? I can't.

Simon Grey said...

@SP- My comment policy might help explain why I don't get many comments on my blog. Also, I'm pretty terrible about interacting with others in the comments section. Thanks for the praise, though. I think you're an excellent writer, and wish you would write more.

My comments weren't directed towards the SWPL crowd. "False bravado" refers specifically to the habits of the American lower classes to define stupid things as manly and then set out stupid quests to prove one's manhood. In essence, there is a sense that one should be manly, but the actions simply belie a grotesque, exaggerated form of proper manhood. Thus my assertion was not concerned with cultural insecurity as much as with personal interactions. Most people have a "public face" which is used to hide who they really are. Of course, this belies insecurity, but not only of the cultural variety, but of the personal as well. However, your point is well taken.

Anyhow, great post. It's nice to have an outsiders perspective. By the way, do you prefer to deal with Anglos or Germans? I prefer the latter because of their straightforwardness. It makes life easier, though occasionally uncomfortable.

David Collard said...

I tend to be fairly blunt and it pays off even here in Australia sometimes. It can cause offence, but I find if a person can tell you don't mean to be offensive, he will tend to "cut you some slack".

For example, I chatted quite happily with a Hazara from Afghanistan today, and found out all sorts of interesting things about his life here in Canberra, including his place of worship as a Shiite. He didn't take offence.

As for blog readership, there seems to be a few really big blogs and a lot of rather small blogs in the Manosphere. I think the area is a bit oversubscribed, and the big blogs suck up all the oxygen. Sometimes one's blog changes character too. Mine started out as a sort of social sciences thing, then went to philosophy, then to social activism of the Manosphere type, and then to poetry as well. I probably get more readership of my poetry than I would otherwise because I sort of hang off the Manosphere.

I don't know about other systems, but Wordpress allows one to check pretty closely how many people are visiting.

I also have a Blogspot blog, under my real name, on science. I sometimes get scores of visits on a topic I write on, and I know those are quality visits because people have sought out the topic. But very few comments.

David Collard said...

Can I make another point? Many times I have seen the blog Le Cygne Gris listed on a blogroll, and I have never bothered much. I think the name is part of the problem. It is in French. I know enough to recognise that it means the grey swan, but not what that signifies. Also, at least to my eyes, the word Gris tends to be read as Girls. And I am not immediately interested in a blog that sounds vaguely like something about girls at the Folie Bergeres.

I know this sounds silly, but when one is quickly scanning a screen, it actually makes a difference.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Simon

By the way, do you prefer to deal with Anglos or Germans?

I'm quite partial to all types. The trick is trying to understand them. But if I had to choose I suppose I'm more Anglo in my tastes.

Most people have a "public face" which is used to hide who they really are

See I find that less of an issue amongst the Australian prole class and more of an issue amongst our middle and upper classes. It certainly isn't an issue that I've encountered with other Europeans.

@David

I tend to be fairly blunt and it pays off even here in Australia sometimes.

In my experience, compared to the Americans we're much much ruder. But we're also far less politically correct. Feminism doesn't seem to have gained the traction that it has in the U.S and our multiculturalism seems more suffered than embraced, no matter how much the inner city yuppie crowd are trying to push it.

And I am not immediately interested in a blog that sounds vaguely like something about girls at the Folie Bergeres.

I've gotta admit that I'd be pretty interested!

As for poetry, it's never really been my thing. But I've quite liked James McAuley

David Collard said...

Of course I am interested, but I try, however weakly, to avoid occasions of sin, being a married man.

I have a book on James McAuley by Cassandra Somebody, I think. I don't like what little I have seen of his stuff. Too didactic. Like a lot of Les Murray. I don't like poetry that tries to educate you.

Every time I say Australia is not very feminist, I get howled down in the Manosphere.

David Collard said...

That McAuley poem is OK. It reminds me of David Campbell, a poet of the Canberra region, now deceased. He wrote a lot of pastoral, lyric stuff.

I keep intending to write a poem titled Fucking a Brunette, but my wife reads my blog, and she is the brunette, so I have yet to pluck up the courage.

Robert said...

SP,

I actually took "One of the things that I noticed on my recent trip to the U.S. was that Americans were very, very polite." as a compliment. Perhaps there is a great deal of truth to our desire to come off as polite. I know there is a strong urge for many Americans, mostly of the SWPL crowd to appear extremely sensitive to Europeans and other nationalities, as our media portrays Americans as extremely arrogant.

Did you visit the southeastern US at any point in your travels here? As a native of the northeastern US, which tends to be metropolitan, I see people in NE US cities to be generally rude and immoral. On a recent visit to Georgia, the people were extremely polite compared to my experiences. What was surprising to me is that most of the people I came across weren't shy about discussing controversial social policy such as divorce, abortion, and immigration. The southern US tends to be much more religious than the NE US, so perhaps this may have a contribution. They have also been exposed to large groups of culturally distinct people (blacks) for far longer than northerners.

The Social Pathologist said...

Did you visit the southeastern US at any point in your travels here?

I visited both Charleston and Savannah and drove a bit through Georgia. I liked the region a lot. As a tourist, I kept off the topics of politics and religion and simply tried to observe.

My point about Americans being polite was not meant to be a criticism, rather, an observation. I certainly felt more comfortable in some bits of the U.S. than I do at home.

westunderground said...

A very thought provoking post. I agree that politeness is one of those subjects which should have a balance. It's one thing to be respectful to others, and something entirely different to censor one side of a controversial subject because it's "offensive".

Perhaps it's because of the strong urge to be polite in the US that political heretics are so harshly persecuted here. The large international cultural influence that the US possesses may be responsible for the same practice in the European and Anglo spheres, though I'm sure Germany's guilt from WW2 may also play a role.

Anonymous said...

In my mind, simon is synonymous with vox. While he writes more on economics, his style, tone, and opinions are too closely overlapped with vox's for me to comment on his blog. I know he a distinct person, but perhaps this is the kind of feedback he would want.

Also, he seems to be about as self-assured as vox, which means that my time is probably best spend elsewhere. I'm sure he is quite pleasant offline, which may be pertinent to the post you quoted.

JMSmith said...

I grew up thinking that the English were paragons of politeness, and I met a few examples of polite English men and women when I lived there in the 1970s. But politeness is not a quality I associate with English men and women born after 1960 or so. Quite the opposite! My understanding is that the old English politeness was part of the English class system, and that it was essentially the opposite of snobbishness. It was a matter of putting social inferiors at their ease (without, of course, denying their social inferiority). This translated very poorly into the democratic culture of the U.S.A. and gave rise to the Tyranny of the Offense-Takers we now live under. Basically this combines the English belief that social inferiors should be made to feel at ease with the American belief that there are no social inferiors. The result is that aggressive individuals filled with democratic self-assurance can exercise power by posing as offended victims of snobbery.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ JMSmith

The result is that aggressive individuals filled with democratic self-assurance can exercise power by posing as offended victims of snobbery.

That's a very good point. Our cultural aversion to snobbery is one of the great social forces that contributes to moral relativism and Western cultural erosion. Any time a man attempts to distinguish himself from the proleish ways of modern man, social forces come into play that attempt to ostracise him. You can see how both the democratic ideal and the cult of politeness act in synergy in opposition to any form of superiority.

The problem with snobbery, however, is in the risk of possessing the sin of pride in the snob. There's a lot to talk about here. (Indeed, a lot of leftist psychology is centered around the sin of pride).

The snob issue raises a particular problem for the Christian: How to assert your superiority without turning into a prick? The answer, I suppose, is in the recognition that we are all miserable bastards and that any goodness given to us is by the grace of God. Humility is the antidote to the dangers of snobbery.

JMSmith said...

Snobbery is certainly a vice to be avoided, but its very seriousness is a reason to define snobbery very carefully. I'll propose that a snob is a person who presumes that because they are excellent in one respect they are excellent in all respects. We see this in the gifted actress who presumes that acting talent gives her political opinions special weight. We see it in the learned man who presumes that his acts are virtuous because he is learned. A snob universalizes a particular excellence and converts a limited superiority into an unlimited superiority.

For what it's worth, I'd say that Christian humility requires us to face the many defects in our character, but does not ask us to belittle or deny the physical or spiritual gifts God has granted us. A beautiful woman who tells a plain woman, "I'm no more beautiful than you," insults that woman and the God who made her beautiful. That same beautiful woman would be a snob if she insisted that beauty was the only (or at least greatest) sort of human excellence, and that she was consequently entitled to play queen of all she surveyed.

The Social Pathologist said...

@JMSmith

For what it's worth, I'd say that Christian humility requires us to face the many defects in our character, but does not ask us to belittle or deny the physical or spiritual gifts God has granted us.

True.

I think C.S. Lewis said something to the same effect. We've morphed the idea of humility into lying about our virtues. This version of humility, which is powerfully entrenched in our culture, stops anyone of any superiority from becoming too uppity. What is meant to be a virtue hence becomes a vice.

The antidote, of course, is truth. A man must be humble, but he cannot lie.

Mike T said...

I would add that one of the other vices we have is that our society often ostracizes people who are upsetting others with the truth in cases where the truth actually ought to upset the public against the one complaining. For example, you simply cannot say to a woman who is openly discussing her intention of bringing one or more kids into this world without a father in their life is a bad person. Many Americans would rather she regard her reproductive decisions like accessorizing than appear to be "judgmental."

GK Chesterton said...


I think C.S. Lewis said something to the same effect. We've morphed the idea of humility into lying about our virtues.


Yes. It was in "Mere Christianity" though the actual quote is eluding me.

GK Chesterton said...


I think C.S. Lewis said something to the same effect. We've morphed the idea of humility into lying about our virtues.


Yes. It was in "Mere Christianity" though the actual quote is eluding me.

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