“The universality of today’s obvious rudeness is matched only by the universality of millenia of elders wailing at the failures of the following generation to behave properly.”
While I couldn’t agree more with Britt’s underlying premise, that the basic architecture of common politeness is a ruin, I cannot agree with this bit:
“Manners are the outward and visible sign of an inward and justifiable aspiration. We mimic those whom we admire in hopes of achieving their station.”
In the vein of Hamlet’s scolding his mother “Assume a virtue if you have it not,” Britt hints that we are, none of us, polite except to advance ourselves. Though it might seem boastful, I bristle at the allegation that I need to aspire to a station beyond myself to be polite. That’s no more a factor in my calculus of courtesy than the threat of hell is a meaningful consideration in my decision not to kill.
In fact, I think the essence of Britt’s abstraction of the problem explains nothing because it’s not true. Rather than falling apart because well-mannered folks are not admirable or becuse they’re not in control, manners have disintegrated for 2 wholly other reasons:
- fewer and fewer people truly care about others
- there is no shame in admitting, or even flaunting, that you have no care for others
While this may seem cynical, I think it is less so than Britt’s assessment – I believe that there are those who do care about others. Those who say “Thank you” when you hold the door, or wave when you let them into traffic, or even those who let you in to traffic themselves. That seems to me far less cynical than the belief that we only treat each other well when we have something to gain.
It also seems a greater loss when it’s gone.