If rudeness is so pervasively commonplace throughout our society, does it cease to be rudeness?
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Their kinder, gentler social world certainly makes Plato’s “society is the soul writ large” ring true.
Respectful manners of yesteryear came easy because they came from within, from the heart. The zombied “have a nice day” politeness is, sadly, characteristic of today’s social world. Being genuinely respectful and solicitous of one another is literally heartfelt because it taps into empathy, a moral emotion that is literally and figuratively at the heart of the moral brain. Empathy makes it possible to put ourselves in others’ shoes, to feel their pain, and to do for others as you would have done to you.
Another 18th century figure, the Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, very astutely viewed empathy as the backbone of a code of ethics that keeps society running smoothly. In point of fact, his Moral Sentiments has served as the philosophical fulcrum beneath much of the neuroscience research on morality.
Astonishingly, Emily Post, who had neither philosophy nor even a tid-bit of neuroscience at her dainty fingertips, declared that “manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others….no matter what fork you use”. What’s more, as Mark Caldwell points out in his book A Short History of Rudeness, Post brilliantly observed that when society misbehaves, good behavior and morality come “unglued from each other”. With this she unknowingly laid out the neural architecture and dynamics of the moral brain that neuroscientists are proving today. Without ever having to take off her white gloves.
Similarly, has our behavior come “unhinged”?… From the wellspring of moral values deep within our brain?
Yes. Let’s simplify. Our moral neural circuitry, that scaffolding inside our brain, has been short-circuited by the self-centered, self-besotted ways we have come to acquire in full force. The pleasure associated with satisfying our newfound solipsistic cravings is trumping our moral code and “telling” us that our views and our needs — to show we’re right, to exhibit dominance, to get what we want and now — are more important than anyone else’s. It’s the new dopamine fix and the addiction is to self and self alone.
Inward, narcissistic focus means we don’t focus on others. We can’t be bothered to understand how others feel because we are devoid of empathy and a lack of empathy is the sine qua non of antisocial or sociopathic behavior. The extreme on psychology’s continuum or sliding scale of diagnoses has the Ted Bundys of the world — whose lack of empathy was so severe he could kill without remorse — while the other end of the scale holds the rude-ites — who hurl insult and injury in various forms of rudeness without any compunction whatsoever for the effect it has on others.
Emily Post’s insightful wisdom, yet again: Unconsciousness of self is not so much unselfishness as it is the mental ability to extinguish all thought of one’s self, like turning out the light. Perhaps she read Plato who warned society against becoming so self focused as to be void of the glue that holds it together.
So we live in a society that is Platonically coming unglued, falling apart. E pluribus unum was the de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when Congress adopted “In God We Trust” instead. But now it might as well be erased from our currency, too, as it no longer has any purchase. It is now all about unum.
But is this phenomenon particular to our society alone? Take Asia and South America. There is a palpable levity felt long before reaching Tokyo’s Nareda Airport when gate agents at the departure gate bow solemnly to passengers as they walk onto the jetway towards the plane. There is no personal, cheesy chit-chat blaring from the galleys and interrupting your dreams. Onboard a Japanese airline, the calming blanket of silence is more somnolent than any Ambien experience. And the flight attendants are truly embarrassed if you have to ask for something they haven’t anticipated. A truly empathic experience that stays with you after you leave the airport and throughout the land of the rising sun.
Below the equator, in Brazil, there’s even a word — not found in the English language — that uniquely conveys the empathy one feels for his brethren. Coitado means “poor thing” but when it’s not enough to express, Brazilians go a step further and say pobre (poor) coitado. There is a palpable solidarity of humanity in the land of samba — a chronic awareness of the needs and plights of others — that comes with a very visible and critical mass of empathy. You can get a taste of it in the unbridled warm hospitality that even the American Airlines ad says Brazilians are the warmest people. Empathy is truly the social lubricant, and it also explains why Brazilians — even the poor — are extraordinarily cheerful people.
So why are we so self-focused? The great entertainer, the television, now virally aided and abetted by the Internet, has torn into our social fabric with a dollar-chasing commercial enterprise that puts the self, raunchy and rude behavior, and, of course, violence, on a pedestal.
Emily Post’s gentle reader is now the coarse viewer absorbing vulgarities as social mores. I need point no further than the pathological smut broadcast as normal conduct in: Megan Wants a Millionaire, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, Big Brother, I Love $, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, My Redneck Wedding, The Girls Next Door, cosmetic surgery makeover shows, and so much more. And, lest we forget, the biting and gratuitous rudeness of Simon Cowell.
If ratings are an indicator, it is clear that viewers are captivated by the antisocial behavior and enchanted with the neurotic focus on the self and instant fame. The Arts & Entertainment Channel used to live up to its name but began to lose viewers until Dog the Bounty-Hunter (trash extraordinaire) brought it out of its rating doldrums to the number one spot.
Who is watching this stuff? Millions, sadly. But, more to the point, there remains a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Did the show satisfy the cravings of society or did cravings lead to the shows?
It is self-evident that the first estate, the elected elite, has also been glued to the screen, if their behavior is any indication. Or could it be that the sundry coarse indiscretions of Clinton, Foley, Sanford, Ensign, Spitzer, Craig, and so on, served as inspirational content instead.
In spite of all this mess, we seem to be pre-occupied with being a great country. Can we even be great behaving like this? One thing is certain, we have met our enemy and, indeed, it is us.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?