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wired

Interesting.
Politeness merely gives them a formula of how to act when you're not treating other people like human beings.

I was brought up to strongly believe that politeness is pretty much the only way to be respectful of other's humanity. That everyone deserves politeness as a fundamental recognition of personhood.

This may not be a terribly functional view of the world -- I had a whole postpartum depression spiral about swearing at the nurses and midwife during delivery, but still, to be rude to someone feels to me like discounting their worth, their humanity.

I am not arguing your main point, that lapses from proscribed and artificial behavior are interpreted differently depending on the class of the lapser, but that little sub-point about formula seems odd to me, and I'd love to see you unpack it a bit.

lori

I think you have a point, but I also think it is more complex than that. I think civility and politeness can be used to mask class differences (as you describe), to highlight class differences (the fork problem), and to bridge class differences (when I call the security guard "sir"). As such, it's more a tool than a system.

I am so toasty at work that I cannot unpack this any further, though.

Debbie

This is when I want blogs to be like usenet forums, so more discussion can happen.

I want to say to wired that yes, but ... that assumes that "politeness" is universally agreed on. It's not just that lapses are interpreted differently depending on class, it's that the baseline is class-dependent (among other factors). I'm thinking about how it's rude to interrupt in California and it's rude not to interrupt in New York.

To Lori, I want to say that all those things are true, and in situations like hospitals where the hierarchy is set before anyone walks in the door, class is used more as a club than as any of those things. It's like you the patient or the patient's advocate are constantly facing class tests, and each one you pass earns you a tiny tiny bit of leeway in your one-down position, while each one you fail pushes you a lot farther into that one-down position. The fork problem is about situations of pretended equality and the security guard situation (which also applies in hospitals if one is dealing with the cleaning staff or the security system) is something else again.

But in a hospital, the nurses have the upper hand with the patients and the doctors have the upper hand with the nurses and the patients, and they can set all the tests they want and nobody can pass them all (which is why wired's comment about swearing during delivery is interesting and I wish she could unpack that).

And that also points out that class is also a way to build in self-judgment: I yelled at the nurses so I broke the class rules so I'm a bad person and I deserve the way they treat me. (Not at all saying that this is wired's internal tape, just that it's another pitfall in this situation.)

wired

I grew up running around hospitals, because my dad was an administrator, so I lack a lot of the fear-and-awe that most people have. That may be an important aspect of my perception here. I hadn't really thought about it, but I played with their kids, filed their reports, and read out their budget items. No mystery, no authority.

Debbie, that's a good point about what politeness is as a baseline. I hadn't thought of that, and now I need to.

Unpacking: I did a natural waterbirth with my first, and I thought I was doing fine until the pushing part, at which point I called my husband an evil bastard, and told the nurses, that NO, I DID NOT WANT TO, BITCH, when they told me to push. I think I called them harpies of pain, too. My husband says I was surprisingly literary for someone out of her mind.

And then I had the baby, and he was beautiful, and everyone was beautiful, and it was all so lovely. I went home and about three days later post-partum depression set in. Happily, it did not center on harming myself or Baz, but rather on how badly I had treated people who were just trying to help me, who didn't deserve to be cussed out just because I was in extremity. It hadn't been their fault that I lost control.

10 counseling sessions and a month of Zoloft later, and I realized that the core issue was how terrifying it had been to lose control, and how that manifested as doing something I didn't want to do (be rude), and I was scared that I would end up being mean and nasty and hateful and bitter and.... yeah. God bless you, little blue pills.

I'm a big control freak, and I have worked hard to manifest it in ways that do not damage other people. Sadly, that means I am very rigid about the manifestations I do have.

I did mention my problems to my GP, and she laughed ruefully and pointed out that not only did she work in that hospital, she also delivered both her children there. "And if you think it's embarrassing that you swore at the labor nurses, imagine getting twitted about it when you came back to work!"

Um, only a little bit of which is relevant to politeness.

Ide Cyan

I was thinking the other day (at the hospital) how politeness and civility are used to maintain class differences.

It goes beyond that. The very nature of politeness and civility emerges from politics -- which are inevitably wedded to power relationships. So, yes, it's class-related, but also contingent on race, gender, and other hierarchies, because though politeness functions as a code, which can highlight those power differences (in much the same way as diglossia does), it is not so much used *to* maintain those power differences, except as mystification.

It is *because* of power differences that the code endures, since the ability to teach, punish or reward behaviour depends on one's power.

serena

Politeness merely gives them a formula of how to act when you're not treating other people like human beings.

I completely disagree with this. I am in wired's camp about it; politeness IS about demonstrating a baseline level of respect for other human beings. If it isn't, it's not politeness.

Just because some systems of rules are misused by people for base motives, does not mean that the systems themselves are worthless. I think you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater, here. After all, what is the alternative? To dispense with manners and go around cussing everybody out whenever we feel like it?

That attitude is highly prevalent in the blogosphere, and I have empirically observed that it is an extremely polarizing habit, and it doesn't do much to promote genuine, deep conversations, or to find the real point of departure when you are in disagreement with someone. Remaining engaged while adhering to a code of 'treat everybody well' is the only way to have a real conversation.

If you consistently expect the best of people, they have a way of rising to your expectations.

It is *because* of power differences that the code endures, since the ability to teach, punish or reward behaviour depends on one's power.

Now, I don't see this AT ALL. What 'code' are we talking about, here? Please and thank you? I respectfully disagree? What in the world is wrong with that?

I think you have it exactly backwards. There are two kinds of power--political, external power, such as that conveyed by money and social status. This sort of power is temporal and illusory, since it can be removed at any moment by a change in circumstance--an economic crash, a coup, a scandal in a newspaper.

The other, enduring kind of power is inner, personal power, to which we all have access. Maintaining a standard of courtesy toward others is an extremely effective way to nurture and develop this kind of power. When you treat yourself and others with ironclad respect, even when they're shouting at you, this in itself commands respect.

Once you've earned people's respect, then you are able to 'teach, punish or reward behavior.'

laura quilter

Fork problem: Is this the salad fork vs. entree fork or whatever? I'm not sure that's "politeness", is it? It's more how to treat flatware than how to treat people. People may mix up the terms ("polite society" as code for "upper class") but there is probably a different term for those kinds of "manners".

Ide, I (still) don't get your point about politeness & power, although you've explained it in other forums. I'm not trying to be difficult, I just don't think I get what you're saying. I think I hear you saying (A) that politeness codes endure because of use of force in training for politeness; and (B) politeness mystifies / obscures the hierarchy & potential for use of force and that (C) in some circumstances politeness codes are used to highlight hierarchical differences. Do I have that right? Is there something beyond those points? If I've got it, and that's it, then I have some responses:
(A) I disagree that authoritarianism is necessary in teaching, whether it is literacy or politeness.
(B) and (C) seem in conflict. I would agree that politeness "codes" can mask violence/hierarchy, and it can also highlight it. But if it can accomplish both, doesn't that suggest that politeness is of a general nature, and that its effects on masking or accentuating hierarchy are in how it is used? That is, that politeness does not necessarily either mask or accentuate.

Or are you getting at something else? For instance are you suggesting that the power to establish what is polite are differentially affected by class/race/gender/etc. power differences? (Certainly that's true but it is also true in virtually every other aspect of human experience, no?) Or that "politeness" is a set of rules that is classist/racist/sexist (inherently or as interpreted/implemented in particular cultures)? Or something else?

Finally, just to add my perspective as a woman raised in Southern US by traditional women & sexist men, politeness is simultaneously:

(A) a negative affect that involves holding in too many opinions, hearing without speaking, deferring unnecessarily, smoothing over differences which ought better be addressed openly, sucking up, mealy-mouthedness ... especially in combination with social pressure on women to be "nice" ... and

(B) a positive form of social interaction which involves lubricating conflict & communication with recognized forms that let people know they are being heard and respected as individuals, to give more breathing room to airing the actual disagreement, and to create more human-to-human contact to get beyond other differences and intuitions and prejudices. In a sense, to create a "safe space" for communication by establishing rules & boundaries.

Lisa Hirsch

All the inner personal power in the world couldn't have done the innocent employees of Enron much good, Serena. Those people with economic and political power can do enormous harm in a very short period of time.

serena

All the inner personal power in the world couldn't have done the innocent employees of Enron much good, Serena. Those people with economic and political power can do enormous harm in a very short period of time.

Now, that's exactly what I'm talking about. The political, social and economic power of BOTH the innocent employees of Enron AND the executives was illusory and temporal, and was shattered in an instant. None of us have any control over the possibility of something like this happening to us at any moment--a hurricane could hit, Iran could launch a missile, our job could disappear, we could get a terrible illness.

How you respond to such a situation has everything to do with your inner, personal power. Our response is the only thing over which we do have control. Thus it makes sense to develop the habit of responding pro-actively.

lori

Laura:

I do consider the fork problem (yes, you identified it correctly btw) an issue of politeness, if it is considered rude, ill-mannered, impolite to use the wrong fork, or to use it incorrectly. Just as if it it considered rude, ill-mannered, impolite to swear in extremis, or use certain words, sentence structures, and tones of voice in talking to nurses and doctors. Am I making sense? I am still toasty :)

As an aside, one of the biggest fights I ever had with my father was when he tried to teach me how to hold a fork properly. Class issues a go go.

Debbie:

Of course I agree with you in a hospital-specific setting (and similar hierarchical settings). I am wary, however, of abstracting it out as far into the territory I saw Liz heading to. Generally, I am with Drew Campell and The Bride Wore Black Leather and much influenced thereof by the notion of etiquette (yes I have switched my words here) is best used as a social lubricant across class and cultural differences, rather than as a hierarchy-preserving bludgeon. And that is *can* be used as the former as well as the latter, is all I was really saying.

lori


Actually, it just clicked in my head. It is the expectation of *reciprocation* of civility/politeness/etiquette that is the class-boundary-maintaining tool. The assumption that you can punish someone if they do not act according to your (arbitrary) standards.

Miss Manners says there is no polite way to tell someone they are being impolite, so therefore you don't do it. You just keep being polite yourself. When I am using etiquette in the Drew Campbell manner as a social lubricant rather than a social enforcer, I do not expect reciprocation; that would be, well, rude.

Lisa Hirsch

serena, I think you are missing the extent to which the kind of temporal power you are alluding to persists institutionally. Enron might be one company that got shattered in a moment, but governments persist, big business persists, the stock market persists, etc. The social and economic effects of that kind of power are mitigated by appropriate legistlation, governmental checks and balances, and mass social movements. Again, a former Enron employee who has great personal strength may still be economically ruined for life.

serena

I think you are missing the extent to which the kind of temporal power you are alluding to persists institutionally.

So? Why would I be missing this point? Hurricanes persist. Wars persist. Earthquakes, fires, tsunamis and disease persist. These things ruin people physically and economically, and will always continue to do so.

Villagers in the mountains of Nepal live appalling lives, from our point of view. They are poor; frequently an earthquake or an enormous storm will sweep through, wiping out most of their homes and half their inhabitants. But these people have cultivated a way of looking at the world that incorporates disaster as a part of their connection with the entire universe. They tend to bounce back quickly after catastrophe, and to find the joy in the little, everyday things in life.

I am not saying that social activism is inappropriate. I'm merely saying that our choice of attitude largely determines our level of happiness, regardless of the circumstances. If I waited for the world to be fair in order to be happy, I would be resigning myself to a life of misery.

When I am using etiquette in the Drew Campbell manner as a social lubricant rather than a social enforcer, I do not expect reciprocation; that would be, well, rude.

Lori, you've nailed it. True courtesy is divorced from expectation of any kind. It is simply an assertion of one's own dignity, first, and the dignity of the other person, second, no matter how much they may appear to have none.

Lisa Hirsch

> Hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.

These are part of the natural world. War, economic power, the law, wealth - human creations within our control.

> I am not saying that social activism is inappropriate. I'm merely saying that
> our choice of attitude largely determines our level of happiness, regardless > of the circumstances.

And yet being at the top of the heap, or having enough money, or having real power in the world, makes such a difference in the circumstances of a life, and it is so much harder to be happy when, say, you've got little control over your circumstances and you're barely scraping by.

> If I waited for the world to be fair in order to be happy, I would
> be resigning myself to a life of misery.

See, I feel like you're putting the burden for happiness largely on individuals and largely ignoring the effects of our social and economic structure. People have incredibly different choices in life depending on money, social class, where they are born, etc. What's the life expectency in Nepal? How many children get vaccinated? Is the water clean?

badgerbag

I put in a fair amount of effort to be polite. But as I was doing this the other day in a specific situation I thought suddenly that it was condescending and wrong and for me, I was feeling sort of good about myself for being scrupulously polite to this person, while they HAD to be polite to me b/c of our power imbalance. I'm not saying that I felt that it would be more "right" in that situation to be rude to that person. But that the politeness seemed horrid and false... and like a weapon that could always be used against the disempowered person but not against whoever's on top.

Have you ever been the person underneath... maybe a a totally shit job... and your boss is faultlessly polite but is screwing you over? And it's the most frustrating thing ever? And there's nothing you can *do* about it, and it's like your very hatred of them is defused? Yet it is justified hatred, and so you are caught in a bind, with no ground to stand on. It's poisonous! That sort of thing.

But it also tied in for a fuzzy moment to stuff I've been thinking about power and privilege and arguments, and moments when people try to point out a frustrating or angry-making thing. The ways that people talk about being labeled as the Angry Black Woman, or the hard-assed feminazi, or whatever... When one just is trying to speak up in a hard situation. Or, moments when I'll say something in a situation that pisses me off - speaking as a feminist- and it's personal for me, and it's hard not to be angry - and then some more "reasonable logical detached" person... a guy... rephrases what I just said and everyone listens to them, but not to me. The point is maybe NOT that I can't expect anyone to listen to me if I'm angry -- the point is not to belabor the justly angry person and to hear the substance of their argument. When someone is angry with me or rude to me, it doesn't invalidate their POINT.... It doesn't mean that I can't listen... it doesn't mean that it's productive at all for me to go "Well, if you were only politer then ..." and ignore what they said as punishment.


I'm sorry this is so waffly. I need a concrete example.

I agree with what Laura Q said about the two simultaneous feelings about politeness as lubricant and obstacle.


Ide Cyan

Serena:

This sort of power is temporal and illusory, since it can be removed at any moment by a change in circumstance--an economic crash, a coup, a scandal in a newspaper.

The other, enduring kind of power is inner, personal power, to which we all have access.

Power's transitory nature doesn't make it illusory. It's a process of cause and effect. Of course it's transitory. Everything is. And so it this "inner, personal power", which stops dead when you do.

You're talking of spiritual values, which exist in the mind. I'm talking materially. That which circumscribes the physical mind, the brain.

Social interaction doesn't come into being from nothingness. The mind is not its own cause.


Laura:

(A) I disagree that authoritarianism is necessary in teaching, whether it is literacy or politeness.

You're conflating authoritarianism and power. Not the same thing.

For instance are you suggesting that the power to establish what is polite are differentially affected by class/race/gender/etc. power differences?

Or, to phrase it more accurately: those with the gold, make the rules.

Certainly that's true but it is also true in virtually every other aspect of human experience, no?

...and how does that affect the point?

politeness mystifies / obscures the hierarchy & potential for use of force

People can mystify hierarchy and potential use of force by pointing to politeness or lack thereof as the source of disagreements over access, resources, etc. which arise from conflicts of interest between people and groups of people.

The incumbents will paint the insurgents as impolite for going against their interests to avoid dealing with the matter of the interests themselves.

Politeness, as social lubricant, loses out against the self-interests of those who have the power to maintain their status. It is a means, and means are secondary to aims.

Politeness for politeness's sake is a futility that those who have no power to affect each other's status (except for their reputation for politeness) engage in. It can be a pleasant futility, and affronts caused by behaviour deemed to be impolite can lead people to retaliate materially, but it produces no material changes beyond that "inner, personal power".

(And it isn't with "inner, personal power" that you change the world, unless you've discovered telepathy. Voice and speech need breath, the combustion of oxygen, and nutrients to fuel the muscles that activate them at the brain's command.)


Politeness functions as a tool for negociation, one of many. In cases of uncertain dominance, formalised dialogue can establish the attitudes of the participants to each other. The whim of the powerful dictates the terms of discussion to the powerless.

The powerless's need to gain knowledge of those terms -- to learn from the powerful -- is quite independent of the respect between each party as individuals.

Ide Cyan

Continuing in the materialist approach, I started thinking about politeness as a currency. But it's not exactly a currency -- in economic terms, it's a service. ("It's all work. It's all economics, too." -- Russ) Something you do for people that doesn't involve the extraction or the transformation of natural resources. (In economics and marketing, a service is the non-material equivalent of a good. -- Wikipedia)

People can trade services for services, or trade services for other things.

This definitely brings back Badgerbag's original class analysis.

If a working class person is impolite then it is a disaster for them and it's used against them to prove their inherent inferiority.

Because the working classes are not the capitalists. Because poor, or otherwise disinfranchised people, do not have other currency than their labour, to trade.

And politeness is a *service*. To cite Wikipedia again: "Service provision has been defined as an economic activity that does not result in ownership, and this is what differentiates it from providing physical goods."

Asking for politeness is asking people to work for you.

And the requirement that lower-class people be unreciprocically polite to higher-class people is pure and simple exploitation.

In a privatised health care system, you're paying doctors for their services. That *you* have to be polite to *them* shows your respective class positions.

laura quilter

On the "inner personal power" discussion: Is there a confusion more than a disagreement here? It seems to me that a certain amount of talking past one another is happening. There's one discussion on personal dignity (which may include politeness) and another discussion on material power (which may mandate politeness or use politeness). These points, if true, are not necessarily in conflict all the time; so describing them as such is a bit of a false opposition.

The interesting question w/r/t personal dignity, from my perspective, is what about when personal dignity mandates abandonment of "politeness"? Certainly, if one has been trained to be "polite" and "nice" as a form of gender subjugation then abandoning it might be, as a general matter, necessary. ("Gender subjugation": I'll leave class & race aside, because I'm not sure that the training to be polite maps well from gender to class & race -- note, the need to be polite is probably more critical for those on the down side of class & race hierarchies). But also it might be necessary in particular situations: If you or someone else is being treated wrongly, polite responses may not always be correct. If it is never polite to point out impoliteness, but it is often the right thing to do to point out the wrong thing is happening, even if that involves impoliteness.

laura quilter

this is a bit rambling and also perhaps a bit annoying in lawyer-tone here & there: please pardon any lawyerliness.

ide: so i think what you're saying about politeness is that (a) people in power characterize revolution / argument / dissent as "impolite" (among other responses) instead of responding to the substance - I certainly agree.

Post #1, i totally agree with your response to Serena, and if I understand it correctly, everything but the "Politeness for politeness' sake" paragraph, which I just am having trouble getting. Post #2 ("Continuing in the materialist approach"), right on.

However, a few other responses: (A) Are you saying that "Politeness for politeness' sake" is a futility because it produces "no material change"? I disagree. Facilitating conversation may, or may not, produce "material change" but is nonetheless not necessarily futile. Growth in knowledge and understanding of whatever sort is not futile. To the extent that "politeness for politeness' sake" aids that conversation, therefore, it seems to me to be useful.

(B) On authoritarianism, force, & teaching, you said

It is *because* of power differences that the code endures, since the ability to teach, punish or reward behaviour depends on one's power.
I said I didn't think authoritarianism was necessary in teaching, and you said I'm conflating authoritarianism and power.

Let me be clear: I used the term authoritarianism, which I define as relying ultimately at least in part on a threat of force. I used that term because you described "punish or reward behavior" and I understand that to mean use of force. I don't think "punishment" is necessary for teaching. "Reward" is a little different, because reward is subject to a broader variety of understandings, but "punishment" I think is clearly understood by most people to involve a use of force: either in the punishment itself (spanking, death penalty) or in enforcing the punishment ("stand in the corner" implies an "OR I will use force"). If I look at your original sentence, then you are saying that teaching (impliedly teaching politeness) & "punish or reward behavior" (authoritarianism/force, in my vocabulary) relies on power (material power, I assume, based on the rest of your discussions). I understood you to be relating teaching to punishing/rewarding; and both of them to material power. I disagree with every aspect of this. Teaching need not involve punishment (again set aside reward) nor need it involve material power. Teaching can be done by equals or even subordinates. Teaching *can* involve material power, but material power is not necessary to teach, nor is it sufficient--you cannot teach just because you have material power.

To bring it back to politeness, I understood you to be saying that teaching politeness was a type of indoctrination embedded in a system of material power. I don't disagree (as I was myself subjected to that form of being taught politeness). But I would disagree that that is the ONLY form of teaching politeness.

(C) I also find myself in disagreement with the absolutism of the terms you use. I'm phrasing it awkwardly, because I'm not in disagreement with the substance of your argument; but the terms you use to get there in these two posts make me think I'll disagree. For instance, juxtaposing "the powerful" and "the powerless". I would argue that, materially, the absolutist terms generally mask a significant amount of greyness, if only because there are so many axes of power. And hey, I'll align myself with the "personal power" people just for a moment, in suggesting that "personal, inner power" is one such axis, whether it be dignity, charisma, inner happiness, whatever. < /disalignment because I think there are lots of other potential problems with "personal, inner power" analyses, most of which are not nec. relevant to discussion here>

btw - being polite to doctors I'm not so sure is a class thing as it is a power of another sort thing. Class might be there some time but not necessarily. But they will be touching your body, or making decisions that affect your body: there's an inherent power dynamic there, a vulnerability, that exists irrespective of class, gender, etc. Class, gender, etc., can exacerbate that vulnerability. Thus, I generally refuse to see male doctors or health practitioners for physical exams, because I am already feeling vulnerable to the physician, not for class or knowledge reasons.

--


Have you (or anyone else on this thread) read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia? Orwell describes Barcelona during the brief period of time in which the anarchists held sway. Certain honorifics were dropped from common usage and replaced with more familiar terms. But people were still polite to one another; they were just no longer obsequious in vocabulary or tone or manner.

--

sorry i'd like to be more coherent, or more organized, or something, but I must go memorize mnemonics: "Lacking Capacity, Dumbass Coerced and Unconscionably Misrepresented Iraq's Threat, Considering Ambiguous Tales, Mistakes and Frauds." (11 defenses to the formation of a contract)

badgerbag

Laura: I agree (comrade! citizen!) that it's also wrong to be formally polite between equals once the powerful have left the room - it demonstrates an insult or a lack of trust or over-identification with the "incumbents".

Serena & Laura: I do see the usefulness of civility in facilitating discussions -- but I also think training the privileged & powerful to tolerate some incivility would be useful. Otherwise there's a lot they'll never hear or understand.

Serena: Are you a buddhist now? Will we both become Buddhist nuns when we're 80? I can picture it.

P.S. Laura : Jesus H. Fucking Christ, so much for my staying off chat so as not to distract you from studying for the bar! 8-P

PPS. You're all quite brilliant and I'm proud to host your intensity busting loose on this blog!

Lisa Hirsch

Laura, I am reading Serena as saying personal power is more important than material/temporal power, or at least as denying that temporal power is very important. My reading could be wrong, but that is what I disagree with.

My own politics and social views tend to start by looking at how larger social structures and institutions influence people's lives. I am not saying that one's inner power isn't personally important, and potentially a source of energy for larger social change for the better, merely that everybody could have lots of inner personal power and still settle for the terrible social and economic inequalities that are all around us.

Debbie

Well, I got my wish for a Usenet thread ...

So many interesting things. Badger, have you read Toni Morrison's Jazz, which begins by discussing the role of the *smile* in the Pullman porters' union and how it was a point of freedom not to smile at each other when they weren't around passengers?

On a deeper note, I wonder if we aren't conflating two different kinds of politeness: there's a respectful politeness (I'm listening to you, I'm staying out of your personal space, I'm watching your cues and responding to them as requests) and there's a culturally-mandated politeness (by definition, this varies immensely: I'm saying "Salaam Aleikum" when we meet and part; I'm slapping you on the back; I'm not rubbing your shoulders without invitation; I'm not touching my nose in your presence; I'm letting you sit while I bring you food and drink). The former is probably also variable, and at the same time it has something in it that sidles up to the edge of the universal and asks to be let in, while the latter is simply contextual.

The one that can be used as a club (and thanks, Lori, for that insight on reciprocation) is the culturally-mandated one, which by its nature cannot be trusted when people from different cultures meet. I frequently say that if you think about how recent diversity is culturally around most of the world (particularly diversity among nominal "equals"), we do surprisingly well at getting along with each other, but we have an amazing amount to learn about cross-cultural "good manners" or even "safe choices."

Finally, I want to thank wired for that unpacking. How awful for you! And that's such a key point, that we are so many of us trained that control is more important than anything, and "politeness" is a manifestation of control. When my brother was 11 and in the hospital for a prolonged and scary time, he socked an intern, and I've always been more than a little proud of him for doing that.

serena

I do see the usefulness of civility in facilitating discussions -- but I also think training the privileged & powerful to tolerate some incivility would be useful. Otherwise there's a lot they'll never hear or understand.

Absolutely. The trick is to earn people's respect so thoroughly, with your habitual wisdom and courteous, dignified self-control, that when you DO fly off the handle, the shock value is so immense that they stop in their tracks and take in every word you're saying.

Are you a buddhist now? Will we both become Buddhist nuns when we're 80? I can picture it.

Nope. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, demanded a refund. Just porting the principles.

(And it isn't with "inner, personal power" that you change the world, unless you've discovered telepathy.

Actually, I have. ;-)

Voice and speech need breath, the combustion of oxygen, and nutrients to fuel the muscles that activate them at the brain's command.)

Well, yes, duh. All I'm saying is that you can be a much more effective tool for change, both mentally and physically, if you're coming from a place of inner peace, rather than constant rage and inner conflict. I'm not saying that this is easy. In fact, it is the biggest challenge we all face.

But trying to effect positive change in the external world while operating from a position of inner chaos is just not effective. Change takes place, I have observed, by a sort of harmonic induction. Chaos breeds chaos. Peace breeds peace.

As a tangent, I'm not saying either that 'peace' looks a certain way. A lot of times a peaceful reaction may look like Badger issuing authoritarian directions to a passel of clueless nurses in the hospital. It's much more about clarity than anything else.

serena

War, economic power, the law, wealth - human creations within our control.

Well, yes. But first of all, to some extent these things are an extension of human nature; they are only within our 'control' to the extent that we change or evolve in our own natures, to become less hostile, selfish and bigoted. (I've been starting to think, lately, that the human tendency toward genocide is a manifestation of cultural adolescence, that happens in nearly every culture, and cannot seem to be sidestepped or controlled. I don't want to believe this, but it looks that way.)

Second of all, they're only within our 'control' in a collective sense. No one person, not even George W. (maybe not even especially George W.) has the power to ordain the distribution of wealth, every single law, and every single war taking place over the surface of the earth.
Thus we have to learn to communicate effectively with one another in order to effect meaningful change.

Ergo, courtesy.

e

there's polite and then there's polite, or maybe there isn't. the "southern" kind, which drives me crazy, is ofen (usually) tinged with condescension. but some level of politeness is necessary nonetheless. i just came back from teaching my art camp kids and i had a hell of a time getting them to 1) share the supplies and 2) ask to share the supplies, i.e. ask "may if have some X, please?" instead of just grabbing it away from someone else and yelling "we have to share!" often escalating to hitting. after my nth repeitition of "what do we say?" an older girl who was observing observed, completely straight, "you know a lot about manners, don't you."

so in this brave new world, asking for something and saying please is construed as knowing a lot about manners. boy, we need to be careful what babies we throw out with which bathwater, or they may be our own.

Ide Cyan

Replying to Laura...

"punishment" I think is clearly understood by most people to involve a use of force

Appealing to popular opinion doesn't make it so. Punishment can be lots of things, from refusing to talk to somebody again, to taking away a child's toys, or calling someone names, or fining someone for breaking the law -- it most certainly is not just a matter of using force. Although force is *one* of the means by which a punishment can be put into effect if the person you're punishing doesn't accept it, it's not the only one.

You certainly can't punish someone by "force" over the internet, for instance.

Teaching *can* involve material power, but material power is not necessary to teach

Material power is necessary to do anything. It can be very little power, but the more there is to teach, the more time, access and energy will be required to transmit that information.

I would argue that, materially, the absolutist terms generally mask a significant amount of greyness, if only because there are so many axes of power.

There are, and of course the dynamics get complicated as you add more variables.

But I would disagree that that is the ONLY form of teaching politeness.

Did I say that it was? I wrote: "In cases of uncertain dominance, formalised dialogue can establish the attitudes of the participants to each other."

Dan Percival

Coming late to the party, referred from elsewhere -- this is a terrific conversation all 'round. I'm fascinated-but-not-knowledgable about the whole interrelation of civil society, exchange, and force, and now I'm enjoying having the lens of politeness as a way to look at it.

The inevitable responses (which, now that I look at it, all sprout from Idle Cyan's posts. So, Idle Cyan, thanks for something to think about!):

Punishment can be lots of things, from refusing to talk to somebody again, to taking away a child's toys, or calling someone names, or fining someone for breaking the law -- it most certainly is not just a matter of using force.

Interestingly, though, two of these examples of punishment without force are themselves unambiguous applications of force: taking something away from someone else based on your capability to enforce that transfer against their wishes. That isn't necessarily an argument against your basic point, which I take to be that disincentives (avoiding the word 'punishment') can be based on personal or community sanction as well as force.

You certainly can't punish someone by "force" over the internet, for instance.

So ISPs are free to ignore a DMCA takedown notice (delivered by e-mail, natch)?

Jokes aside, is this observation another way of phrasing the complaint that real, civil communication -- politeness, even -- is doomed in contexts that are wholly online because there are no consequences for being a troll?

And politeness is a *service*.
[...]
Asking for politeness is asking people to work for you.

...which leads to the interesting corrolary that mutual politeness is a barter of services. In that case, would it fair to say that both parties expect to be better off for the exchange?

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