Friday Flotsam: Grumpy Talk Mostly of Manners and Values

1. I’ve been oddly tired this week; it’s been hard for me to make myself do any work or focus on anything. I don’t know whether it’s depression, low blood-sugar (I’m fasting for Advent), adverse spiritual influence, or some combo. Probably a combo.

2. There are ways to reach superficially similar effects through morally opposite means, and the problem is that the effects generally have the same name, even though they’re actually completely different. Classic example of this: one may achieve something that goes by the name of ‘peace’ either by being a milquetoast coward or through a genuine desire to do unto others as you would have them do to you. Most of the time, ‘peace’ and ‘tolerance’ and such are only a shield used to discourage people we don’t like and / or want to control.

You can tell the difference by how consistently it’s applied and whether it costs the person something. Pacifists who dutifully shut their eyes or shrug their shoulders at, say, the atrocities of the Spanish Republicans are not pacifists but partisans engaged in psychological warfare.

3. This came to mind when I realized that many people group political correctness with ‘manners’. And right after that, I spotted a ‘recommended article’ titled “Towards a Kinder, Gentler Gamer” (my immediate reaction: “Oh, **** off!”). To my mind, manners are a certain elegance and command of behavior designed to facilitate ease of interaction; a secondary language of gestures and word choice allowing men to convey suitable levels of respect. Not an ever-shifting labyrinth of ‘preferred terms’.

Besides, any society where the ‘F’ word can be regularly dropped into conversation and many an office is a free-range freakshow is not overburdened with manners.

4. By the way, I’m not going to say “This can be taken too far” or anything. I’m so sick of that concession; of course anything can be taken too far! Constantly stapling that onto the end of every statement of morality or adding in counterpoints (e.g. “We also need compassion”) dulls the impact of everything you say and leaves it a gray, verbal soup. Manners – genuine manners – are a good thing. Period. You want to talk about instances where they’re taken too far or problems they can create, that’s another conversation.

5. The upshot of this is that there are things which are in themselves bad or flaws, but which testify to a fundamentally healthy personality. Competitiveness and aggression can lead to cruelty and a lack of compassion, but being aggressive and seeking to win is itself a good trait to have. A fearful, thin-skinned rejection of the competition itself is evidence of a deeper lack that is more to be lamented than being overly aggressive.

The goal is not to remake nature, but to cooperate and control it. The ideal is one who is competitive, but compassionate and respectful to those he defeats and who loses with a good grace. But failing that, competitiveness and courage is better than a ‘compassion’ that is really the result of the inability to do otherwise.

6. Thought of the morning: many modern writers seem think they’re clever for noticing that real life is not like fiction. Yes, most non-children understand that. Walt Disney was making that point in Song of the South back in 1946. Find a better way to make yourself feel smart.

7. That all came out a bit grumpier than I thought. See item number one. I’m glad it’s almost the weekend.

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