Thursday, July 21, 2016

What Constitutes A Polite Society?

You've almost certainly heard this famous quote from the story "Beyond This Horizon" by science fiction author Ray Bradbury ...

"An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life."

There's been some discussion over exactly what Bradbury meant to say with this line in the context of the story, but there's no doubt at all that it is taken at face value by present-day gun rights advocates, particularly those who support the right to carry firearms, openly or concealed, at all times and in all places. In a 2000 essay titled "Armed Citizens are Responsible Citizens," William Levinson wrote,

     "The common perception is that armed societies were polite because an act of rudeness might evolve into a duel, as portrayed in Dumas' The Three Musketeers. The real reason, though, is the mindset and psychology that come with responsible weapon ownership [emphasis in the original]. The knight's sword was a symbol of his duty to protect weaker members of society and behave chivalrously, e.g. with respect and courtesy to women, elderly people, and so on. The sword was the soul of the Japanese samurai, a constant reminder of the samurai's duty and code of behavior. The sword was a symbol of taking responsibility, not only for one's self, but usually for others. 
     "The modern American who buys a firearm for self-protection is saying, "I recognize that life involves danger, and by owning a weapon I accept my responsibility to protect myself and those who are entitled to my protection-- my wife/husband, children, parents, and perhaps friends and neighbors."

The events of the last few weeks lead me to question Mr Levinson's concept of "the mindset and psychology that come with responsible gun ownership" because responsibility is something that nowadays plays second fiddle to freedom. I would argue that it is not responsible to openly carry a weapon into a volatile situation where violence might break out at any time ... the responsible thing to do would be to avoid such a situation if at all possible, or at least to not take actions that might make it worse. Comparing an open-carry advocate to a chivalrous knight or a samurai seems a bit of a stretch.

Obviously, advocates of gun ownership and ostentatious open carry would disagree.

But the issue is, to me, not one of whether or not packing heat everywhere is a good idea ... although I don't think it is. The issue is what makes a society polite.

I grew up in a time in which people in general were much more polite and respectful toward one another than they are today. My parents and the parents of most of my friends placed a great deal of emphasis on personal probity and good manners, and raised us to do the same. Nowadays, it seems that civility and good manners are considered marks of weakness. You don't build "street cred" by being polite ... you build it by getting in everyone's face. One need only look at the behavior of Donald Trump to see how low our standards of personal decorum have dropped.

In his 1998 book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, Stephen L. Carter wrote that

"Civility requires that we express ourselves in ways that demonstrate our respect for others."

 Good luck finding that civility in the current overheated presidential campaign, where respectful and polite discourse vanished long ago. We are preparing to choose a president based on our relative evaluation of the brutal ad hominem attacks that have taken the place of detailed discussion of important issues of policy.

In a polite society, people strongly disagree with each other, but treat each other with dignity and respect. We can dislike the ideas but be civil toward the person expressing them. No more.

I have been accused of hypocrisy on this topic because, while advocating civility and politeness, I present my Ass Clown awards in this blog. While my intent is not mean-spirited, the presentation of such an award isn't especially civil, and perhaps I should work toward morphing those awards into something more satirically pointed and less vulgar. I guess I'll work on that.

But to get back to my original point, from which I think I've wandered ... let me just wrap this up by suggesting that if we need to pack heat to enforce politeness, we're screwed. We just need to treat each other better. We need people to show that they're of a better ... caliber.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for our second July iteration of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. More thoughts then.



Chuck Bear said...

Somewhere we lost the idea that being civil is desirable. That is making it more likely that violence will happen.

Mike said...

If Trump manages to win, I may be buying a gun. And then I'll be building a big wall around my house.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

It's hard to rise above provocations, and there are many nowadays. Such stupidity, such unproductiveness. I'm sick of it all.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Nothing wrong with the Ass Clown awards. P.C. need not raise its oppressive head.

Duckbutt said...

The Clay Bennett cartoon went with it well. Civility seems to be out of date.

John Hill said...

Fortunately most of the people I deal with on a regular basis are fairly polite. I don't have much time to give to jerks.