Did PC arise to fill the missing manners gap?

With the publication of Jonathan Alter’s new book on the first year of the Obama administration, a lot of unsavory details are leaking out about No Drama Obama (Mr. Calm and Collected) and his crew.  We already know now that Obama refers to those Americans who oppose him as Tea Baggers, a sexually unsavory term.

Tough guy Rahmbo also has some bizarre sexual obsessions he regularly lets loose at the workplace:

Earlier leaks of the book have included some embarrassing portrayals of White House adviser Rahm Emanuel. New York magazine had some choice bits about Rahm’s anger at Bo, the Obama’s family dog (“I’m going to kill that fucking dog,” and his yelling to a male staffer: “Take your fucking tampon out and tell me what you have to say.”

Many of us should be asking ourselves about the wisdom of vesting such extraordinary power in a man with so much anger and so little self-control.  After all, he has first access to the president’s ear, yet he’s often little more than an Id waiting to explode.  Of course, since the whole Democratic party seems to be operating on the anger principle, perhaps he’s the perfect First Officer for a ship determined to ram (or, should I say, Rahm) itself, and the nation, onto the rocks.

Rahm’s workplace outbursts also raise an interesting question about the level and type of civility necessary for a society to function.  In times past, someone on the receiving end of  Rahm’s execrable behavior might have responded by saying “You, sir, are no gentleman” — and, a long time ago, even someone like Rahm might have been abashed.

If you doubt me, keep in mind that, in Jane Austen’s perennially popular Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennett, he was self-righteously angered by the erroneous factual accusations she threw at him, and was more than ready to defend himself.  What stopped him in his tracks, and brought him to his knees, was this statement (emphasis mine):

You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’

In a vanished time and place, Elizabeth made Mr. Darcy see, not that he had offended her, but that he had demeaned himself.

The notion of gentleman and ladies is an antiquated one, but I suspect that it’s much more culturally important than people realize.  I’ve long thought that it’s no coincidence that the whole PC insanity arose at the same time traditional manners declined.  Without agreed-upon manners, the average person lost a behavioral template.

In the old days, certain things just weren’t said in mixed company, or in the workplace, or in public.  With those rules lost, people grasped at anything that would smooth over the anger, roughness and chaos that arose in the vacuum crated when old-fashioned dignity and manners departed the stage.  PC was there to fill the gap.  While the Left created the PC rubric because it required carefully defined victim classes that could eventually override the existing American social and economic structure, most Americans were seeking new rules of civility just so they could get through the day.

Sadly, as Rahm’s lizard brain outbursts perfectly demonstrate, the new rules of civility do not focus on the individual who is speaking or acting.  This is an important nuance.  In the old days, a gentleman or a lady simply didn’t do certain things.  You were defined by your own conduct, conduct that you were expected to observe in every situation. That’s why Mr. Darcy could be so shattered by Elizabeth’s charge against him.  He had thought himself a gentlemen, bound by a code of conduct, and he had let his own pride and prejudices blind him to his own failings.

In our Brave New World, however, every rule is carefully calibrated to respond to the audience or recipient’s sensibilities.  We are defined, not be who we are, but by the person at the receiving end of our conversation.  What this means is that, if the person at the other end isn’t a specially protected class, anything goes.  Good-bye Mr. Darcy, who held high expectations for himself, and hello Rahmbo, who sees himself constrained only by the relative power and victim status of the person to him he speaks.

And we, the American public, end up with a gentlemen-free White House, a place in which both dogs and non-PC subordinates are fair game for a lizard brain executive who has the ear of the man whose hand hovers over myriad nuclear buttons, both real and metaphoric.

(h/t The New Editor and Ed Driscoll)

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  • Al

    I do not believe that the concept of Political Correctness arose to fill some perceived gap in civil discourse.  To me, both the PC concept and the use of foul language have the same purpose. They are linguistic attempts to control the discussion and the person exposed to the language. The PC behavior is more subtle. Explatives are crude. That’s the only difference. And there is nothing subtle about the current Administration.

  • Oldflyer

    I am not an Analyst, nor do I play one on TV; but, based on 75 years of observation I conclude that much of the rude and abusive behavior we see is a ruse to cover weakness and self-doubt.  Nothing new about that.  During my working years, in particular the Navy ones, it was apparent that the most effective leaders were by and large Gentlemen.  These men were secure in their selves, and at ease with their responsibilities.  They could be ruthless when necessary, but seldom abusive.  There were some who achieved higher rank and led through fear and bullying.  But over time people tired of the bullying and tuned it out.
    On the larger issue, the coarsening of society does not serve us well, at all.  We were often told as we rode the down escalator of societal standards that it was liberating.  It was not.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Of course there has always been a certain level of vulgarity and nastiness that just didn’t get reported outside of closed circles. If there was similar offensive language in FDRs or JFKs administration, few would have ever known about it.
    But also, I think that for most of history verbal aggression among men was held in check because if it went too far it might lead to (a)a fistfight or (b)among certain classes and at certain time periods, a potentially-fatal duel. As these risks have declined, more males have adopted verbal aggression on the “mean girls” pattern but adding a primarily-male flavor of vulgarity to the mix.

  • Oldflyer

    David Foster’s point is well taken.  Again, putting on my “Analyst’s” dunce cap, I would say that the societal and legal restraints on physical response to insult has encouraged the foul mouthed wimp.  Is that you Rahm?

  • suek

    A couple of observations.  First, there used to be two sets of standards – one was what was acceptable among males, and one that was applied to the male/female interaction.  I think David has it right  about the male/male interaction – either you were friends and everything was ok, or you were not, and violence ensued.  Violence today is grounds for arrest or a lawsuit (did you see the article the other day where a 70 yr old grandmother slapped her 18 year old granddaughter across the fact for language,  the granddaughter called the police, and the police arrested the grandmother?)  so people will say whatever they want.
    On the male/female thing, though…when I was much younger and considerably more alluring, I noticed that a certain amount of language and sexually oriented comments were the “pick-up” lines that some men used to test women’s receptiveness.  If you ignored the slightly off-color joke, or obviously disapproved of the language the man used, he took that as meaning you weren’t interested.  If you laughed at the joke, or came back with equally crude language, you were fair game, and he’d push to see if he could get something going.    That of course assumed that you might not be interested in some sort of sexual activity – nowadays, it seems as if the expectation of willingness is just assumed.
    One of the most difficult lessons to get across to young women today seems to be that they can control a social  situation (unless there’s actual violence).  They seem to think that they’re just will-o-the wisps at the mercy of males’ inclinations.  I don’t understand it.  I’m the one who grew up in a “male dominated society”, and they’re the ones who supposedly have all the female equality.  What went wrong?

  • Danny Lemieux

    I dunno. More often than not, pople using foul language fall in the category of weenies trying to sound tough.

  • Oldflyer

    Excellent point Suek.
    I blame women for the coarsening of society.  Women were supposed to set the standards of behavior, not get  in the gutter with the pigs.  Women have abrogated their responsibility.  I am teasing, of course.  But, the underlying point is serious.  When civil society lost a significant portion of its female population, it was doomed.
    I felt the same way about the progression of women into combat roles.  It wasn’t that women could not become ruthless and vicious warriors; it was a question of the impact on society if they did in significant numbers..  I was clearly out of step with the times, but I have become accustomed to that status.