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)

About the “R” word

Much is being made lately of the fact that Rahm Emanuel is being exposed as somewhat who berates people in meetings by calling them “retards.”  I don’t expect any better of Rahm Emanuel who is, by all accounts, an extraordinary boor and bully.  He’s also yet another example of the fact that the Left, by using government might to impose speech and thought codes regarding various minority groups, feels that it owns those groups and can insult them with impunity.

My usual tropes about the Left’s crudity, though, is just a lead in to something I really want to talk about here, which is the “R” word:  Retard.  It’s used as an insult, and activist groups want to strip it from people’s vocabularies.  That’s a laudable, but ultimately foolish, effort.  The problem isn’t with the word, it’s with the reality behind the word, which is that there are now, and always will be, people who have mental disabilities.

Good human beings, being of kindness and moral worth, would not insult mentally disabled people to their faces, nor would they use whatever label happens to be applied to those people as an insult to others.  For example, whether someone is described as having “Down syndrome; ” being “mentally disabled” (today’s PC generic term); being a “mongoloid” (that was the old polite term when I was growing up); or being “mentally retarded” (the generic polite term for all mentally handicapped people when I was growing up) I would never use any one of those terms as an insult.

Someone like Rahm, though, whether he’s a 9 year old bully on the playground or a middle aged bully in the White House, will use any one of those terms as an insult because it’s not the term that matters — it’s the thought behind it.  To Rahm, the mentally disabled are stupid and defective, and the people who don’t get with his program are stupid and defective.  It’s all the same to him.

That’s the problem with trying to police language.  Some terms are meant from their inception to be rude and insulting.  (I won’t repeat them here, but you can imagine them.)  Others, however, degrade over time because the words become associated with a condition or race or orientation that is viewed in a negative light, no matter how well-meaning polite people are.  So we keep changing terms.  The classic example, one that I keep getting back to, is the way in which people with genetic roots in Africa keep changing the label by which they wish to be called, because they perceive others using that label in a negative way:  Colored, Negro, Black, African-American, People of Color.  Each time that the term seems to be pejorative, someone gets the bright idea to change it — but the associations with that label don’t change.  (Although I would argue, strongly, that American’s prejudice has changed substantially in the years between “Colored” and “People of Color.”)

It’s absolutely true that vocabulary can affect thought.  Orwell certainly understood that.  It’s also true, though, that there are some prejudices that linger inside people that are resistant to mere language changes.  For Rahm, everyone who doesn’t instantly agree in all ways with him is manifestly a mental failure — and what better shorthand than the current politically correct term, whatever that term happens to be on a given day, for people who have cognitive disabilities?   In other words, the problem here isn’t words at all, it’s debased people in political office.

Just another reminder, as if we needed one, that substance will invariably triumph over Leftist PC manipulation.  The PC manipulation can damage society profoundly, but it can’t ultimately change human nature — especially when the human nature at issue is someone who is mean, condescending, demeaning, and ill-mannered.

Manners, my friends, manners

For years, I’ve argued to anyone who cared to listen, that the need for PC goop, sensitivity training and hyper sexual harassment laws coincided very precisely with the decline in manners.  I don’t have any data to support this, just common sense.  In the old, mannered days, good manners dictated a few huge do-nots:  you do not discuss sex in the office; you do not insult people in the office; you do not try to proselytize your religion in the office.  In the office, you confine your talk to neutral subjects such as work (now there’s a novel concept); the weather (even Gilbert & Sullivan approved); and you make pleasantly neutral conversation about people’s appearance (“new haircut?”  “nice shirt” etc.)

All that changed in the 1960s, when manners suddenly became reactionary and passe.  Suddenly, it was de rigeur to regale your workmates with your sexual exploits.  And letting it all hang and out and being honest demanded that, if you thought someone was physically attractive, you described those attractions in the most graphic terms.  Likewise, if you didn’t like someone, what better thing to do than tell them why, in equally graphic terms.  Neutral topics and polite work conversation were for grandparents.  Our generation kept it “real.”

No wonder, then, that sexual harassment and racial discrimination, instead of dying out in the workplace with the Civil Rights era and equity feminism, suddenly became a land mine for every employer in America.  Just as the employers finally figured out that you can’t treat people differently based on race, gender, creed, country of national origin, etc., their employees stopped being able to keep their mouths shut.  Bad policies that used to come down from the top, and could properly be barred by law, trickled down to become the water cooler conversation of the ill-mannered — subject to all sorts of costly civil litigation, and state and federal penalties, against the employers.

I mention all this because of Bill Whittle’s righteous outrage at being forced to attend a sexual harassment seminar.  Even as he recognized that his employer required the seminar to protect itself from lawsuits, and that the person teaching the seminar had the best intentions, he was deeply offended at being assumed to be a sexual perpetrator or racial harasser, rather than a mannered gentleman whose mama raised him right.