America’s loss of self-control

It’s not only that our culture is more emotional and violent; it’s that those behaviors are now considered virtuous.

America’s news is filled with stories of rage-driven violence. Just the other day, there was a tragic story about a father of six killed in a road rage incident. It didn’t happen on a freeway near some famously violent urban area. It happened in Washington state. My first thought was that, thanks to lockdowns and political fighting, we live in a very angry age. My second thought, which I’ll develop in this post, is that we live in an emotionally incontinent era and one, moreover, that leftists deliberately foisted on us as part of their using race to gain power.

George Washington had very limited schooling compared to the other Founding Fathers (especially James Madison), although he was probably more learned than most graduating high school students in America. When he was 16, both as a penmanship exercise and to improve himself both in morals and behavior, Washington copied out The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, 110 maxims that French Jesuits had compiled at the end of the 16th century and that were translated into English in the 17th century.

These rules originated when the Western world was slowly civilizing. The rising rule of law meant that slights, insults, and offensive behavior no longer resulted in an instant stand-off that often left one or both combatants dead. Instead, people sought to control their impulses, lest they find themselves facing, not the obnoxious guy at the party, but the state. The state, with its concentrated power — police, judge, jury, and executioner — encouraged people to behave in a more peaceable way, either to avoid the state altogether or to have a better case when the state caught up with them.

Additionally, and this is a guess on my part, a rising middle class was anxious to learn how to behave in a way that reflected each member’s gentility. And, clearly, gentility and self-control were supposed to be a matched set. Thus, the Jesuits were writing for a world in which people wanted and needed to behave graciously.

Thirty years ago and more, many of the rules would have struck us as amusing because they urged behavior that was so much a long-standing part of Western culture that it never needed to be voiced once people passed the age of 3 or 4. This one, for example: “When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered” or “Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Dressed.”

When I grew up, nobody needed to tell that to an adult! Now we do. Public nudity, once anathema in the Christian West, is slowly becoming normative. We don’t think of it as an anti-Christian attitude, but it is because the Bible espouses modesty.

Many of the rules have been superseded by technology, such as this one: “Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.” That’s not going to be a problem in America today (although it may be once again if the Democrats succeed in destroying fossil fuel).

This one, too, is dated: Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.” There are also multiple rules about honoring people of higher status that, for now, are irrelevant in America.

Some of the rules, though, are about core human nature. Observing them creates a more civil environment for all, one in which people behave with a certain amount of respect for each other because they consider the other person’s needs as well as their own (or, sometimes, place them before their own). These rules are or should be timeless:

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are Present.


3 Show Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.

4 In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.

5 If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.

6 Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.

7 Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Dressed.


22 Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

23 When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always show Pity to the Suffering Offender.

24 Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.


44 When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.


49 Use no Reproachful Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.

50 Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.

51 Wear not your cloths, foul, or ripped, or dusty, but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleanness.

52 In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places.

53 Run not in the Streets, neither go too slowly nor with Mouth open; go not Shaking of Arms, nor upon the Toes, nor in a Dancing fashion.


56 Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.


59 Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act against the Rules Moral before your inferiors.


65 Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.

66 Be not froward but friendly and Courteous; the first to Salute hear and answer & be not Pensive when it’s a time to Converse.

67 Detract not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.


74 When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended.


76 While you are talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse nor Approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face.


86 In Disputes, be not So Desirous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.


105 Be not Angry at Table whatever happens & if you have reason to be so, Show it not but on a Cheerful Countenance especially if there be Strangers, for Good Humor makes one Dish of Meat a Feast.


109 Let your Recreations be Manful not Sinful.

110 Labor to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.

Whether Washington copied these rules just to learn penmanship or not, he took them seriously and was renowned for his good manners and exquisite self-control.

In the centuries since Washington’s time, most Americans considered that self-control was virtuous. Indeed, only pockets of the American South were they were ignored entirely.

One of the reasons northerners thought so poorly of Southerners (and I’m summarizing Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals when I write this) is that those Southerners who were descended from Scots-Irish settlers violated these precepts. It wasn’t just that they had bad table manners. It was that they were intemperate, promiscuous spendthrifts who were not only quick to anger but who also relished anger and its violent consequences.

Sowell notes further that Southern blacks learned this behavior and took it to the urban areas in which they relocated. Worse, they began to consider it their true heritage when, in fact, they were just copying the worst Scots-Irish, white, southern manners and priorities. The result was that, while white Southerners began to abandon this conduct in the 20th century, blacks, because they mistakenly believed it was “true” black culture, often did not.

Where this has left us is that, in the 20th century, when Southerners finally abandoned their Scots-Irish values and accepted the precepts of self-control (in theory, if not always in practice), most white Americans embraced self-control. Many also blacks accepted these rules. These were the blacks who, once slavery ended, did everything they could to raise themselves up economically and culturally. They were the ones who benefitted from the Civil Rights movement, climbing up America’s socio-economic ladder (like Michelle Obama’s family). The blacks who stuck with the Scots-Irish model of emotional incontinence remained mired in Compton and the South Side of Chicago. 

That was the status quo for decades.

In the 21st century, though, there’s been a sea change. Leftists decided that there was a political benefit to be had from encouraging racism in America. One of the things they did was to denigrate “white culture.” Everything whites did was “privileged” and “toxic.” Rather than looking at behaviors as good for people or bad for people, they castigated as evil behaviors in which whites engaged. The corollary is that they upheld as virtuous any behaviors in which “pure” blacks, the ones who weren’t “oreos” and “acting white” engaged. Those allegedly “black” behaviors, of course, are the worst traits of those long-ago Scots-Irish immigrants.  The lack of self-control is not a society-destroying rampage; it’s an antidote to “toxic white privilege.”

And no, I’m not making that up. Just think of the garbage that emerged from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (“NMAAHC”) back in 2020. In the following chart, in which the NMAAHC classifies “white” behaviors that, it implies, are bad things imposed on hapless blacks, I’ve highlighted the rules that focus on the types of self-control that the French Jesuits, George Washington, and most Americans before the 21st century would recognize as virtuous and helpful for a society that functions well and is prosperous.

Because of the push to bind allies to race, and to denigrate high-functioning, civil behaviors as “white,” is that we no longer value self-control as a civic and moral virtue. The result is that it’s not just those inner-city blacks who are behaving like old-time white Scots-Irish immigrants. We’re watching our entire society become emotionally incontinent.

We see it everywhere: Road rage, mass shootings by unhappy people, airport brawls, murderous fights at youth sports, incivility in daily interactions in businesses and with government, and screaming protesters, whether crazy white women shouting for Black Lives Matters or unfettered abortions, or the increasingly violent so-called “transgender” crowd. Importantly, I’m not talking about criminal conduct. I’m talking about emotional responses untempered by any manners or self-control. Those behaviors are no longer denigrated conduct on the margins of society; they are, instead, virtues that occupy the apex of society.

I keep saying that leftists are pushing us to a pre-modern world and it’s not going to look like the pretty, green, and gracious world of a BBC Jane Austen production. We are reverting to a time of unfettered violent behavior, mob rule, rampant antisemitism, earth worship, human sacrifice, and of cold, dark, and dirt. After millennia, humans had finally climbed out of the pit of poverty, hunger, and violence, only to have the leftists work hard to cast us back again.

Image; Peasants’ Brawl by Sebald Beham, 1547.