In our present age, much of our political behavior is conditioned by our response to the strictures of political correctness and the imposition of speech codes so restrictive they inhibit all human spontaneity. In 1897 Joseph Conrad wrote a novel entitled "The Nigger of the Narcissus," about a black sailor named James Wait and his powerful influence on the crew of a sailing ship, the Narcissus. So apparently the word was not burdened with the sinister taboo it has acquired over the last 100 years. The approved appellation for the black race today is African-Americans and blacks. A U.S. senator was recently excoriated for using the word, negro, which had been discontinued, probably because of its phonetic similarity to 'nigger.' In fact, many southerners had begun to use the construction 'nigras' as a concession to liberal sensitivities. So as soon as one word is dropped from the lexicon of approved usage another acquires the opprobrium of a taboo. This would seem to indicate that consideration of the feelings of blacks is secondary to the feelings of righteousness felt by those imposing politicallly correct usage on others, and especially on their ideological opponents.
But before political correctness became such a lethal form of censorship, there was something called correct manners. If one did not set one's table with a white tablecloth, one was deemed a barbarian. If a woman's panty line was visible under a tight skirt, she was reprimanded and sent home. Welcome to the world of Emily Post.
In The Mechanical Bride, Marshall McLuhan had this to say about Emily Post:
ROCK OF BEHAVIOR, norm of conduct, guide for the perplexed from the cradle to the grave. Her name itself is a greater asset than anything she says and is better than anything a Harry Conover agency could have contrived to inspire the relevant kind of public interest.
The descendants of uncourtly and anti-frilly Puritans could be expected to take their social life with a degree of deliberate rigour and implacable precision. These qualities are amply provided by Emily Post. A commercial society whose members are essentially ascetic and indifferent in social ritual has to be provided with blueprints and specifications for evoking the right tone for every occasion. The same spirit rules the erection of historical sets in Hollywood. Accuracy without vitality or spontaneity. Creative confidence can only be permitted in neutral social territories dominated by the adolescent or by Greenwich Village. Here manners and taste have free play. But where money transactions are somehow at stake, panic enters the socially spotlighted host or hostess. "It's got to be just right if it kills us." And both rectitude and ostentation are best secured by adherence to a mechanical and arbitrary code. So that the socially immature cling aggressively to the books of Emily Post with the same baleful discomfort as the mentally exempt latch onto Reader's Digest. Hope for this situation increases daily with the self-consciousness and uneasiness of those still umbilically attached to such guides.
Alas, we have departed from the original purpose of manners, a proper consideration for the feelings and well-being of others, to correctness for its own sake. It's as if we have made a bargain with a higher power, that if we adhere with obsessive perfectionism to a prescribed set of manners we will be rewarded in Heaven for our virtue. The mechanical imposition of manners can release a flurry of aggressions: it can be a status symbol defining social class, or a weapon with which we pummel social inferiors. Thus the imposition of correctness is a modus operandi that permeates our society not only to suppress political speech and put political adversaries on the defensive, but as a way of manipulating and controlling others on a personal level.
In Tract by William Carlos Williams we learn the true purpose and meaning of ceremony:
by William Carlos Williams
I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral--
for you have it over a troop
unless one should scour the world--
you have the ground sense necessary.
See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ's sake not black--
nor white either--and not polished!
Let it be weathered--like a farm wagon--
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.
Knock the glass out!
My God--glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
how well he is housed or to see
the flowers or the lack of them--
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass--
and no upholstery, phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom--
my townspeople what are you thinking of?
A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.
No wreaths please--
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes--a few books perhaps--
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
something will be found--anything
even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse.
For heaven's sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that's no place at all for him--
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down--bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! I'd not have him ride
on the wagon at all--damn him--
the undertaker's understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!
Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind--as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly--
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What--from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us--it will be money
in your pockets.
I think you are ready.
Fankboner Articles List
Copyright 2013 William Fankboner
Most recent articles:
Islam's Love-Hate Relationship with America and the West
Wm. B. Fankboner
August 30, 2013
Where did Islam go wrong? How could the society that created the Taj Mahal and Alhambra, and great cultural centers like Agra, Cordoba, and Granada, degenerate into a conflict-ridden cesspool of failed states? How did Arabic, the language that preserved so much of Greek Science and philosophy, become a medium for anti-intellectualism and obscurantism? In their obsession over not being seen as Islamophobic, in their purblind insistence that aggressive supremacism is not the nature of mainstream Islam, European elites assume that they know Islam better than did such Muslim giants as Ataturk and his contemporary, Hassan al-Banna -- the Muslim Brotherhood founder who notoriously wrote that "it is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated" and that Islam sought "to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet."
The God Conspiracy: A Confirmed Agnostic Probes the Mind of a Devout Catholic
Wm. B. Fankboner
Aug 25, 2013
If we identify institutions, civil or religious, by their worst exemplars, none pass muster. This is the grand strategy of militant atheists to discredit religion across the boards--to taint Christianity with the burning of heretics, Hinduism with the Thuggee, and Judaism with the extermination of the Canaanites. The temptation for secularists must be irresistible, but were we to apply the same exclusionary logic to other imperfect institutions, like constitutional government, based on (say) the performance of the Iranian parliament or the People's Assembly of North Korea, we would forswear civilization itself. The institution of religion is not maintenance-free: like democracy and free market capitalism, it is a work in progress. It makes as much sense to purge society of religion because of corrupt clerics as it does to discard capitalism because of a few greedy investment bankers.
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