Thursday, November 18, 2004

R.A. Heinlein and an ailing culture 

This is an interesting diary post on DailyKos, on the words of R.A. Heinlein. I've included the entire diary post, and my comment, posted at the end:

I'd read this before in Heinlein's terrific novel 'Friday,' but had forgotten it. I tripped across it online a few minutes ago, and found it struck a chord.

What are the marks of a sick culture?

It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn't the whole population.

A very bad sign. Particularism. It was once considered a Spanish vice but any country can fall sick with it. Dominance of males over females seems to be one of the symptoms.

Before a revolution can take place, the population must lose faith in both the police and the courts.

High taxation is important and so is inflation of the currency and the ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll. But that's old hat; everybody knows that a country is on the skids when its income and outgo get out of balance and stay that way - even though there are always endless attempts to wish it away by legislation. But I started looking for little signs and what some call silly-season symptoms.

I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course - but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking away at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down. Oh, conscription and slavery and arbitrary compulsion of all sorts and imprisonment without bail and without speedy trial - but those things are obvious; all the histories list them.

I think you have missed the most alarming symptom of all. This one I shall tell you. But go back and search for it. Examine it. Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms as you have named... But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot.

This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength. Look for it. Study it.

This, I believe, is why Heinlein wrote about the future -- he had a tremendous grasp of history, and how it could repeat, to our detriment and sorrow.

To me, this hits much too close to home.

My response:

I agree with most of Heinlan's words... (none / 0)
but I have a hard time with the manners part. I suppose sometimes I feel manners can mask valid objections, even outrage, doubt and confusion, distrust. If we are too mannered to speak the truth, our truth,  to each other, then what use is manners? I've noticed that speaking one's truth can occasionally involve obscenities. I see nothing wrong with this, unless one is cursing someone out. Obscenities can punctuate the truth at times. I've passionately stated my point of view, with my voice rising, never shouting though, with Bush supporters, though I can imagine there are some instances in which shouting is not only needed it is necessary.

These are difficult times, and requires some willingness to experiment with language and its presentation. Blunt words with an occasional obscenity can sometimes break through delusion and denial. This is worth a diary post in and of itself, don't you think?

Bad manners can mean different things to different people, but to me it is condescension, or ignoring others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. So yes, in that regard, bad manners are rampant.