This is topic Does safety turn us into jerks? My theory about swords and politeness. in forum Books, Films, Food and Culture at Hatrack River Forum.

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Posted by Slash the Berzerker (Member # 556) on :
I'm sure someone somewhere has already done an exhaustive study on this topic, but I've never read it.

I have always sort of felt like we are too safe from the consequences of our actions nowadays. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you flip him the bird. Both of you feel relatively safe in performing these rude actions. We all hear about the guy who shoots at the car that cut him off, but it is rare enough to be anomaly, and surely it will never happen to us.

We get into angry and epithet filled arguments with total strangers nearly at the drop of a hat. I have been cussed out for walking too slowly down the sidewalk, for glancing at someone's girlfriend, for waving my hand in front of my face when someone blew a cloud of cigarette smoke into my path.

And if I decided to haul off and punch the smoke blower who cussed me out, I would be taken to jail, and he could tell all his friends in righteously indignant tones about the crazy person he ran into. We are insulated from the consequences of rudeness by society.

I am a history buff, and I am always amazed by the elaborate and formal politeness rituals that show up in ancient societies amongst whatever social classes were allowed to carry arms. Is it that these people were just naturally more polite? Or is it possible that when you lived in a society where a person was allowed to stab you to death for being rude, it encouraged politeness?

I mean, people would still get mad at each other. They would still hurl insults at the right provocation, but there would be this understanding that someone could die when it was all said and done. It would tend to separate the minor slights from the major ones pretty quickly. Every urge to insult would be tied to the thought, "Is this worth dueling to the death over?"

I think this idea was reinforced to me, when I spent time with people who live inside a very violent subculture. I got to know some people who were involved in asian gangs in SoCal. They all carried guns. And they were very rude and aggressive with people outside their culture. But they had the beginnings of these elaborate politeness formalities forming for dealings inside the culture. You see it in the black gangs as well. This constant reference to 'respect'. It has nothing to do with respect, really. It just has to do with speaking and acting differently when dealing with someone who also carries a gun, and is just as likely to pull it as you are.

I think that if the gang cultures continued on for another hundred years, there would be this really elaborate formal politeness used by gang members when dealing with each other. I think we are seeing the proto stages of it right now. After enough people get shot over something silly, the survivors will start looking for ways to not start fights with each other.

So, after all my rambling, the idea is the same as when it started. We as a society are mostly protected from the consequences of rudeness. No one expects the target of their tirade to pull out a rapier and stab them. Are we breeding politeness out of the race?
Posted by Jim-Me (Member # 6426) on :
Isn't it an old British saying that "an armed society is a polite society"?
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
Posted by Storm Saxon (Member # 3101) on :

Gangs, 'armed' gangs, have been around forever.

Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :
Actually, some guy was stabbed by the guy he cut off in a road rage incident the next town over from me.

In New Hampshire, we take "live free or die" very seriously.
Posted by Slash the Berzerker (Member # 556) on :
rebuttal of quibble/

Yes, but any armed gang that survives long enough becomes part of the establishment.

IE Successful robbers build towers and take over territories thus becoming lords who then deal with other lords who then form countries under one uber successful lord and everyone is still carrying a sword and they develop these really elaborate formalities for dealing with each other.

/rebuttal of quibble
Posted by Shan (Member # 4550) on :
fascinating thoughts, Stormy . . .

*wanders off to ponder them some more*

*particularly the thoughts that being horribly teased as a child didn't stop until she got tough and crazy enough to kick butt*
Posted by sndrake (Member # 4941) on :

I'm too lazy to try to dig around for specific culturual examples. But even assuming your premise is true - about politeness in the classes allowed to carry weapons - I believe that in many cases that formality only extended to peers.

In caste-bound societies - most of the historical examples - there was pretty much an assumed right to use those weapons against those outside of the group or below one in caste. You could almost argue that gangs DO operate that way today. There is "relatively" little serious violence within a given gang, member against member. Violence is directed at rival gangs or those outside of the gang culture altogether.

Edit: It's getting to be pretty late in the day when I can't remember the name of the person I'm replying to. Fortunately, in this culture, this is no cause for me to fall on my sword even if I had one. [Wink]

[ April 27, 2004, 03:21 PM: Message edited by: sndrake ]
Posted by jebus202 (Member # 2524) on :
I try to be polite to armed gang members.
Posted by aretee (Member # 1743) on :
Slash, I agree. Look at the formalities and the respect shown in the Mafia. (Not Asian, but Italian) You see the same thing. Would adultry slow if the husband of the mistress could still challenge her lover to a duel?

My fiance says people have become more aggressive drives because brake technology is much better and that has enhanced people's sense of safety. Can that be part of it as well?

[ April 27, 2004, 03:33 PM: Message edited by: aretee ]
Posted by Alexa (Member # 6285) on :
Slash and artee (sp?),

Great question and insight. I once had an economics teacher pull out figures on how with each safety improvement there was a positive correlation to accidents.

The solution he read was to put a giant spike on everyone’s steering wheel. I bet if we did that, we would have much more cautious drivers.
[Evil Laugh]
Posted by Paul Goldner (Member # 1910) on :
You should read Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. I think you'd like it [Smile]
Posted by Slash the Berzerker (Member # 556) on :

I agree. I was not making any assertions that the weaponed nobility was more polite to anyone outside their caste. The opposite was clearly true.

They were more polite to those with the same ability to cause harm that they had. Which is sort of my point.
Posted by ak (Member # 90) on :
I always suspected that the fact that we're all armed to the teeth here in the south is part of the reason we're so polite.
Posted by Farmgirl (Member # 5567) on :
I don't know, Slash -- thinking about the cowboys in the early days of the plains -- they carried their six-shooters, and they understood that if they were to cheat at the poker game, it could mean instant death -- but that didn't KEEP them from cheating. Especially if they saw it as a challenge see if they could not be caught.

Of course, maybe as many didn't cheat, I don't know. But the threat of death hasn't ever totally kept people from doing impolite things, because they are usually spontaneous and not-well-thought-out.

Posted by Slash the Berzerker (Member # 556) on :
The period of time in which cowboys wandered the streets and saloons packing their six shooters was extremely short. I mean, the street gang the Crips has been around for about the same duration.

And I would argue that people are less impetuous when life and death are on the line.
Posted by Rhaegar The Fool (Member # 5811) on :
Well, If you look at feudal age Bushido Japan and the Samurai caste, I think people really used to more polite, because if you were not polite then any Samurai could cut off your head, even if you were being insulting to say a bartender and he happened to hear it. I think America needs to start wearing swords, preferably light calvary sabers from the Napolenoic period.
Posted by romanylass (Member # 6306) on :
Hmmm, so if I wear my sword on my hip, will people be more polite to me? (is that vene legal, if I keep it in plain view?? Anyone??)
Posted by JohnKeats (Member # 1261) on :
My History teacher used to say:

"If everyone in the world had a gun, there would only be three kinds of people in the world: the Quick, the Dead and The Polite."
Posted by Storm Saxon (Member # 3101) on :
Slash, to extend your rebuttal, once those gangs become lords, they disarm everyone else, or just leave everyone else with pocket knives for defense; or take away their crypto. The society that you're talking about, where everyone is armed, is kind of an extension of the anarchist principle, and no group in power will ever allow it.

Another thought that I have is that there is a difference between having a gun and being willing ot use a gun. The people in society who are willing to use a gun to get what they want at the drop of a hat--the dicks, the jerks, the jackasses--are going to rule everyone else strictly because of the simple fact that they are dicks, jerks, and jackasses and don't care about what anyone else thinks.
Posted by ak (Member # 90) on :
There are a lot of otherwise peaceful people who think of it as a civic duty to rid the world of people like that, though.
Posted by Storm Saxon (Member # 3101) on :
Well, sure. Organization and training are always going to win over sheer nastiness. But one on one? That's a different story, I think.
Posted by Slash the Berzerker (Member # 556) on :
Well, to be honest, I don't subscribe to the "everyone should wear a six shooter" philosophy. I am just speculating on why we feel so free to be rude to each other in modern society.

I am wondering if part of it is our feeling that we are safe in doing so.
Posted by Storm Saxon (Member # 3101) on :
Oh, I don't disagree with you at all. It's very prominent on the internet. People will say things to your face that they wouldn't dare to say in real life because they know they are, by and large, safe from your wrath.
Posted by Richard Berg (Member # 133) on :
Isn't it an old British saying that "an armed society is a polite society"?
I've always attributed this to Heinlein, but it could predate him.
Posted by saxon75 (Member # 4589) on :
Back in college, The Genuine told me that archaeologists studying Ancient Egypt once found hieroglyphics that translated (roughly) to "Every generation is lower and less polite than the previous."
Posted by Xaposert (Member # 1612) on :
I think our society right now is pretty polite, as far as societies go - almost too polite, in a way.

However, even if this theory were to be true, I'd definitely rather risk being insulted than risk being shot. It's a great tradeoff.
Posted by Unmaker (Member # 1641) on :
:wishes he had a sword:
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
<-- has a sword
Posted by Frisco (Member # 3765) on :
Swords didn't keep that guy from mouthing off to Grignr, did they?
Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :
I always suspected that the fact that we're all armed to the teeth here in the south is part of the reason we're so polite.

Anne Kate completely has a point there.


I also have a sword. So does Ken. And we can use them.

Posted by punwit (Member # 6388) on :
Not to be rude but the premise seems almost oxymoronic. If everyone had the right to be extremely rude (chopping off your arm or shooting you) we would be less rude as a society?
Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :
*chops off punwit's arm*

That'll learn ya.
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
punwit, chopping off your arm would not be rude.


--|-- mack

[ April 28, 2004, 07:42 AM: Message edited by: Kama ]
Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :
*chops off Kama's hand*
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
Oh? I still have one more:

Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :
*chops off Kama's other hand*
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :

Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :
And that'll learn YOU. [Big Grin]
Posted by Beren One Hand (Member # 3403) on :
*stays away from Mack, for I have but one hand to give*

I already knew Kama had a swrod. [Smile]
Posted by punwit (Member # 6388) on :
Kama, I believe chopping off my arm would be extremely rude.
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
It's not rudeness. It's the consequence of you being rude.
Posted by punwit (Member # 6388) on :
I respectfully disagree. Chopping off my arm in response to some rudeness on my part would still qualify as rudeness. Are you saying that rudeness only qualifies if you are the instigator? And if so I fully expect that most folks involved in any sort of rudeness clash would maintain that the other fella was the instigator.
Posted by Anna (Member # 2582) on :
Now Kama, you should shout "Chiken" to Mack. [Big Grin]
Posted by mackillian (Member # 586) on :

I was waiting for that. [Big Grin]
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
When you are a kid and do something bad and your mom smacks you, is it rude?
Posted by Anna (Member # 2582) on :
You never have to wait long when it's about Monty Pythons references.
Posted by PaladinVirtue (Member # 6144) on :
Great thoughts Slash, thanks for bringing this up. I have beren thinking about ths since last week when a guy nearly made me wreck on the DC beltway. I grew angry with him [Mad] and let fly with my, um , gestures. And then I was got more upset when he responded with his finger as well as he then swerved in front of me mere inches in front of my bumber. Why I was actually surprised that he gave the finger back to me when he was clearly the one who was driving dangerously seems silly, in retrospect. I strikes me as such dumb thing to do anymore, give the finger, b/c everyone has one and can just as easily respond.

So, later in the same trip when another person decided to tailgate, in the extreme, me at 80mph (it was a long trip... [Roll Eyes] ) I deceided that I wouldn't give the finger anymore. I decided to visibally (sp?) laugh at them when they started making gestures at me. I found this to be more effective b/c it just pissed them off more, and I laughed even harder.

A question I have is this, what kind of consiqences for rudness can we add to society besides violence? Though I like the idea of strapping on a sword, I think that it would just take too much of my time to address every jerk that is rude to me b/c I live in the city. Plus, that's alot of blood. So any ideas?
Posted by punwit (Member # 6388) on :
If I sassed my momma and she grabbed a two-by-four and whacked me into next week then yeah it's rude. Perhaps my definition of rudeness and yours are not the same. I would define rudeness as among other things, "an overreaction to a perceived slight"
Posted by Kama (Member # 3022) on :
It's punishment. It's like you used to get your hand cut off for stealing bread. It was overly strict, but not rude.

Injuring you for offending someone is not an act of rudeness, it simply is a very strict punishment.
Posted by Storm Saxon (Member # 3101) on :

Oh? I still have one more:


Posted by TomDavidson (Member # 124) on :
"I found this to be more effective b/c it just pissed them off more...."

You know, perhaps you should continue to research approaches that don't piss people off at all...?
Posted by PaladinVirtue (Member # 6144) on :
Like do nothing? Definitly an option. But that just leaves me feeling slighted and angry b/c of their unjust rudness.

I supose you feel it is petty to feel happy at angering someone who who has angered me by acting like a jerk? Maybe so. But then agian, nah. It is human to be pleased by a feeling of justice to a percieved slight. Petty maybe, but universally human. And good. This sence of justice derives from our beleifs about right and wrong, and leads us to act accordingly. I am glad that I took joy in watching them become irrate when they are ones who are acting rudely.

I should add that in the before mentioned situation, I did move my car out of their way the first chance I had. Or else, IMO, I would have been the one who was being rude by createing or sustaining the problem.
Posted by TomDavidson (Member # 124) on :
"I supose you feel it is petty to feel happy at angering someone who who has angered me by acting like a jerk? Maybe so. But then agian, nah. It is human to be pleased by a feeling of justice to a percieved slight. Petty maybe, but universally human."

Since not all humans feel that way, it's not universal. And since it IS petty, perhaps you shouldn't defend it quite so stridently.
Posted by PaladinVirtue (Member # 6144) on :
"Since not all humans feel that way, it's not universal. And since it IS petty, perhaps you shouldn't defend it quite so stridently."

Wow Tom, way to put me in my place there. [Razz] Maybe you feel you are more enlightened than me, good for you if that is the case. Really, well done. But to say that the need for percieved justice is not a universally human is wrong. All people, those with neurocies excluded, seek to live in a just world where they are treated fairly. Even people who act unjustly attempt to justify their actions so that they don't violate their own priciples of justice.
Posted by Rakeesh (Member # 2001) on :
I think you've touched on an issue is, ultimately, about making the world safer. Obviously I mean this is a general worldwide trend that happens slowly, but...

For human beings, we're lessening the impact of natural selection. Disclaimers, air bags, gun locks, widespread and effective medicine, etc., mean that less people will die from accidents (often caused by human error to some extent) than they have previously. A part of this is that people are less likely to die from the stupid mistake of mouthing off to someone who's tougher than they are.

Now, I don't think this is a bad thing. Far from it, I think it's a noble human impulse to try and make the world safer and save more lives. I just think there is a drawback (?) to it. For example, in the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, the author discusses how, in his experience, children in Third-World nations are actually more intelligent than the typical child in a First World nation. He does not mean that they are better educated, but that they have generally higher IQs.

This anectdotal observation of his is based on the idea that, simply put, kids die more in Third-World nations and have to be more clever to survive than they do in First World nations. Being able to spot trouble coming, avoid accidents, think on one's feet, etc.

Now I make no claims as to whether his observation is true or not. It's just something I've read, but it seems to tie into (somewhat) this discussion, and the observation rings true to me.

Of course, as it has been said, on the Internet the problem of rudeness is multiplied many times, simply because people know there is no possible physical consequence for outrageous insults.

Posted by Dan_raven (Member # 3383) on :
I've thought about this last night.

Heinlein is the one that said, "A well armed society is a polite society."

Yet is that truly so? If politeness is based on fear of retaliation then only those who cannot retaliate need be polite.

Certainly the gun has been a great democratizer. Before it took years of practice to become proficient with a sword or bow in such a way that you were a threat to others. Now, everyone from the President down to the lowest child can be easilly killed by a gun fired by the rankest ameuter.

If rudeness becomes justifiable reason for homicide or even for assault, then who is safe? The man with the biggest gun? THe man with the fastest draw?

Politeness is supposed to be the common respect one human shows for another. Are we to turn that into the respect one shows for someone's gun?
Posted by romanylass (Member # 6306) on :
On a serious note, I think it would be disturbing if people are more polite to armed people,or better armed people, or felt they could be rude if they were armed. That would quickly deteriorate, in part, as Dan Raven pointed out, because guns are a big equaliser.

( I also think ever smacking a kid for any reason is wrong, rude or not, but that's a whole 'nother topic)

On a less serious note, Kama has a much cooler sword than I, (prhaps I need to get a pic taken.) But I got mine for $10 at a yard sale so I'm not complaining. (Yes, it is battle scarred)
Posted by Slash the Berzerker (Member # 556) on :
My point is slightly different.

I am talking more about escalating rudeness created by a complete lack of consequences.

We all know people that are horrible to be around. I've worked with several like this. They are loud, rude, aggressive, and no one will confront them because they are always willing to escalate the argument beyond reasonableness.

But our unwillingness to confront them just encourages them. It lets them know that if they are just louder and ruder than everyone else, they will get their way. The guy who cuts people off then flips them off keeps doing it because nothing bad has ever happened to him from doing it, so why not?

If someone dragged that rude office guy down to the parking lot and cleaned his clock, I would be willing to bet his attitude would change a bit. Especially if it kept happening every time he was rude to someone.

Now, do I think we should be getting in fist fights with everyone rude? No. Should we all carry pistols to shoot at rude motorists? No.

But I wonder what we can do to create consequences for such actions that would discourage them. Our current society encourages them to continue, because we train ourselves to back down from the unreasonably aggressive.
Posted by ak (Member # 90) on :
<thinks about this>

I don't back down from the unreasonably aggressive. I wonder what is different for me? Is it because I'm female and mature and can get away with it? I can think of one case where I only blinked in amused surprise until the man ran out of steam and left. Two more cases where guys physically threatened me and in each case it made me so angry that I nearly went off, and then they backed down. Once where someone disrespected me pointedly when I had been quite polite to him, and that made me angry and he backed down. One other time I jumped into a fight between two strangers and calmed down the one who was angriest, stopping the fight.

Physical intimidation makes me very angry. When guys use that looming thing they do to try and threaten someone, it's all I can do not to kick their teeth in.

So, is it the surprise of seeing the gentle female suddenly turn into a dragon before their eyes, or do they quail before the ludicrous picture of getting into a fight with a girl, or maybe is it that I just dominate them mentally? I'm not sure. It worries me a bit. I certainly hope it's not I who am the unreasonably aggressive one.
Posted by Jenny Gardener (Member # 903) on :
Way to be fierce! *offers a high-five*

I don't have much trouble with aggression, either. Maybe it's because I can stay calm under that kind of pressure. I get cold and nasty, like a snake. I slip into a soft, even tone of speech and I look directly into the eyes of someone who is trying to threaten me. Most of the time, they look away. Because the aggression doesn't intimidate me, the bullies have to look elsewhere for their fight.

It's interesting, to me, to notice that aggression needs someone to play the part of the victim. What if you just refuse to play the victim? Even if you get knocked down or hurt, you don't have to let that incident shape the rest of your life. You can let it go, and then that aggressor really has no power over you other than the physical power. And mere physical power gets old. I think aggressive people get off on being able to control the wills of other people. If your will doesn't allow anyone else to control it, then you are free.
Posted by punwit (Member # 6388) on :
Injuring you for offending someone is not an act of rudeness, it simply is a very strict punishment.
Kama, You are assuming something I will not stipulate. Unless the sword wielder is impartial and infallible I will not accept that the punishment is anything more than simple rudeness.

I also will conjecture that much of what we view as rude behavior is someone punsihing us for a perceived slight. Since they aren't carrying a sword they resort to abusive language, foul gestures and so forth as a means of punishment.

Supppose the sword wielder is Vinny. His idea of rudeness on your part is your refusal to pay for protection from his Uncle Vito.

Suppose the sword wielder is a local tough that simply wants your wallet and watch. Your refusal to accomodate his desires is construed as rudeness on your part.

The real idea of being polite proceeds from respect and integrity not from fear of retaliation.

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