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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Does safety turn us into jerks? My theory about swords and politeness. (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Does safety turn us into jerks? My theory about swords and politeness.
Slash the Berzerker
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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?

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Jim-Me
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Isn't it an old British saying that "an armed society is a polite society"?
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Kama
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--|--
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Storm Saxon
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/quibble

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

/quibble

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mackillian
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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.

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Slash the Berzerker
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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

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Shan
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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*

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sndrake
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Slash,

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 ]

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jebus202
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I try to be polite to armed gang members.
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aretee
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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 ]

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Alexa
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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]

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Paul Goldner
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Slash-
You should read Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. I think you'd like it [Smile]

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Slash the Berzerker
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SNDrake:

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.

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ak
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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.
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Farmgirl
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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.

Farmgril

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Slash the Berzerker
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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.

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Rhaegar The Fool
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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.
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romanylass
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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??)
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JohnKeats
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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."

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Storm Saxon
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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.

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ak
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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.
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Storm Saxon
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Well, sure. Organization and training are always going to win over sheer nastiness. But one on one? That's a different story, I think.
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Slash the Berzerker
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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.

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Storm Saxon
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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.
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Richard Berg
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quote:
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.
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saxon75
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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."
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Xaposert
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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.

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Unmaker
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:wishes he had a sword:
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Kama
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<-- has a sword
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Frisco
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Swords didn't keep that guy from mouthing off to Grignr, did they?
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mackillian
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quote:
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.
[ROFL]

Anne Kate completely has a point there.

AND.

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

*brandish*

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punwit
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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?
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mackillian
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*chops off punwit's arm*

That'll learn ya.

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Kama
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punwit, chopping off your arm would not be rude.

--

--|-- mack

[ April 28, 2004, 07:42 AM: Message edited by: Kama ]

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mackillian
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*chops off Kama's hand*
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Kama
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Oh? I still have one more:

--|--

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mackillian
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*chops off Kama's other hand*
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Kama
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[Mad]

Meep!

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mackillian
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And that'll learn YOU. [Big Grin]
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Beren One Hand
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*stays away from Mack, for I have but one hand to give*

I already knew Kama had a swrod. [Smile]

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punwit
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Kama, I believe chopping off my arm would be extremely rude.
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Kama
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It's not rudeness. It's the consequence of you being rude.
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punwit
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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.
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Anna
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Now Kama, you should shout "Chiken" to Mack. [Big Grin]
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mackillian
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[ROFL]

I was waiting for that. [Big Grin]

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Kama
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When you are a kid and do something bad and your mom smacks you, is it rude?
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Anna
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You never have to wait long when it's about Monty Pythons references.
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PaladinVirtue
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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?

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punwit
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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"
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Kama
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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.

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