Quote: “Hint, only one side thinks papier mache puppets are a masterful political argument.”
I came to understand, particularly through changing cultures, that manners are more than a senseless form. They are things people do to let each other know that they belong – that they are part of the group.
Humans are a social animal. Little meaningless rituals are built in to us, as a way of saying “I belong in the nest, don’t throw me out.” Also, while manners are slightly different in each country (for instance, I think Americans would think I was out of my raving mind if I asked “Do I have permission to enter this room” – except in SFF, where they’d probably stake me through the heart. While Portuguese would find it bizarre for a shop attendant to thank them for buying something.) they are also not entirely meaningless. They are things that get automated, at a trained-in level, so you don’t have to think about it and don’t unwittingly offend someone. I could be dead tired, for instance, or in the hospital, but if someone does some minor favor for me, I’m going to say “Thank you” out of automated reflex. And that thank you lets the other person – no matter how tired or dead on their feet THEY are – know their action was seen and appreciated.
As Heinlein put it, it makes things run smoother. In the same way, I might not be aware of the shopper coming out of the store behind me, both arms loaded with parcels. But I am aware someone is behind me, and at this point it is a reflex to hold the door open so they pass. When I’m the one on the receiving end of this kindness, that manners-reflex is much appreciated.
Why this matters – since the sixties we’ve gone on something like my tantrum between eight and ten. We have been worshipping the natural man, saying exactly what one feels, and the total lack of artificiality and “meaningless ritual” as a supreme good.
Where this is probably the worst is in politics, where one side tends to come from places where they were taught – or taught themselves manners – while the other side worships the “natural man” and is therefore free to throw tantrums and scream. (Hint, only one side thinks papier mache puppets are a masterful political argument.)
For instance, no matter if I were sure that 90% of the people in a room were of my politics, UNLESS it was a political gathering, I’d never tell a convention dinner “Let’s hear it for so and so, our next president” – when the man wasn’t even there, and wasn’t called into the matter at any level. And yet, a well known science fiction writer did just that in 2003 at the World Fantasy Awards banquet, causing those of you who didn’t want to clap and cheer for the – er… rather screamy – politician to feel deeply uncomfortable and wonder if our editors were marking our reaction. (They were. Probably.)