The British, like the Canadians and the Japanese, have a reputation for being polite, although that can be exaggerated. For example, I would advise any foreign visitors to the UK who are heavily emotionally invested in British politeness to avoid (a) public transport at rush hour (b) football matches (c) London in general. Still, there remains a degree of truth in the stereotype – this, after all, is the country that made a bestseller a few years ago out of a book called Talk to the Hand which was essentially a complaint about the rudeness of modern life. Of course, the British also have a reputation for liking to complain (and that one’s unarguably true).
Politeness is not a cool virtue nowadays. Perhaps that’s not really surprising, given that the whole idea of cool has American roots and that American culture is comfortable with a level of assertiveness, straight-talking and individualism that some Britons would probably consider, well, rude. That’s not to say that Americans in general are impolite (all those that I’ve ever met were no less polite than anyone else), but there are certainly some spectacularly rude Americans, and some of them make careers out of it.
Donald Trump, for instance, might as well go around in a T-shirt saying “I’m the dude who’s always f****in’ rude!” because rudeness seems to be the whole basis of his political strategy. I’m offended by him, although mostly to save time, because he currently seems to be trying to insult everyone in the world and I think he’s bound to get round to me eventually.
Generally speaking, the whole idea of cool is bound up with notions of blunt honesty, being a rebel against authority and doing your own thing that very easily slide into just being rude (in some places in the 90s, “rude” was actually used as a synonym for “cool”). When that’s the case, the polite person seems a hopeless fuddy-duddy, the stuck-up antagonist in the comedy movie who’s going to be cut down to size with a few amusing, if rude, zingers courtesy of the star.
And yet, politeness is crucial to the functioning of society; it’s no coincidence that another word for it is civility, as in civilisation. If we weren’t polite, up to and including by deploying a certain amount of dishonesty as to our true feelings, social interaction would consist of a series of arguments, if not a series of punch-ups. That being the case, it’s surprising how little attention is paid to that in political arguments.
If, for example, you are a typical online social justice warrior, enjoying a good bout of outrage about the social oppression of (insert real or imaginary minority group here), the last thing you say is “and that’s really rude!” You can rant on about capitalism, the patriarchy, the hatefulness of white Amerika and the need for privilege to be checked, especially by “false allies,” but heaven forbid you suggest that the latest scandal would never have happened if black people/gays/disabled demisexual atheists were treated politely.
Social justice types tend to be all about massive radical social change (all about talking about it, at any rate), not namby-pamby, bourgeois concepts like good manners. They are particularly hung up on a belief in authenticity whereby if you act respectfully towards people you don’t necessarily approve of, you are still a bad person, and will…I actually want to put “end up in Hell”, because so much of this ideology is such a blatant substitute for religious belief, it isn’t funny. Of course, it doesn’t help that a lot of this stuff happens on the internet, where everyone’s rude anyway (just read the rest of my blog).
Unfortunately, overthrowing capitalism or any of those long words ending in -archy is really difficult and not likely to happen any time soon, largely because lots of people don’t agree that they need overthrowing, and some don’t even agree they exist. Good manners is a cause everyone can rally behind and already has widespread social acceptance. Not that I expect any SJW to take it up, though – that would be far too sensible.