29 June 2009

Politeness is bourgeois

The communists thought of politeness as a product of bourgeois fetishism. By now, rudeness has become the norm in this country. Agents of the collective with power over individuals (doctors, teachers etc.) are now amazingly rude by the standards of fifty years ago; and fifty years ago had already seen some slippage from the norm that had prevailed earlier. On the other hand, of course, all agents of the collective are supposed to be above criticism, although there are now so many of them that it is wildly improbable to suppose that a high standard of impersonal motivation or objectivity could be maintained by more than a tiny proportion of them.

The lack of scepticism towards people with some status was certainly not the attitude that I had acquired from pre-socialist literature. One did not give up on thinking about the individual psychologies of headmasters, priests or aristocrats because of their social position.

Actually old-fashioned politeness can be seen as trying not to make it more difficult than need be for other people to remain, or to become, centralised, by showing respect for their territory of decision. Modern social interactions make any centralised position almost impossible to maintain.

I once described myself to an academic philosopher as a bourgeois capitalist, which of course is automatically pejorative in the modern world. I became identified with that position well before I went to the Ursuline school at the age of ten.

By the time I was five I had read the equivalent of what a fairly bright child would get through in their entire primary school education, and by the time I was ten I had read a similar amount as a person would have read by the time they were twenty. The local juvenile library was supposed to provide for readers up to the age of sixteen, and I had exhausted it before I was eleven, supplementing it with what adults at that time read for fun, as found in my grandfather’s library.

There was practically no trace of modern egalitarian or communist ideology in any of this, nor of the modern belief system of psychological interpretations that is now universally encountered.