There is a common notion that manners separate humans from the other animals. We are higher than the animals. We have manners because we are not animals. I completely disagree with this notion. Humans have manners not because we are not animals but precisely because we are animals. Manners or etiquette as I will now refer to them as is really nothing more than the dominance/submission behaviour we see in animals. The nature and degree of etiquette varies from culture to culture but in this it is like language. All humans speak some language and human brains are biologically to process language but which language is spoken depends on the culture of upbringing.
I have an untested hypothesis that the degree of etiquette in a society matches inequality in that society. Take the example of Edwardian England. In that period in the early 20th century inequality of wealth was at its zenith. At that time the degree of etiquette was at its most extreme. The separation between upstairs and downstairs staff in the great English houses, the forms and courtesies in the social arena and the protocols of ladies and gentlemen. A downstairs maid could never allow herself to be seen by the household family as she cleaned. There was limited fraternisation between the classes except as prescribed.
The next example I will use is shogunate Japan. In feudal Japan there was extreme inequality and this was reflected in the power of samurais over ordinary people. A samurai had the power of life and death over subjects. He could draw his sword and decapitate anyone for any and no reason. It is no wonder that the custom of bowing is so entrenched in Japanese culture. A biological act of submission seen in many animals. Reducing one’s height as an act of appeasement is universal not only among humans but across species. The top dog, underdog routine is familiar as is the tail between the legs. To express dominance in a challenge or as a bluff in reaction to danger the opposite holds true. A cat arches its back to increase its height. A dog will raise the hair on its neck. Seals will rear up into the air. Frill neck lizards flare their necks to increase their size. For humans hands on hips serves to increase at least our width. Raising our heads and “looking down our noses” slightly increases our height. The disparity in power relations has improved since feudal Japan but etiquette forms continue in more subtle ways.
For exhibit 3 there was the Jim Crow south in the United States. There was such inequality which translated into oppressive etiquette in a really extreme and deadly way. A black man just looking at a white woman the wrong way could be lynched. It imposed impossible and onerous etiquette obligations on the black community. Anything could be construed as lynch worthy.
Enter the now dawning etiquette in the feminist age but before going there I will clarify further my thoughts on the link between inequality and etiquette. The uneven distribution of wealth in Britain reached its peak during the Edwardian period. Wealth became more evenly distributed in the decades following for various reason centred around redistribution measures by governments and wealth destruction episodes like the great depression. The waning inequality was matched by more relaxed standards of etiquette. This accelerated after WWII as did the redistribution of wealth. In the third quarter of the 20th century another peak occurred and that was the peak of wealth equality. Since the late 70s under Margaret Thatcher and onwards wealth has been becoming more concentrated among the very rich. We also saw in the 3rd quarter of the 20th century concern about a decline in good manners, young people not showing respect, people not knowing their place and so on. These concerns are all centred around lower etiquette standards stemming from a less stratified society. The same was true for other western countries. The decline in good manners at this times disguised the good news of a more egalitarian society. The good manners” in particular related to the treatment of women, opening doors, pulling out chairs and the like. Women were not necessarily privileged but inter-sex relations became medium and currency for the expression of etiquette. Under my model it wasn’t so much the feminism of the 1970s which caused men not to open doors for women but a more relaxed climate of etiquette in general. If one does not have to bow to one’s master why would one bow to a women or open a door for her?
Today the world is moving towards extreme inequality of wealth but we have not seen the rise of etiquette forms to match. It is my prediction that we will. There may be a lag period. Just as in the Edwardian period the relationships between men and women we be the most natural fracture line for increasing forms of etiquette to flow. Enter the ready made rock formation already laid out with such fracture lines called feminism.
There have been campaigns to make men more appreciated by men and treated well. How to behave in the workplace. How to date. How to proposition a women, the answer being you must get a “yes” at every stage. How long you can look at a woman (remember Jim Crow). The the USA Tittle IX has been used used to impose ever more onerous etiquette obligations on men in College. Men must be aware that “she fears you” and must always be attentive to making women feel comfortable. Imagine substitution “white: for “woman” and “black” for man”. Jim Crow again. What constitutes sexual violence and rape on American campuses is becoming more vague. Some colleges have stipulated an eye contact time before it becomes a campus discipline issue.
Here is a post on the blog Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced. The gist if it is that a guy must behave as though he could be injured if a woman is spooked. The justification is because “preventing violent assault or murder” is a daily routine for women. She gives this advice.
My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry.
She calls every man a “Schrödinger’s Rapist”. He may or may not be a rapist. She then gives this advice.
…you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment.
In other words you must be a mind reader. This is REAL Jim Crow material. If she is mad and demented that is all tour fault. You should know before hand. If she strikes out unprovoked by you she is justified because she is a women living in a war zone of her own imagining. Pity the poor aspergers sufferer. Too bad for the bloke with awkward social skills. This is oppressive etiquette.
Although seemingly unrelated the increasing inequality in our society will usher in a new more anxiety inducing onerous form of etiquette and feminists fears and hysterias will form the substructure for the form it takes. Some men will suffer a “lynching” like experience. Other men will be recruited as “white knights” to defend the honour of our ladies against the “rudeness” of socially fumbling awkward men. An opportunity for a game of “let you and him fight” over pretty old me and to the victor goes the spoils.