Monday, April 08, 2002


...according to this article by John Derbyshire at National Review Online. I agree, but find his blaming lawyers and lawsuits (imagine that, from a conservative publication) not credible. Here's what I wrote him:

I enjoyed your piece. Thank you for writing it. I'm 45, and was raised in Houston (where I still live) by parents for whom politeness in children was not an option, but an imperative. Yes Sir, No Ma'am, Mr., Mrs./Miss (both pronounced, in the southern manner, Miz; cf. the odious Ms.), please, thank you.

My father is remarried and I have brothers 13 and 7, both of whom are getting similar instruction. It appears to be taking.

Sadly, though, by and large, things are as you report. I find myself angered at tradespeople on the phone calling my by my first name, uninvited, not to mention cheeky waiters. My last trip to California I wanted to throttle several youngsters who called me "Joe". I could go on.

I must disagree with your laying the blame for this phenomenon at the feet of the rule of law and its enforcement by "ingenious lawyers". For one thing, a suit over bad manners is always laughed out of court, if you can find a lawyer green enough or hungry enough to take it. We must draw a distinction between rudeness, which ladies in the workplace regrettably must sometimes put up with, and groping, or conditioning continued employment or advancement on sexual favors, or others acts which I'm sure we agree ought to carry a penalty more severe than a reprimand from the manners police.

There are many plausible sources of the decline in manners: the breakdown and rebellion against class distinctions ("Why should I address you politely just because you are older, my boss, a person of authority, etc.? I'm just as good as you."); the ubiquitousness of technology which makes communications instantaneous and often impersonal; the concentration of population which both increases the frequency of unintended encounters with ones fellow citizens and the likelihood that one will never see most who he comes into contact with again, lowering the cost of rudeness (this reason applies particularly to rude driving).

I'm glad you mentioned the Lampoon. It was a favorite. Many of the best old articles are on the website; I just finished rereading the classic "Foreigners Around the World."

Let me close with a question that I hope you won't find impolite. Do you NR writers receive a per instance fee from the insurance industry and big business for negative references to lawyers and lawsuits, or is it an annual lump sum?

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