Wednesday, 18 October 2017

On manners, arrogance and the Game of Nations

George Friedman, who I really like, wrote recently about manners in the political system. It's worth the read. He’s not the first person to reprimand the nastiness, but he’s the first to make me want to write about it.

It's always interesting that Americans want to throw the tea into Boston Harbour while holding onto some of their "father" country's ideals. You've written before about how the American empire is in its adolescent stage with a long way to go, and I agree. The way Americans talk about upper-class and aristocracy is like a teenager yelling at his parents, but stopping short of leaving because they still need to play Xbox later that evening. You either have a revolution and emancipate yourself from the "oppressive" father, or you stay a dependant. You can't split the difference.

The British adopted manners and customs when they were improvements. But it also knew - not suspected, knew - its core customs were superior. It wasn't shy about this. Recall the Indian custom of suttee (sati) in which a widow is immolated to symbolically meet her husband in the afterlife. The British were outraged when they saw this and said to the men with torches it was British custom to execute a person who murders. Suttee stopped pretty quickly after that. When Americans hear this story they scoff and mention colonialism and imperialism, but they are wrong. There are actual inferior practices, manners and customs. The British were proud of their heritage and India is better because of their conviction.

Only an American could write: "...manners are the foundation of democratic life." This is the problem. Americans do not practice manners for their own sake, or because those manners are superior. Americans practice manners because it is good for a specific type of government. No wonder your manners are falling apart. If they depend on the coherence of government, and that political base ruptures, then so do the manners. That is simply not good enough. This is an adolescent structure, and it bothers me that it takes a non-American to see this. What is it about the American system that precludes it from seeing itself as it really is? Where are your mirrors?

It shouldn't matter what political constitution possesses a country. What matters is a shared understanding and acceptance that a particular set of cultural values is maintained. America is singularly bad at doing this. In fact, its elite class not only attack core American values on an hourly basis, it refuses to codify its own set of values lest it become like its "father" the British and allow an upper-class through the back door. As if that would be poison to the present toxic system!?

Instead, the American elite says things like this (Friedman in a response article to his subscribers) :
"The danger, of course, is that manners can be weaponized. They are used to marginalize and ostracize and to consolidate the power of a class. English upper-class table manners were not simply a means of binding society together; they were a method of identifying those who were not in the upper class and a way to justify their exclusion."
And I can feel the contempt for an upper-class oozing out. You don't even try to hide it. But why? What is so bad about an upper-class? Is it because not everyone could get in, by definition? Or is it because you might not get in, and if you can't, then it shouldn't exist? And yet no matter what the American elite tries, an upper-class exists in the US. Sure, it drapes itself with the semiotics of equality: philanthropy, gifts, grants, ripped jeans, baseball caps, driving its own cars, etc. But the poor know what's going on, they always do.

Americans are teenagers. They want to hang out with the underprivileged by day but return to gated communities before the street lights come on. They disparage upper-class manners in a paranoid fear of "dad" but know a lower-class can't exist without its counterpoint. Upper-class is inevitable, so it's up to the members to ensure its values are legitimate, proud and superior. Society depends on the aspirational. Consumerism depends on aspiration. Advertising is based on one thing: happiness, but it must be forever just out of reach. That's upper-class. But Americans are acting like Peter Pan without a NeverLand.

The only way manners can survive in America is if its people accept theirs are objectively better than anyone else's. It might be a matter of faith to believe this, but who cares? Everyone else makes that leap. Why does America always think it has transcended the necessary components of what makes a good society? Why does it fantasise about equality, when all the evidence says it is impossible? Millions of people risk life and limb just to get into the US. They don't do it because of Medicaid and SSI. They do it because migration is a vote with one's feet that the place you depart is inferior to the destination.

Here I have to point out that this specific American disease of cultural relativism has reached our fine shores too. A Chinese girl recently complained to me that too many Asians now live in Auckland, New Zealand. She doesn't like what this city has become and said the more Chinese living in Auckland, the more Auckland mimics China. She left China to get away from that culture. Now it follows her? She was the most defensive person of New Zealand culture I've met in a long time. She knew whatever it is that makes this country New Zealand is superior and should be maintained. I can't tell you the last time I heard that from a native New Zealander. This is a disease, and it's spreading.

That's why we need people like you, George, to confidently state that American manners and customs are better. No argument. State outright and proudly that the country you love must be maintained. Not because "democracy" is your political structure, but because American manners and culture are objectively better. And if they aren't, make them better! You already know how to do this. There's no need to adopt anyone else's.

If you can't do that, then not only will you have failed to learn the central lesson of the rise of Donald Trump, the "barbarians" circling your borders will notice and tear away at everything you love. You have to be arrogant in the Game of Nations. You have to think your culture is worth more. Otherwise, those with deeper cultural convictions and higher bravery will take it all from you.

It's time to grow up, America.

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