October 18th, 2008

bearded monkey god

Equal Time (A Description of Respectability)

There's a point of view I've been looking for for some time. I was waiting to find a description by somebody who was on its side, so I couldn't very well write it myself. The author describes it as "respectability", which isn't the worst word I've heard used for it.

First, a link to the article. Second, my commentary.

I believe in the idea that you should be allowed to do what you want to, if it hurts nobody. I forget who said, "a truly free country is one where it's safe to be unpopular," and I think that's a pretty good description.

There is a more traditional point of view, still held in the vast majority of the world, that essentially maintains that it's important to act in accordance with local custom, and you can judge a person's respect for other people, and their reliability, by how well they do so. On the one hand, that's not friendly to freaks, foreigners and rebels. On the other hand, it provides a clear path for such people to gain respect through conformity. Or, as the author above puts it:

Let me make the case for respectability. In our post-Romantic world, the most important entity is thought to be the individual, the ego. The child's cry "Look at me!" has become the slogan of adult life. That is what celebrity culture is.

Respectability opposes this. It asserts the enormous importance of other people. If you are to live harmoniously in society, you have to consider what other people want. For this you need shared conventions - of speech, manners, work habits, diet, dress, sexual relations, pastimes, and so on.

If you become respectable, the conventions operate in your favour. Your neighbours can see that you work hard, that your children are polite, that you turn up when you say you will, and so they trust and like and help you more. A virtuous circle is created.

I think it's important to mention such things, because that's just about the antithesis of the Wacky California Ideal. My favorite personal test is the idea of walking around wearing a red clown nose at all times, but otherwise acting like you would anyway. According to the Wacky California Ideal, that's just jim-dandy. Don't discriminate against Clown-Nosists, man! And according to the idea of respectability, that's you showing that you're unreliable by flouting expected custom.

It's often very hard for me to communicate this to my fellow Californians, who simply forget that the other point of view exists. Well folks, read the article. Such people exist, and worldwide they are in the majority. You don't have to agree with them. You don't have to like it. But please remember that they exist, because they outnumber us.