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18 October 2008 @ 08:33 pm
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.
Anthonyterpsichoros on October 19th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
The author seems to be saying that conformity is valuable because it makes possible certain social benefits, including some amount of social mobility, and the trust required to make an economic system function and grow. People who believe that, even if only implicitly, are probably more rare than people who believe in the "Wacky California Ideal". On the other hand, people who value conformity for the sake of conformity vastly outnumber both other groups combined.
Noahangelbob on October 19th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
I believe that what the article suggests is mostly the thinkier sort of justification of valuing conformity for its own sake.

Most people who value conformity for its own sake would never say it like that, and would never really be able to express why. "It's just better," "that's just weird" or similar.
JohnGgomijacogeo on October 19th, 2008 04:47 am (UTC)
California has its rules too. One of the rules is never to admit there are rules.
Noahangelbob on October 19th, 2008 02:00 pm (UTC)
In California the rules are looser, and we intentionally try to keep them that way. The Bay in particular has to accomodate a very large number of recent immigrants, from all areas of the country and many other countries, which keeps us from having very rigid local standards. I consider that a good thing. We also specifically believe in tolerating almost any quirk as long as the one who has it can make a decent justification for why it's a characteristic of some social or ethnic group.
IANAL: uber allesqueen_elvis on October 19th, 2008 05:24 am (UTC)
Do you really think Californians (and let's not confuse "Californians" with "secular humanist liberals" or "blue-staters" or some other larger and non-geographic group) forget that these people exist? I mean, if your world is the Castro District, maybe, but even then, lots of the people there are there to run from the sort of conformity that guy is touting. And if you consume any sort of news media at all, it's impossible to forget about these people because they have political power. And Hollywood is too chickenshit to cater to anyone else. Etc.
Noahangelbob on October 19th, 2008 01:56 pm (UTC)
I know that many of my friends do so. However, they are Californian *and* secular humanist liberals *and* blue-staters :-)

The Bay can be a very insulated little bubble here.
(Deleted comment)
IANALqueen_elvis on October 19th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC)
Frankly, there was not much in that article to convince me there's an internal logic to that viewpoint. (Though at least he tried -- there are few American social conservatives in public life who are intellectual about it.) I have been actively trying to cultivate tolerance of these people, so I was looking for it.

But my original comment was mainly objecting to what sounded like a glib sterotype of my home state. It's a huge place. I don't particularly like the culture of places like Kern County, but they exist.
Noahangelbob on October 19th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
I don't agree with his logic, but it did show me the internal logic. The idea being that if status is conferred by adherence to a specific behavior code, that allows for reasonable upward mobility by observing and imitating that behavior code. It's not perfect (it ignores "old money" status, which tends to happen in the same places and ways), but it is at least an argument.
safyasafya on October 19th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)
that's very interesting, i have never thought of a philosophical justification for this type of attitude. personally, i think of freaks as more likely to care about others, both because of personal bias (freaks are more likely to help out other freaks, i think, possibly with even more loyalty due to strong outsider-group bonds) but also because, well, yeah, conformists will take each other fruitcake at christmas and things like that, but are less likely to stick their necks out for anything that goes against conventional wisdom, including social justice issues and the like. so, I guess I have a version of the attitude described in this piece, where I think something like "you're a freak of some sort, which shows you are more likely to care about other people and be an actually (rather than apparently) responsible member of society, and also you're part of my group, so I should be nice to you." it's interesting to think about how similarly this operates for conformists.

I wonder what the most positive way for the two groups to interact is.
Noahangelbob on October 19th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)
I'd say, yeah, conformists *do* help each other, but do so in socially acceptable and perhaps more specified ways. But they are often willing to do more than the casual stuff, just not (as you pointed out) for people like you or me. Help is given by liking and rank, but (as you may remember from high school) obviously liking somebody of much lower rank is a bit of a no-no. So visible help tends to be limited to people who conform well and reliably -- those of higher rank.