The Culture Wars And … Manners, Ctd

Alyssa Rosenberg revisits the debate over manners:

Civil disobedience often tests the desire of powerful organizations to be seen as legitimate and bound by clear rules and standards — it is, essentially, a test of manners and norms. There is something radical about making such a request for civility and good manners upward, and to turn powerful people’s sense of their own sophistication and goodness against them.

Asking someone who would not use racial slurs against Jews or African Americans why he or she is uncomfortable extending that same courtesy and consideration to Native Americans will force a genuinely good-hearted, thoughtful person to confront his or her contradictions. Asking someone like physicist Matt Taylor whether he considered the feelings of his female colleagues and science fans everywhere before putting on that stupid bowling shirt would probably make him think twice.

At the same time, she concedes that these “conversations and requests for polite considerations will not work with all people, and they are certainly not a solution to the significant structural problems of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity that confront us today”:

But fighting the big fights takes tremendous energy. If we can save each other some of the constant little stings that sap our resources, I’m all for adding etiquette to the list of demands.

Drum, meanwhile, recommends that we “recalibrate our cultural baselines for the social media era”:

People can respond so quickly and easily to minor events that the resulting feeding frenzies can seem far more important than anyone ever intended them to be. A snarky/nasty tweet, after all, is the work of a few seconds. A few thousand of them represent a grand total of a few hours of work. The end result may seem like an unbelievable avalanche of contempt and derision to the target of the attack, but in real terms, it represents virtually nothing.

The culture wars are not nastier because people on the internet don’t have to face their adversaries. They’re nastier because even minor blowups seem huge. But that’s just Econ 101. When the cost of expressing outrage goes down, the amount of outrage expressed goes up. That doesn’t mean there’s more outrage. It just means outrage is a lot more visible than it used to be.