The suppression of manners and the power of the halfwit elite

Sometime during the 1920’s, at an exclusive party at Count Boni de Castellane’s, a great French lady felt herself beginning to die at the dinner table.  “Quick, bring the dessert,” she whispered to the waiter.

She was not overcome by greed.  She simply wished to hurry dinner along so as not to drop dead before the party rose from the table.  In other words, she did not wish to cause discomfort to those present.  Needless to say, the lady had impeccable manners.

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I do not expect anyone nowadays not to leave a room when feeling unwell in order not to cause discomfort to others.  I simply brought up a true story to illustrate how far our mores and manners have fallen these last 100 years.  Back then a grand lady dropping dead would have caused somewhat of a scandal.  The hostess of the dinner would have become associated with the death forevermore.  Such were the joys of a closed society.  Especially in Catholic France, where the old guard tried its best for years to resist the Napoleonic nouveaux, with their extraordinary titles granted to them by the emperor for having served him well on the battlefield.  (Boni de Castellane’s family was titled long before the great Corsican came along, and his pink palace on Avenue Foch I remember well from the time when I was young and lived nearby.  Sadly, it is no longer there, torn down and replaced by apartment houses mostly inhabited by rich Arabs.)

Perhaps it sounds stuffy, but I am nostalgic for the good old days when manners were exquisite.  You might think that this is a bit “de trop,” but not really.  Things are so bad at present that even returning to the time of strict etiquette I find would be a blessing.  Manners, you see, are as important as morals, and have very little to do with a man’s outer attributes—birth, rank, or education—but rather involve his inner qualities of character and behavior.  At present, people take phony offense at anything and everything, yet rudeness is de rigueur, and boorishness a virtue.  It is hip to be discourteous, trendy to act primitive, and “in” to be coarse.

Those who form our culture—magazine editors, TV writers and producers, and of course the Hollywood elite who put out the absolute dirt emanating from the West Coast—bombard us with stories and shows of coarse people using the coarsest language possible, but always cast in a favorable light.  Gentle folk speaking without using the f-word are always depicted as bigots.

In language, of course, is to be found one of the most crucial lines of demarcation between the vulgar and the gracious.  I will deal with those responsible for the coarseness of our culture later, because in order to tackle vulgarity we need to stop celebrating it, but for now let’s establish what good manners are: Having natural good manners means putting other people before yourself without thinking about it.  Actually, Christianity is good manners.  Men who orderly lined up for lifeboats on the Titanic, or allowed others to go first, died in a very Christian manner.  Compare that with a recent British survey of 20,000 people, where 91 percent of those asked admitted that they no longer said “thank you.”  Perhaps that is why I don’t actually believe in surveys.  It seems impossible that 91 percent of those to whom we extend some small service never thank us.  Maybe this is so in downtown Los Angeles or in San Juan, but not in Britain.

Never mind.  There are still American and European gentlemen who walk on the outside of the pavement and stand up when a woman enters the room.  Some men still give up their seats to women in public transport, although the ghastly #MeToo movement will soon put a stop to it.  The irony of it all is that the men I just mentioned are mostly working stiffs and white.  Self-reliance plays a large role among the working classes; thus a woman’s vulnerability is paramount to them.

Edmund Burke insisted that manners are more important than laws, but I wonder how many of today’s television producers eager to push the boundaries, and other promoters of “edgy” art, have ever heard of the great man.  If they had, perhaps they would not have contributed so much to the incivility corroding our society today.  These talentless ruffians like to claim that they espouse a counter-courtesy in the shape of political correctness.  But p.c. is nothing but political manipulation, communism in disguise, a central control of peoples’ lives, the imposition of political agenda by a minority on the majority.  One day not far off, good manners will be deemed politically incorrect, just as they were in Orwell’s chilling Nineteen Eighty-four.

Good manners are not a superficial activity.  They serve a moral purpose.  They are the outward signs of an inner unselfishness.  They are what W.B. Yeats defined as the essence of civilization—the direct opposite of the me, me, me mentality.  Manners are the opposite of brute force.  The duel, once a benchmark of settling differences between gentlemen, had a mannered code and was a great deal better than a knife in the back or a street brawl.

How did we get to live in such a mannerless world?  How did we breach the period when that grand lady asked the waiter to hurry up with the dessert to today’s world of nonstop, four-letter expletives?  I suppose it was when those possessed of triumphant ignorance took over responsible positions in the media and entertainment and publishing industries.  Better yet, when these above-mentioned industries related popular culture with obscenity, boorishness, and a constant diet of puerile filth.  Anyone resisting these affronts to good taste and civilized living is seen as a reactionary, which brings me to the vile and coarse phenomenon of texting, and the filth that happens on the Internet.  (Personally, I do not text and do not tweet and do not allow comments on my website that use vulgarity.)  There is no doubt that the boundaries of taste and decency are being pushed ever further back in the name of connecting with each other through such useless and horrible inventions as Facebook.  (Sadists regularly troll grieving families who have lost children, desecrating their memories.  Zuckerberg and his gang of billionaires call it “freedom of expression.”) 

And another thing: Lack of talent breeds four-letter words.  Show me a writer of a TV series with great talent, and I will show you a program that will have the minimum of four-letter words.  In fact, people with talent do not need to use them.  Lack of talent, however, guarantees nonstop filth.  Expletives are also part of the culture of triumphant ignorance—the belief that to behave like a slob or a gangster is an indication of manly virility.  To a certain sort of halfwit, obscenities are testosterone turned into the spoken word.  I fear that this is a sign of the times.

The fact is that the use of obscenities has become smart—the symbol of a generation that disregards majority opinion but thinks itself clever.  Yet not so long ago, I remember going to Yankee Stadium as a teenager and not hearing a single swear word in the crowded bleachers, and certainly none from the players.  Today no professional athlete is worth his salt unless he used the f-word as adverb, adjective, and verb.  Ditto for celebrities.  They consider themselves cutting-edge when being boorish and using profanity.  Yet no one from mainstream media or those ghastly late-night show hosts has had the courage to point out that those who rely on profanity display a woeful lack of imagination.  F–king this and f–king that are the equivalents of a caveman’s grunt, nothing else.  But you’ll never see a New York Times editorial denouncing such vulgarity because it emanates from the street, a street that is mostly black and brown, and it would be politically incorrect to criticize anything blacks or Latinos do or say.

The people in the academy and the media who turn a blind eye to this outrage are mainly victims of cultural deprivation—the idea that to shock is to succeed while letting all one’s emotions hang out without any inhibitions.  We can thank the 60’s and our hippy friends for this.  Civility took a beating during the 60’s while the young demonstrated against the war in Vietnam.  But after the war was over, we forgot that civilization depends on considering the susceptibilities of others.  The elegance of Shakespeare’s language was lost, while four-letter words became de rigueur.  Hollywood, needless to say, jumped at its newfound freedom.  For much too long the Sammy Glicks that run the place felt that they were pandering to the forces of convention by not showing extreme violence and nudity and obscenity.  Their time had come.

As some of you may remember, Central European Jews created Hollywood a century ago.  People like Goldwyn, Mayer, and Warner depicted an America of white picket fences, polite and helpful neighbors, and church-going citizens who never swore and thought Andy Hardy was a tad too naughty.  Mind you, this was authentic, based on what those foreign Jews had observed.  Wonderful movies like The Best Years of Our Lives and All About Eve showed poverty, conflict, and unbridled ambition without a single curse word muttered by anyone.  Yet they reflected a real and true American scene.

After them came the deluge.  Young, American-born Jews looked in the gutter to find the America they wanted to depict.  They were out to make money, and they found that their chief audiences were (and are) the young, and those who want to identify with the young.  The fall of the studios took place during the mid-60’s.  Bleeding hearts eager to accommodate angry blacks salivated at ghetto language.  Movies, music, and books follow trends; they do not set them.  So what followed was the lowering of standards, with the general population given a visual diet of smut and soft porn.  Then the trend became the norm.  Today, we are a nation of foul-mouthed, tongue-tied morons. 

I was recently watching something called The Affair on television.  A well-known writer is introduced to a Prince ton University writing class by a fellow writer.  “My God, you’re f–king Noah Solloway, that’s f–king amazing,” says a student to the visiting writer.  The visitor smiles and feels proud to be recognized.  Now that’s simply gratuitous swearing injected by the know-nothing director or writer to exhibit hipness.  Back during my time at the University of Virginia, one f-word would have had me thrown out of my fraternity and, if used in class, expelled, especially while addressing a visiting writer.

Hollywood etiquette is all about reminding others that you are more important than they are.  And Hollywood does educate large parts of America.  Certainly, television does, and TV is just as bad as Tinseltown, probably worse on cable.  The printed word is not much better.  Glossy magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair now promote only minorities and the LGBT community.  In fact, under the egregious Anna Wintour, a Condé Nast Vogue for teens ran a long article on how to test which sex gives you more pleasure.  This was for the children’s benefit.  My proudest achievement has been that I once managed to drive the ghastly Wintour to tears of frustration.  The argument was over politics, and I managed to show what a phony she is, while praising her for her successful social climb posing as an English member of the upper crust.  She is nothing of the sort.

Glossies now use curse words in editor’s letters, expletives to enliven their covers, and such.  And there are enough suckers around who pay to read such rubbish.  The so-called elite in the media—the Times, the networks, the nerds of Silicon Valley—all believe that bad language and adult material once viewed in Times Square by raincoat-wearing weirdos are a valid part of life, and that only puritans are bothered by it.  The fact that large majorities everywhere are appalled by the filth that appears on our screens is given little weight by the self-proclaimed leaders of the left.  And when it comes to the LGBT, there is more coverage of that group than there is of the majority straight population.  In a recent book review, one Dwight Garner  wrote admiringly of the memoirs of Bill Cunningham—a gay photographer of the New York Times, an acquaintance of mine, and a very nice man—but then added, “In what might be this book’s worst sentence, [Cunningham] notes that ‘generations of good breeding’ are among the things necessary to carry off high fashion, and adds: ‘You can’t slipcover a pig and expect it not to grunt.’”

See what I mean about the agenda of the bosses of the Times?  Absolutely no sentence may contain anything favorable to good breeding and old families.  (I thought it the truest sentence in the memoir; the rest was interesting only to New York street fashionistas.)  So, generations of good breeding are now to be avoided at all costs.  And why not?  When one Safaree Samuels, a black rapper, is paid a seven-figure sum to create a sex toy molded from his member, and it’s reported as hard news in the social pages of newspapers, you know the battle is lost.  I suppose the war was lost when God died, according to Time that is, sometime back in the early 70’s.  People who don’t go to church and don’t believe in the Christian God are far more likely to fall into the quicksand of porn, drugs, and violence.  Black kids without fathers are far more likely to be recruited into crime, and also to be celebrated by the media and imitated by those who should know better.  Once upon a time, newly rich people used to ape their social betters.  Now the opposite is true.  Media types talk like ghetto thugs trying to impress.

I have always seen myself as special and apart.  Many of my friends believe in privilege and tradition and refuse to apologize for their good luck.  We put up with the horrors of modern life—the brutishness, the hideous buildings, the deleterious effect on civilized life caused by egalitarianism, and the misuse of language.  The best way to resist the brutality of modern life is to remonstrate with those friends who refuse both to use foul language and to rub elbows with slobs.

Last but not least, do not believe a word the so-called experts tell you.  For example: Harvard researcher Robert Putnam’s research demonstrated conclusively that racially diverse communities are more suspicious, withdrawn, ungenerous, fractured, and fractious.  But he delayed the publication of his own findings for years, knowing that such an incendiary refutation of the unquestionable p.c. slogan “diversity is our strength” would face enormous opposition within academia.  Publication of the facts stalled so he could spin out theories as to why diversity should still be considered a public good.  And even so he has been attacked by his fellow experts, who claimed that by merely presenting the facts he was influencing the immigration debate.

So what else is new?

As I watched the disgraceful spectacle of partisan Democrats hurling abuse during the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, my mind wandered back to the time when Tory members of Parliament, faced with recalcitrant Labor interruptions, would address one another in ancient Greek or Latin.  “English, English,” screamed the M.P.’s who had not had the privilege of an upper-class education.  At times even the Speaker of the House—fed up with Labor’s guerilla tactics—would join his old Etonian and Harrovian fellow M.P.’s in arguing what exactly “Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis” means.  (There were no commas, so the ancient oracle who said “you will go you will return never in war will you perish” always had an out.)

The circus in Washington makes one ashamed to believe in democracy, which I do up to a point.  It worked in Ancient Greece because it was selective.  People had to prove their responsibility as well as their education.  The idea that Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut senator who pretended—until caught—that he had fought in Vietnam, can showboat and say that the hearings were “tainted and stained forever” makes by comparison Caligula’s naming his horse a consul a wise choice.  At least Judge Kavanaugh has the nonchalance of the well-born.  The Democrats remind me of Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities.  But without her conviction.