Monday, July 30, 2007

Is there a hotel in the world large enough to host our social conventions?

Let me first say that I am writing this only after at least a minute of internal debate over whether to sit down and write, or sit down and rewatch an excellent movie I saw this weekend. (In case you think watching movies is all I do, let me assure you that it is not: I suddenly realized this past week that I seem to have acquired a life, or at least borrowed one for the time being. Last week I was pretty much just home for sleeping, and not much else.) The movie is called Primer and, had it been made this year, it would have caused no end of embarassment for the three big "thirds" of the summer blockbuster season because, though produced at .003% of the budget of just one of them, it had me more fascinated and entertained than all three of them put together. It's a sci-fi movie about time travel, but to tell you more about the plot would be unfair (and impossible to explain), so I'll just tell you that I thoroughly recommend it.

Someone once said — actually, I'm sure it's been said far more than once — that 87.2% of all statistics are made up. I have to say, I feel the same way about our so-called rules of polite society. Somebody said to me tonight, "The reason nobody comes by your house unannounced is that most people think it's rude." That struck me as one of the most ridiculous ideas I had ever heard, so I started trying to figure out why.

Moral acts are moral because they are moral (that goes back to the earlier discussion about actions being judged according to the standard God established). Immoral acts are immoral because they are not moral — that is, they do not meet the standard of morality. However, there is no moral standard anywhere that is violated when someone chews with their mouth open. There is no universal standard that defines what politeness is. It's just that someone, somewhere, at some point in time decided it was unpleasant to look at, so people shouldn't do it. (I'm not saying I disagree.) Here's my assertion (and belief): polite acts are polite because someone — or a majority of someones — simply thinks they'll enjoy their life more if it's done that way; impolite acts are impolite only because someone gets annoyed or offended.

Knowing now that that is my assertion, maybe you can see why I think the social convention (which is all politeness is) of not visiting someone unannounced is so ridiculous. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time decides that a friend visiting them without sending an engraved notification first is inconvenient or undesired, and suddenly it's faux pas to knock on a door. I mean, I can understand if you'd rather not have people walking into your house without asking permission first — missed your cue. What you were supposed to do was wave your index finger triumphantly (but politely) in the air and cry out, "Aha!!!" because I was subscribing to a social convention. And you would have been right. I do quite often expect others to adhere to social conventions, and I have to ask myself why. Why do I expect people to knock before entering my apartment? My best guess is that it allows me to think of this space as mine, as being under my authority, that I am self-governing within it, and that I reign supreme over its borders. Given that none of those things are really true, I can't really justify my adherence to even that social convention (though that doesn't make me any more comfortable with the idea of its violation). Where does it stop?

I think it stops when we establish a right perspective on our relationships with each other, and begin living according to those principles instead. Rules like "call before trying to visit me" serve only to give us the illusion of "control" over our own lives while simultaneously isolating us from others. Why do we willingly subscribe to social conventions that require us to trade fellowship for privacy and so-called self-determination? I have more thoughts on this than I can write down at the moment. Even as I participate in it, I think it's utterly ridiculous.

[All that being said, I want to briefly address the idea of respect, and why I mostly ignored it as part of this discourse. Some people will say that we behave politely because it demonstrates respect for ourselves and for the people we are interacting with. Even if I ignore the fact that that is a recursive argument, I still have to ask: how can doing something rude be disrespectful if it's not already considered rude? The fact that the desire to show respect is a motivation for behaving politely has no bearing on why we consider certain behaviors rude. All that being said, I certainly intend to avoid treating people in a manner they perceive as disrespectful, while reminding myself of the true motivations of my expectations of others.]

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Blogger cate mcmillan said...

i welcome anyone to stop by at any time. my church here does it (and a portion of the homeless community)... therefore, yall are welcome.. but if you call first i'll come to the airport.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007 4:29:00 PM  

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