Friday, April 22, 2011

And Be Civil About It!

This post should be filed under "Social Commentary", so if you are going to get upset about a non-PACS entry, then feel free to GTFO (which means Gallantly Try Finding Other sites, I believe).

I had to travel last night to be with the rest of the family for a relative's birthday. Flying is the usual drudgery, with the added joy of every last possible piece of luggage being brought into the cabin so as to avoid the $20 fee. I hope the airlines are pleased with themselves for this rather nasty money-grubbing move, and the unintended consquences thereof.

Anyway, I made it through the hub airport without difficulty, and boarded my next plane. I settled into my seat, and tried to catch a nap on this 45 minute flight. Unfortunately for me and the rest of the passengers, two rows behind me, a bearded gentleman in his thirties began nattering away at the top of his lungs about various engineering topics to his seatmate. And he continued without pause through the entire flight, the taxiing to the gate, the retreival of everyone's life-possessions from the overhead bins, the lineup out the door and even down at Baggage Claim. Naturally, his voice and the volume thereof carried quite nicely through the remainder of the DC-9. Often, I can simply block out such things, but having the engineering background myself, and being in just the right state of fatigue, I kept latching onto familiar phrases. So much for my nap.

At the end of the flight, I turned around to see several other gentlemen, who were wearing suits and ties, balling their fists and rolling their eyes, as Mr. Nerdy continued his unending, LOUD babbling.  How we all managed to keep from delivering an even louder chorus of "STFU!!!!" I'll never understand.

I wish I could say this sort of thing is an isolated incident, but it isn't. One of our X-Ray techs, who is a great person, and does incredible work, cannot speak in tones softer than a freight train at 10 feet.  By some wonderful bit of luck, my reading room is indeed 10 feet from the patient prep area, and I'm interrupted every 5 minutes by a blast of "HI!  I'M JOE AND I'M GOING TO GET YOU READY FOR YOUR CAT SCAN!!" or "TIME FOR YOUR CHEST X-RAY!  ARE YOU WEARING A BRA? GOOD! COME ON IN HERE AND HUUUUUUUUUUUUG THIS BOARD!!!"  I've tried slamming the door to my office, but the message never gets across.  Perhaps JOE can't hear (or grasp) the slam.  And there are similar examples in my workplace, and elsewhere.

Please understand, I'm not thinking all of the ultra loud folks in my life are trying to annoy me, even though they succeed quite readily. I have to wonder if the new norm of CONSTANT music via iPod/iPhone/etc. headphones is literally deafening our society. And maybe some have been affected by undertreated otitis in their youth, yielding deafness near and far.  I was of the generation that received antibiotics for earaches.  Lots and lots of antibiotics.  I'm told this is (or at least was) passe, and I've run into docs who are petrified to hand out a Z-Pack to a kid with otitis for fear of causing the next flesh-eating-bacteria epidemic.  (I'm not kidding.)  Could we have thus created a generation of kids with hearing loss? 

Realizing that you are annoying other people is one facet of courtesy.  Rather ominously, there is a general trend away from gentility, and toward such selfish, and even entitled behavior.  (And by the way, I'm not accusing either the Very Acoustic Engineer or JOE of this, but the description will apply to some of the LOUD folks.)  More and more, we see the tendency for some to do what they please, without regard to how it might affect others.  I'll stick my iPod in my ears, and turn it up so loud everyone around me can hear the music coming out of the headphones.  I'll then shout because I can't hear, or maybe I just feel like shouting.  The yellow light, or even the red light at the corner simply means I'm supposed to speed up and be the last one through, even if your light has been green for 10 seconds.  That's not my problem.  I demand my entitlements, and I demand that you pay for it, because you are richer than I am, and that just isn't right.  And so on.

I have to ask, is there some connection between political orientation and civility?  From Georgetown's Patrick Deneen in the Washington Post:
For all the the lamentation about the rise of incivility in our culture today, there was little understanding of the deeper sources of modern incivility - indeed, the connection between incivility and liberalism itself. Civility requires a certain set of preconditions and even deeper prevailing norms about the nature of political life itself. Modern liberalism has systematically sought to disassemble those conditions, and those prevailing norms. Complaints about the decline of civility are thus more than a little disingenuous.

One should expect little deep thought about such a matter as "civility" in contemporary political and social life, but there seem to me to be fewer more important questions facing our society today. Yet, the fact is, for all the hew and cry about the dearth of civility in our lives and times, as a culture we are actually more deeply opposed to civility than might even be suspected by its passing proponents. Modern - especially liberal - society is designed largely to undermine civility. Rather than lament its dearth, we should understand more fundamentally the deeper systemic causes of its decline. . .

To hear contemporary liberals lament the decline of "civility" is thus more than a little galling. Modern liberals are the heirs of a longstanding effort to liberate people from the "little platoons" that tempered individual self-expression. Hearing their decrying of contemporary "incivility" is a bit like the man who, after insisting on his wife dress as revealingly as possible, gets upset that other men are leering at her. By that same token, "conservative" defenses of "incivility" are even more aggravating, perhaps even more than the well-publicized "conservative" re-introduction of polystyrene coffee cups in the House cafeterias.

Civility is indeed a lost art of our time, but not because of talk radio or growing partisanship. These are symptoms of a deeper disease. Until we frankly diagnose our condition, we remain a patient whose diseases continue to metastasize, all the while complaining that what really bothers us is a hang-nail.
And what is that deeper disease?  It isn't something we can cure with antibiotics.  I've heard that the lack of civility has much to do with the increasing pressures of our day.  But when we look at the incredible patience, and, yes, civility, of the Japanese victims of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, I have to question that. These are a people who have endured a huge tragedy, and must be under incredible stress.  But they stand patiently in queues for water and supplies, there is no pushing or shoving, and no price-gouging on the part of the stores.  No, I fear the deeper disease is the false narcisism, the "Me, Me, Me!" of entitlement and the false generosity of gallantly demanding justice for the needy via confiscation from others. 

What? Sorry, I couldn't hear you over my loud little rant...

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