The PC Way To Set The Silverware

Conor Friedersdorf pulled an interesting quote from a New Yorker article about Meghan Daum and her new book, The Problem With Everything.

Daum presents herself as a bit of a lurker, haunting the fringes of this world without becoming one of its pundits. She portrays herself instead as a liberal inspecting her own house for evidence of hypocrisy. “I felt an obligation to hold the left to account because, for all my frustrations with it, I was still of it,” she writes. As long as she doesn’t commit to some of the views of Free Speech YouTube, especially those that emphasize the rightness of hierarchy, I suppose she can still say she is “of the left,” which she also fails to define. But being “of the left” is not a purely materialist position. Right now, it also indicates a set of values, most obviously fairness, in which political correctness is a form of good etiquette practiced by well-intentioned people.

Conor questioned whether this assertion is correct.

Some would characterize PC as mere etiquette, proper behavior to be imposed on others, like saying “please” and “thank you.” Okay, maybe not “thank you” as that reinforces social hierarchies, but maybe “no problem.” But etiquette isn’t something forced upon others, but something that naturally develops. And if one violates a rule of etiquette, someone may tell the person they’re rude, even though that would be rude in itself, but not demand they be fired or universally despised as a social pariah.

Still, this characterization as etiquette doesn’t cut it. It’s not just that people may differ as to what constitutes “fairness” or “politeness,” but as Conor notes, it’s a demand for acceptance of other people’s “truth.” Unfortunately, it’s not, as Conor then notes, a matter of how to properly set the silverware.

Rather, it’s etiquette in the same sense as its etiquette for rich people to come up with obscure ways to set out silverware, call that way proper, and then act like anyone who doesn’t follow the etiquette is showing themselves unsophisticated.

If this example served to capture the failing of the claim that political correctness was just some idiosyncratic group’s obscure rules of propriety, no one would care. Unless you want to hang around with the “rich people,” who gives a damn if they find you sufficiently sophisticated? And for anyone pondering the details, there are cheat sheets that tell you where the forks and spoons go, for those of us who grew up in homes that were lucky to have plastic utensils.

Was Daum’s point that as someone who believes in the humanitarian principles of liberalism, she was disturbed to find herself pushed from the left side of the political spectrum to the middle, or worse, even right in the eyes of the woke? Was that because she was impolite or insufficiently fair, according to whatever the new left decided was fair?

Missing from Conor’s critique is that PC isn’t, as they would prefer to characterize it in order to sooth what little cognitive dissonance they would otherwise be forced to endure, as entirely natural and benign etiquette. Call Hispanics by the nouveax “Latinx,” as long as you don’t care about what Hispanics think of this silly word. It’s just polite, except to Hispanics. But that’s a rather facile example, since it arises only because a survey showed that the people who believe Latinx to be the polite word aren’t Hispanic.

What about a more substantive aspect of political correctness. Can a man call a woman unhinged? Having been chastised by the Appellate Twitter kids for doing so, as it’s an epithet used by oppressors to historically silence women as “nuts or sluts,” the politically correct answer is absolutely not. But then, does that mean a woman can’t be unhinged? Does that mean if a woman is unhinged, you can’t say so? Is there a reason why a man can be unhinged but not a woman? Is this the new “fair”? Is this just being polite?

Calling the silencing of language etiquette enables those who do the screaming to take cover in an otherwise normal aspect of life. After all, who would complain about some fellow holding a door open so a woman can enter? Okay, bad example. So where does the line of etiquette begin and end, if political correctness is merely politeness and an appreciation of the value of fairness? While no one can answer that question, because the line is constantly in motion with the moment’s latest cry of trauma as some marginalized person finds fault with saying “good morning” (“Oh yeah, not if you’re black in America, racist”), cross the line and you’ll find out good and hard.

Is that etiquette, to be politely told you’ve transcended someone else’s line of etiquette? If some rich folks invited you for dinner, and you used the wrong fork, they might well look at you askance and not invite you back. You’re not their type of people. Chances are you would be okay with this, as they’re not your type of people either. And that’s fine, as no one has to be anyone else’s type of people.

This is where the etiquette analogy fails miserably. It’s not just that the woke won’t invite you to dinner, but that they feel compelled to make sure you are never invited to dinner by anyone again for your using what they consider the wrong fork. And they will double down should you question whether the fork was wrong, or just their preferred fork, and the fork you used worked perfectly well, making sure you won’t be served food elsewhere, and can’t buy food, as anyone selling you food is complicit in your wrong forkfulness.

The notion that political correctness is mere etiquette is a way to color it as harmless and normal, just as society has always had rules of etiquette to guide the rich and poor in their dealing with others. But there is nothing polite about scolds demanding you use the outside spoon or starve to death. This isn’t about etiquette. Not at all.

14 thoughts on “The PC Way To Set The Silverware

  1. B. McLeod

    I have never seen Internet hate mobs demanding that a person’s life and livelihood be destroyed for using the wrong fork.

  2. Hunting Guy

    Robert Heinlein.

    “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

    1. SHG Post author

      The irony here is that SJWs are often the least polite, attacking any heresy with shrieks of racism or sexism. There is no gentility, the usual etiquette of good manners, which are no doubt some remnant of colonial patriarchal oppression.

      1. B. McLeod

        Right? Like they want to harp on “civility” until the moment they shit out a letter calling a colleague who is a suspected unbeliever “lazy, arrogant and an ideologue.”

  3. BTF

    I was confused by this twitter discussion as it seemed to me to miss the point entirely. PC language policing is annoying, but I see the much bigger problem as PC idea policing, and the politeness analogy falls apart entirely there. Not being allowed to have honest discussions about gender/cultural/racial/religious differences has a real negative impact on society. Shunning scientist and shutting down areas of research because the results may not conform to the ideals of the moment has lasting consequences.

    Making it just about language seems like granting to pro-PC their motte, or bailey or whichever is which.

    1. SHG Post author

      That was my reaction as well. Trying to shoehorn PC as language politeness, which fails, doesn’t begin to touch the silencing of ideas that PC refuses to tolerate.

  4. Fubar

    Is that etiquette, to be politely told you’ve transcended someone else’s line of etiquette? If some rich folks invited you for dinner, and you used the wrong fork, they might well look at you askance and not invite you back.

    Patriarchal Eurocentrist.

    Try being invited for dinner and using the wrong chopsticks.

    Korean chopstick etiquette is not the same as Japanese.

    I used Japanese. But they might invite me back. Their kid liked my birthday toys.

    1. B. McLeod

      If nobody struck you, drew a weapon or delivered the standard “Westerners are like children” lecture, you are probably OK.

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