November 27, 2007

Politesse and Politically Correctness

by PG

I remember telling one of my college professors about six years ago that I was in a very small minority of people willing to defend "political correctness," though I preferred to call it "political manners." To me, what has become known as political correctness is simply an expansion of good manners to cover more of the polity. Like any other form of good manners, it should not be treated as a minefield where one enjoys others' blowing themselves up unwarily. As has been said of traditional etiquette, so is true of political etiquette: the goal is for everyone to feel pleased and at ease, not to make everyone uptight and unhappy.

Just as a polite hostess need not feel obligated to include children among the guests at a wedding ceremony (though it might provide some help to parents, it will do so at the cost of other guests' enjoyment), she also need not send reply cards with "Mr. and Mrs." already printed if such also is inappropriate to her guests nowadays, though it may not have been once. We simply have a greater variety of people in our public and social lives, and so the individual whose freely expressed opinions might jar against the new differences is expected to keep those opinions at home -- like the uninvited children.

Therefore I was all for Don Imus's firing, and am disappointed by Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman's. Imus believes that it's quite all right to be on a radio station heard by millions and call a group of high-achieving African American women "nappy-headed 'hos." The proper response of a society that disagrees with such public behavior is to remove him like he is having terribly odorous flatulence in a public place. The proper response to someone who used racial slurs in a phone call to his son, in the context of saying that he did not want that use to become public, is to judge him a private racist but not to deem him unfit for public exposure. Imus's persistent on-air remarks denigrating successful African Americans might have become legally actionable as creating a hostile environment, assuming any African Americans worked with him. Nothing of the sort could result from Chapman's because he kept his gas at home. Yet his show is gone and Imus's is back.

But "politically correct" now seems to be an actual substitute for the word "polite," when one wants to make a breach of good conduct look edgy instead of simply boorish.

B. Ben Baldanza, chief executive of the aggressively bare-bones Spirit Airlines, hit "reply all" to an e-mail message from a passenger who wished to be compensated for a delayed flight that caused him to miss a concert he was planning to attend. Mr. Baldanza’s response, which seemed to be intended only for a Spirit Airlines employee but subsequently appeared on multiple travel blogs, said: "Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny."

While Mr. Baldanza may regret the manner in which his e-mail statement was delivered, his position hasn’t changed. "The point that I was making in that e-mail, maybe not as politically correctly as I should have, is let's not over-obsess or spend a lot of money dealing with customers with completely unrealistic expectations," he said, pointing out that the delay was due to weather and that the passenger was offered a $200 voucher toward future flights even though he had paid only $73 for two round-trip tickets. "When the fare's this cheap, we’re going to get another customer," he said.

I am wholly in agreement with Mr. Baldanza, and I loathe the chorus of complaints from airline passengers who have no brand loyalty and are shopping purely on price. We are now seeing what the Leegin majority said resale price maintenance is meant to prevent: the deterioration of service and the product sold in its purest form, close to the margin, with ruthless price competition. If we don't like how we're treated in economy, we should pay for a better airline or higher class. (Frankly, I'd pay an extra $50 for morning flights that guaranteed pillows, blankets and no screaming children.)

But political correctness has nothing to do with why he might "regret the manner in which his e-mail statement was delivered." The email was not unPC; it was impolite and impolitic (defined by the American Heritage dictionary as "Not wise or expedient; not politic: an impolitic approach to a sensitive issue"). It was impolitic in bidding the customer to "tell the world how bad we are"; it was impolite in calling the customer literally a penny pincher. But of course no CEO wants to announce that he is unwise or even rude. So he cloaks the deficiency in his behavior in the phrase "politically correct," which is a quality that almost everyone despises anyway. The objective is to get across that the problem is not that Mr. Baldanza was inexpedient or unmannerly, but that anyone offended by the email must be a thin-skinned oversensitive minority of some type. If it redounds to his disadvantage, it will be because he estimated wrongly; the population of angry fliers is a thin-skinned, oversensitive majority.

November 27, 2007 12:11 AM | TrackBack

A wonderful post. Thank you.

Posted by: Robert at November 27, 2007 02:37 PM


"Politeness" hides truth.

The good-hearted don't need the sickly-sweet stench of "politeness" coming out of their mouths. It's already in their hearts - not their mouths.

That's where it belongs. That's all that matters.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at December 1, 2007 09:28 PM

Mr. Mak,

Unless one is President Bush talking to Vladimir Putin, most people have difficult knowing what is in another person's heart when it is contradicting what comes out of that person's mouth. Perhaps Bush can perceive a commitment to liberal democracy despite all signs to the contrary, but otherwise such contradictions between exterior and interior tend to go against assuming that some person is genuinely "good-hearted."

Also, if you could explain how one can be polite in one's heart without being polite in one's speech and behavior, I'd be very interested. Every definition I've seen of "politeness" emphasizes showing one's consideration, regard, etc.

Posted by: PG at December 2, 2007 05:53 PM

Showing politeness comes from feeding the birds, caring for a loving and obedient dog, growing your own herbs in your own garden, cooking your own food... smelling the f*cking roses.

In other words not being condescending, trivial, arrogant, bitchy, selfish, fashionable, superficial, materialistic, grasping, political, obsessive, uptight, tight-assed, stuck up, and a big turn-off.

Actions not words. Actions not words. Words divide and distort and control. Those obsessed with words (such as yourself) live in a barren world blinkered by the delusion that words matter more than actions - your mouth matters more than your heart. And someone with $$$$s matters more than someone without.

Accusing me of being a paranoid member of an Asian Black Panther gang without even researching the plethora of statistical analyses in relation to affirmative action shows such narrow-minded, blinkered liberal prejudice it's obvious you don't know up from down, right from wrong, thought-control p.c. Orwellian fascism from genuine concern for others. To not apologize and recant your comments in the face of clear, objective evidence supporting my "astonishing" allegations shows ostrich-like denial in the face of the facts. And you accuse others of impoliteness!

Either your level of maturity needs to rise or your level of hypocrisy needs to fall. One or the other.

Take your pick.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at December 2, 2007 07:08 PM

Mr. Mak,

You describe behaviors, which are outward emanations, not just what's in one's "heart." More importantly, with the possible exception of feeding birds, all of the acts you describe show one's regard for oneself, not others. You describe this as politeness, and then say others are selfish.

The nice thing about paying attention to words is that it allows one to distinguish a joking, sarcastic comment like "See, Asians are better at everything, including conspiracy theories. Beat that, Black Panthers!" from "accusing [Mak] of being a paranoid member of an Asian Black Panther gang."
Or to see that in a discussion, you called yourself paranoid several times before I ever used the word (and when I did so, it was only to reference your own uses by saying "And you wonder why you come off as paranoid...").
Or to notice that when you told me to do something to show my concern about the California Bar's failure to furnish information to a researcher, that I did it without hesitation. And of course, what I did was all words. What you perceive as an insult was all words. The apology you want, since you have no way to judge my heart's sincerity (e.g. through tone of voice, facial expression, gestures) would be all words.

Bloggers, even more than lawyers, rely entirely on words, and it's nonsensical to tell a blawgger that words are unimportant.

Posted by: PG at December 2, 2007 10:03 PM

Relax tight-ass.

I was only joking. Being sarcastic. Don't be so defensive.

They're only words after all...

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at December 2, 2007 11:18 PM

I have no idea what you think I'm being "so defensive" about. However, you've finally succeeded in causing me to lose all interest in what you have to say. This is an achievement, because part of the reason I blog and respond to comments is that I am very interested in other people's ideas. However, this only works if they can communicate those ideas with some level of clarity, and can accept criticism of those ideas without resorting to personal insults. The idea that Asians are superior to African Americans and are being kept down by the white Establishment is one I was critiquing through sarcasm and had nothing to do with you personally; a string of negative adjectives is a personal insult, even if intended as a joke (at least in the Ann Coulter school of humor). So feel free to comment at will; perhaps other people will sustain the interest to respond to you, though none have thus far.

Posted by: PG at December 3, 2007 01:48 PM

Where the Hell did the bat and ball go???

Ahhh...princess took them home when she couldn't play by her rules.

Oh well, Merry Christmas everyone.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at December 3, 2007 06:27 PM
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