Minding your Manners

One of the more common criticisms levelled at “leftists”, or social justice warriors (SJWs), is that they lack respect and common courtesy during discussions, debates, or critiques of opposing views or ideologies. More concisely put: the left lack manners.[1]

Broadly, criticism of the left via manners takes several paths, to which I name only a few. First, manners are used to invoke how leftists or SJWs are attempting to violate or censor the speech of their opponents. For example, allowing another to speak is thought to be a part of social etiquette. When an interlocutor shouts down an opponent, or cuts them off to challenge a fact or opinion, this is viewed as a kind of censorship and thus ‘showing no manners’. Second, manners are invoked to dismiss even engaging with interlocutors. When someone is rude towards us, by becoming aggressive or calling us names in the heat of argument, some might invoke manners as away of ostracising that person until they are willing to be ‘civil’ and ‘play nice’ (i.e., until that person shows us respect we shouldn’t hear what they have to say).  And third, appealing to manners is meant to show the validity of ones own ideas while discrediting ones opponent. For example, the fact that my views perhaps allow for manners or even require them means that my view just is the right one, and that any contra view is ipso facto wrong. 

But what are manners, and what are their purpose? Intuitively, what manners are can be defined as a set of rules about how ought to conduct oneself in social settings. With regards to discussion and debate, those rules of conduct dictate how we speak to one another, in terms of tone (e.g., calm), language (e.g., ‘sir’), and behaviour (e.g., allowing the other to speak).

And it seems manners serve are two purposes. First, manners demonstrate respect towards an interlocutor, as manners are thought to show that the speaker recognises the person as a person and therefore a bearer of moral value or worth. This particularly Kantian intuition (recognising a person as a person) is meant to show that, even when you disagree vehemently with someone, that the disagreement does not demonise or dehumanise the other, for even if they hold the different or mistaken views, they still have intrinsic moral worth. Secondly, displaying manners is supposed to tell us something about the character of the person who displays them. Intuitively, I think advocates of these rules think that displaying manners shows a person has humility in the face of authority, but also and humility in recognising the other as a person, whom they have equal moral worth, and thus are no better (or worse) than.

If this is what manners are and the purpose to which they serve, I think most people would find them acceptable. They intuitively fit with many of our moral concepts and intuitions. When people use manners towards us it is especially appealing because it reminds us of our moral worth. This sounds good in principle, but how are manners used in reality?

While it is true that manners are used for the above purposes I have described, they can also be used as rhetorical devices and manipulative tools, some of which are contradictory or problematic with some views held by the Free-Speech warriors (FSWs).

How are manners used as rhetorical devices? I have already outlined several ways in which manners are deployed to dissuade people from siding with leftists and SJWs, namely, that if they lack manners they should not be listened to, or are simply wrong. Using manners as a rhetorical device fails to provide any actual argument against whatever a leftist of SJW has to say. The reason is obvious: pointing to a lack of manners as signifying the falsity of a claim is a straight up genetic fallacy. For where an idea comes from, or how an idea is communicated, has no bearing upon the truth value of that idea. If I were to aggressively scream at you that “the sky is blue”, the aggression in which I say it does not unmake the colour of the sky. And if an incredibly rude or blunt person (i.e., me) were to inform you that “the sky is blue”, the fact you would have learnt the colour of the sky from me would not render the proposition false.  

But I don’t think manners are used primarily in this way. Perhaps more troubling is how manners are used as a manipulative tool to compel particular kinds of speech acts or behaviour from people. It is troubling because if you are demanding that a person speak to you in a particular way (and punishing them by either de-platforming or ostracising them) then you are in some sense, forcing them to communicate and speak in a way that you deem fit. Considering the majority of FSWs stand by ones right to say something, even if they disagree with it, attempting to control another persons language by way of manners seems to be, at surface, hypocritical or contradictory to their most fundamental ethos.

[1] Whether it is actually case the left lack manners does not impede the claims I make in this entry.




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