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January 10, 2013

"The Media-Offense Complex" and Civilization Become Barbarism

As you probably read, Brent Mussburger had to pre-emptively apologize for noting that an attractive woman was in fact attractive. Apparently this is some kind of offense, now, even though the woman herself was not insulted at all and doesn't understand why anyone would have to apologize to her for complimenting her.

Speaking of words we don't have in English: The Japanese, I know due to previous study (that is, from watching Gung Ho and Rising Sun a whole heck of a lot), have elaborate apology and deference rituals. It all seems very foreign and strange to an outsider-- and barbaric as well.

But we seem to be well along the pathway of that sort of thing ourselves, in which some people pretend to take ritual offense, and then some people demand a ritual apology, and some people even go so far to offer the ritual apology without it even being asked, figuring one might as well shame oneself pre-emptively just to maintain the habit.

Along the way, we lose honesty. Communication ceases being primarily about expressing belief and fact and more about empty rituals demanded to appease feigned offense.

And unfortunately, this is one of those situations where few take a stand, because it seems so much easier to just offer the tatemae apology rather than the honne refusal. And because the tatamae is the path of least resistance, it gets further and further accepted that it's just what you do, whether you mean it or not, whether the person claiming to be offended is being an attention-seeking drama queen or not, and actual honesty seems more and more like crudeness or impoliteness.

Obviously, we have a lot of this going on in discourse about sensitive topics, usually involving race, gender, or sexual orientation. Members of classes of "Historical Discrimination" have been granted the powerful social weapon of demanding that others acknowledge their inherited guilt.

The odd thing is: These rituals become adopted as a mark of civilization and therefore distinction against the example of the barbarian. That is, by engaging in such rituals one shows oneself to be civilized and cultured, contrasted against the rude and crude tongue of the barbarian.

But as such rituals become more common and more empty, they become less civilized and more primitive, becoming, essentially, a human analogue of an ape's Aggression Display or a dog rolling over on its back and showing the belly and throat (the Submission Display).

The ritualized demands for appeasement and ritualized offerings of such -- and the social code as to who is entitled to demand the appeasement, and who is obligated to offer it -- become very quickly signals of who is where in the Pecking Order, the anlmalistic (and primitive) order of who is more dominant and who is lower in the order.

The demands for appeasement are a way of demanding those lower in the hierarchy formally re-acknowledge their lower position in the hierarchy. Brent Mussberger, a white male, is lower in the hierarchy (at least for purposes of being obligated to offer submission signals to a potentially-aggrieved party further up in the Apology Hierarchy) and so is required, by ritual and custom, to formally acknowledge his lower status upon such being demanded of him. Or even, as here, when it's not demanded of him.

Take civilization and sophistication, ritual and custom, far enough and you wind up moving further and further from honest and free expression, and further and further from equality, towards primativism and barbarism and animal-like displays of dominance and submission.

It's all very similar to the idea that one must not look a Social Superior directly in the eye-- that would imply social equality, which is a breach. One must keep one's eyes low, signalling one's acceptance of one's lesser place in the hierarchy. If this rule is breached, the offending party must prostate himself with apology to signal his acceptance of the order.

And we've got that a lot of that going on in supposedly advanced and civilized America 2013. If you treat persons afforded a higher Social Status as equals -- not bothering with ritualized shows of deference (politically correct language, etc.), you're required to immediately apologize for your impudence.

A lot of sci-fi adventures feature the idea of a "cultured" society which has become so formalized and ossified in ritual that it's dishonest, corrupt, and barbaric in its purported civility, and it takes the Barbaric Outsider's rude truth to puncture the Sham Civility and show it to be, in reality, just an elaborate form of simian primativism. That it happens in books doesn't make it false, though: It's a real thing. Sometimes -- often -- it takes either an outsider or at least a stubborn contrarian to point out we've moved past "polite manners" and into the realm of barbaric habit.

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posted by Ace at 03:59 PM

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