HISTORY OF IDEAS Manners – Free Ebook

It seems natural to most of us that we shouldn’t burp loudly in front of strangers, touch their behinds without permission or spit in the face of those who annoy us but history shows us a different story. What we might take to be normal impulses to be modest, restrained and dignified are the hard-won fruits of a long and always unsteady civilizing process. Human beings have gradually and painfully learned to tame the beast inside for the sake of propriety and kindness. At a moment in time when some people question manners and the pressures they impose on us, it can be fruitful to look back in time in order to trace key moments in the history of manners and to search their by for the future of manners. 13,000 BC, Gough’s Cave, Somerset, England W’re in a cave in what’s known as The Magdalenian period, one of the later cultures of the Upper Paleolithic Age in Western Europe. Our ancestors have learned to use harpoons made of bone antlers. They’ve domesticated dogs and in their spare time have developed a taste for making remarkable images of the fiercest wildlife around them especially hyena reindeer and mammoths. We look a little different from the way we do now: our bodies are generally heavier and more solid with strong musculature and straight foreheads with only slight brow ridges and prominent chins. Our manners would surprise us to: we sleep around a lot and openly. There is a lot of what we now call rape. We do everything in front of one another in our caves and most strikingly we have an occasional habit of eating our human enemies. Following a squabble the leader of a group will take an enemy severed head carefully remove the brains and tissues and prepare the skull for use as a ceremonial drinking vessel. Primitive humans don’t do manners. Circus Maximus, Rome, 20 AD We are at one of the high points of ancient civilization in the West. In many areas of daily life we won’t have this many manners and complex etiquette for another 1400 years at least. We’re taking fascinating care to tame nature within us. For the wealthy ones among us at least we’ve taken to having at least a bath a week, to removing nasal hair, ? tailing displays of violence, to policing the way men behave towards women, to carving chicken and fish and brushing our teeth a lot, conscious of our bad breath and its effect on the sensitivities of others. However, with little knowledge of odontology Romans use a variety of somewhat random ingredients for toothpaste: crushed bone and oyster shell is popular, horse urine is another favorite especially from Iberian breeds. The specifics of the Roman approach to oral hygiene may be questionable but the mentality is advanced and fascinating. Good personal appearance and cleanliness are believed to be what set Romans apart in their minds from what they term the Barbaria: the people who live north of the famous olive line, the line above which the noble olive tree will not grow, the Germanics and Celts among them. Humanity will have to wait a while until Charlemagne is next recorded as brushing his teeth with thyme. Poitiers, France, 1152 French Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine marries Henry II of England at her court in the South of France. She employs a poet, the troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn to compose songs of love for her and her husband. This sounds merely romantic but the songs are not simple sentimentality. They are part of Eleanor’s subtle attempt to civilize her husband and the men around him by putting into verse how a good man should treat his lady. She and her ladies-in-waiting learn to use poetry to set expectations of how military men should act around women. Slowly thanks in part to Eleanor and attitude known as chivalry develops in the courts of Europe: an idea that men need to moderate their force and sexual impulses to protect what is termed the honor and dignity of women. Eleanor of Aquitaine is making an early highly coded call from ?? to what we would nowadays more bluntly term sexual harassment. London, England, 1209 The Book of the Civilized Man is published by Daniel of Beccles. It’s a poem written in Latin that explains how to act with courtesy and decorum in social situations. It advises for example if you wish to belch remember to look up to the ceiling, do not attack your enemy while he is squatting to defecate, never pest a lady or look too closely at their dress. Don’t mount your horse in the hole and in front of grandees do not openly excavate your nostril by twisting your fingers. Slowly the aristocracy is becoming more self-aware about its conduct in social circumstances. In particular, men are being asked to behave with more decorum around women and as an ever-increasing sensor of picking one’s nose in public. Murano, Venice 1450 A new kind of tableware, the Venetian glass goblet or flute takes Europe by storm, under the direction of the Venetian master glass-maker Angelo Barovier. On the island of Murano, some 3,000 glass blowers are sating demand for a new highly delicate and ornamented kind of glass. Part of the reason for the demand is that the glasses are extremely easy to break. Any slightly rough handling of them and they shatter like a dry autumn leaf. The Venetian drinking glass is not fragile because of a deficiency or by mistake; it’s not as if its maker was trying to make it tough and hardy and then stupidly ended up with something a child could snap. It is fragile and easily harmed as the consequence of a deliberate search for extreme delicacy. The underlying thesis is that it’s the duty of civilization to create environments where it’s okay to be fragile. It’s obvious the glass could easily be smashed so it forces people especially men to use their fingers very tenderly. It teaches people that moderation is admirable and elegant not just a tedious demand. It tells us that being careful is glamorous and exciting even fashionable. It’s a moral tale about gentleness told by means of a drinking vessel. The Venetian glass makes a big claim: being mannered and civilized involves being aware of the effect of one’s strength on others. Marseille, France, 1533 14-year-old Catherine de’ Medici marries the future Henry II of France. Her home city of Florence is by now the epicenter of culture in the Western world. And she brings with her new culinary fashions that quickly become all the rage: macaroons, gelato and most significantly a collection of forks. The fork adds a bizarre complication to the rituals of eating dinner: instead of using our fingers which are ideally made for tearing meat off the bone fast, we’ll slow down on purpose and may use the strange new instrument so as to temper and guide our appetite. The fork quickly spreads around Europe, by 1600 no European court is without a large set of forks. This marks out the savages from the civilized. Marais, Paris, 1750 A Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau publishes an extraordinary essay: “A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”. What makes it so revolutionary and such a milestone in the history of manners is that for the first time in Western culture an author sticks up for the so called “un-mannered savage”. For the guys who would have ? not brush their teeth, never employed a fork and had a lot of nasal hair, but whom Russo now contrast favorably with modern mannered people. Rousseau tells us that people living in what he calls the state of nature were in his eyes far superior to educated and mannered Parisians. Their manners may have been simple but they were honest and forthright without the sins of what he now terms the “over-civilized”. Russa retells the story of civilization as one of loss and decline, from a primordial state of fresh-faced curiosity, honesty and enthusiasm to barbarous over politeness, fakery and deceit. He describes the elaborate French court Versay as less civilized than an early human cave. Readers across Europe are astonished and not a little impressed by this impudence. For hundreds of years moralists have been arguing that our natural selves are wild, harmful, over-sexual and dangerous and that we must learn to a tame them for the sake of others. Now Russo suggest the diametrical opposite: civilization has gone too far, it’s our mannered selves that have become the problem, and the task of a properly evolved civilization is to throw off the chains of manners, to relax us, strip off the etiquette and return to primitive frankness. Russo’s point continues to echo down to our own times. It is his voice we can here whenever someone sticks up for the simpler life and suggest we dress less formally, eat dinner more casually and more readily say whatever is passing through our minds. New York, United States, 1827 A French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville is on a tour of the young United States, in an effort to understand the spirit of a new kind of society: A democracy. He is immediately struck by American manners or lack thereof. In Europe, reflects de Tocqueville manners have been codified to emphasize hierarchical differences between people. Ordinary people defer to aristocrats, aristocrats to royalty and so on but in the United States everything is done so as to suggest that there are no differences between people. No one takes off their hat to anyone, a postman can casually greet a judge, a mule driver can strike up cheerful banter with a wealthy merchant, and one can not tell by someone’s clothes whether they might be living in a mansion or a hut. Expressions like “how you doing” and “hi” are heard everywhere across the new republic. It could be charming but the aristocratic de Tocqueville wryly notes a problem: these casual manners do not do away with class and wealth differences, they merely sentimentally disguise them. The manners of old Europe have been accused of being cruel in their stress on hierarchy but now de Tocqueville accuses American casual democratic manners of their own kind of cruelty: because they pretend that everyone is in the same boat when clearly they’re not really. At least in old Europe everyone knew who the king and the aristocrats were, adds de Tocqueville. Now the casual manners teach everyone to think of themselves as alike and encourage them to dream of making it to the top of the pile. But when society remains very unequal and opportunities for genuine advancement and not as widespread as is thought then bitterness and a sense of failure are likely to be the result to de Tocqueville ? notes. Casual manners can be their own form of fakery. Northern Ireland, June 2013 At a meeting of the G8 developed countries a few eyebrows are raised when some of the most powerful men in the world including Barrack Obama of the United States David Cameron of the United Kingdom and François Hollande of France all appear at a press conference without ties. The men also hug and in some cases high-five each other during the course of the summit. The absence of ties is an inadvertent and continuing tribute to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Ties have been deemed a symbol of oppression and hierarchy by the people who control the nuclear codes and direct the world economy. Between 1996 and 2008 sales of ties in the U.S halved. In the UK, the Tirerack company, for 20 years the country’s biggest seller of ties goes into administration in late 2014. By early 2015 in The United States only 18 percent of male employees regularly wear a tie to work. One-third show up in jeans at least once a week. Southwark Crown Court, London, September 2014 Eleanor of Aquitaine’s long campaign to civilized men reaches a new milestone: A minor British DJ Dave Lee Travis is found guilty of indecently assaulting a woman two decades earlier. He is accused by a judge of having displayed primitive behavior when he groped a young female employees breasts at his radio offices. Patting bottoms, eyeing breasts and throwing out leary comments is now deemed deeply anachronistic and vile manners. Dave Lee Travis, a 69 year old father of two is roundly punished and humiliated for his actions. Travis is in a long line of men who in the early 21st century are called to account for their behavior towards women. They are puzzled and at a certain level incensed by this. They had come of age in a period when Victorian manners towards women were on the retreat seen as outdated and hypocritical. These men had believed in messages about casualness and sexual liberation but it seems they had fatally misinterpreted what a world with a few less sexual manners would actually be like. Slowly society is learning to re-heed some of the basic lessons of Victorian etiquette books always stressed: That men must be careful around women, that they must never touch or look at them inappropriately and that the overwhelming priority is never to cause anyone else discomfort through one’s advances. Men like Dave Lee Travis are judged to be pathological and sexual predators. Looked at through a longer lens they could also simply be accused of having forgotten their manners. The history of manners shows an ongoing search for the best way to be kind. For long periods, it seemed that being mannered had to be about hiding and moderating the inner self which was associated with something beastly and cruel. Then under the influence of Rousseau and the Romantic philosophy to which he gave birth good manners were associated with being natural and free, letting out the inner self which was deemed to be good and spontaneously kind. But we have come to learn that there are in fact limitations to the natural approach. There is unwitting cruelty and political subterfuge in the defense of natural manners which suggests we’re all equal when we’re not which allow one gender to pester another. there’s a fine line between being natural about things and being bothersome to others. Aline we are continuing to explore often at great cost to all concerned. There are no doubt many behaviors which many of us subscribe to now which a later age may come to see is no less vulgar than Catherine de Medici found a meal without a fork. The aspiration to be well-mannered shouldn’t be seen as pretentious or fake. It should be generously interpreted as always belonging to a highly important wish not to cause other people distress through one’s impulses and needs. The history of manners goes on.

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