So Matt Zwolinski and I had a fun moment last week when we more or less simultaneously published on more or less the same topic. This either means that Matt and I need to get out more, or it means that we’re on to something. I’m going for the latter explanation. And all available evidence suggests that Matt will agree with me.
And even if he doesn’t agree with me, I know he’ll be polite about it. Matt and I both have civility on our minds.
In the current issue of The Freeman, in a piece called Reading Each Other I argue that the humanities are a useful educational tool for practicing the skill of sympathy that is a vital underpinning for the civil society. “When we’re practiced in sympathy, it is easier for us to notice “what is not seen.” When we have tried, over and over again, to put ourselves into others’ places and to see the world from where they are standing, we’re better people, living in a more civil world. …Because our children have read, and have had read to them, stories that help them think about the perils of greed, or the importance of kindness, or the dangers of drinking from bottles marked “Drink me” they will grow up to be more considerate and more careful of themselves and others.
And over at BHL, Matt has a post called “Libertarianism and Good Manners” that argues that, “It is a mistake, first of all, to think about rules regarding the location of forks as paradigmatic of manners and etiquette. It is a mistake, too, to suppose that there is no important distinction to be made between the rules of etiquette and the principles of manners. And it is a mistake for libertarians, especially, to disdain all this business as the stuff of authoritarian busy-bodies.” Matt also, intriguingly, suggests thinking of manners as a kind of spontaneous order–an approach I like a great deal.
Why the confluence of topics? Well, there are a lot of reasons to be irritated right now. It’s hot. There’s a drought. The power is out all over the place. The government has gone and done something stupid again. It’s only July 2nd, and people are already setting off fireworks late at night and waking the kids up. That means it’s a good time to think about civility and manners. It’s a good time to take a deep breath and remind ourselves to ask “What would Miss Manners do?”