Dan Wang on 28 Aug 2000 20:15:35 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Rudeness as a public service

> Some people say that I have very rude manners when I write.
> I take that as a compliment.
> In a period of human history when every malicious and pernicious intention
> is couched in the most polite, sanitised, technical and obscure language,
> rudeness is a public service.
> Hitler called sanitised language "coordination". He called the mechanical
> murder of millions of people "the Jewish question", "question" meaning
> here much the same as "issue" means today. He knew very well what
> sanitising public expression meant: the closure of thought; the effective
> creation of a one-track public mind devoid of memory, context, and
> content.

When it comes to politeness, in the context of the U.S. at least, there is
also an issue of class signification. Middle-class civility constitutes a
vexed terrain for left/progressive Americans, and has ever since the
Sixties, when so many of the (at the time) youngish New Left came out of
middle-class backgrounds, in contrast to the recent immigrant/laboring
class Old Left.

Could one really be radical but still subscribe to the codes of social
civility popularly associated with a bourgeois social standing? This very
question, saturated in ideological posturing as it is, tore apart many
radical groups, or helped move them into areas of social experimentation
and ego-smashing. . . . Interestingly, civility, among other
bourgeois/peasant cultural fault lines, even became a litmus test used in
the most charged scenarios of the Cultural Revolution in China.

The question of civility remains an unresolved divide between peoples who
may otherwise forge alliances. Where I live (the south side of Chicago) the
perceived lack of manners of poor inner-city Black people is probably the
most effective brake on educated whites' sympathetic impulses--much more so
than anger flared by images of 'welfare queen' leeching. Your basic liberal
urban white American thinks 'I can sympathize with the poverty, the lack of
opportunity, the fear of police. . . but I cannot tolerate the lack of
manners.' To the point of staying in the city, paying higher taxes, voting
for the more progressive candidates, all decisions in keeping with their
liberal values. . . but they will not live in a neighborhood of rude, loud,
uncouth people. For the utterly civil, being around those they perceive as
rude probably causes more discomfort than the fear of crime, which is what
is usually cited as the reason for not living in the poor part of town.

That these strokes are drawn in terms of race and class complicates my
local society in ways perhaps not experienced by the student movements of a
past generation, at least not to this degree of immediacy. For example,
where there is real poverty, there will be real aspiration as well. Around
here, some of the poor and uniformly Black who hope to distance themselves
from the 'cousins' adopt often times very strict codes of civility, to the
point of an almost rigid formality. In the few social settings in which
true integration happens, the curious mixture of more formal Blacks with
working-class roots sharing space alongside ultra-casual whites of upper
middle-class upbringing strikes the observer as a two-way class posturing
in compensation of assigned, racialized social positions. Aspiration (with
its accompanying disdain for compatriots) and on the one hand, guilt (with
its self-hatred) on the other.

> In Draconian Greece, the "terms of reference" were set by means of
> deliberative rhetoric designed by sophists. Then they adorned the
> remaining narrow set of terms (words, definitions, issues), which had
> already been decided beforehand, or which were undecidable from the start,
> with epideictic rhetoric, so transforming them into a distorted caricature
> of open debate.
> That is our "democratic" inheritance: Draco, not Socrates.
> Now, as then, polemical, unexpert, and dissenting terms that stray from
> the "terms of reference" are disallowed or discredited: they are artefacts
> of a dirty, inexpert, and disorganised reality.
> Rudeness is a public service. So is humour. So is memory. So is meaning.
> So is thought.

Getting back to language, I have to say that I agree with Mr. Graham. Also,
without rudeness, without offense, without attack, there is nothing
meaningfully complimentary, laudatory, loving. But please beware the
ideological positioning that happens on the level of not only
bureaucratized terminologies, but real and imagined codes of personal
conduct as well.

dan w.

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