Saturday, April 05, 2008

Morals and Manners

In true essay genre style the ideas below were truly being tested out as i wrote. I picked a most confusing subject matter for use in my extension English assessment, which was meant to be in the style of first, self-proclaimed essayist Michel De Montaigne. Rebellious, frank, digressive Frenchman that he is, I've grown quite attached to him.

Morals and Manners
Since the late 18th century, rapid change has been occurring worldwide. The industrial revolution began shaping the modern world over 200 years ago – it divided city and country more than ever, started the exponential increase in pollution and set the world on a new course. The kids of today spend more time with machines than with the sunshine and people over the age of 50 – with some exceptions - are more often than not baffled by technology.
One change that’s been overlooked amongst all this though, is that of the decline of etiquette, courtesy and respect, along with the major morals upheld by society for so long. When we look back 200, 100 or even just 50 years, we’re often amazed at the way society demanded people to act. But I look at the world we live in and am shocked by the amount of tolerance granted an individual, and the things that are permissible. Of course etiquette must grow and change with the constantly progressing world – but the manners, respect and ideas behind it need not disappear or become an object of amusement. And in any case, I believe the morals should stay the same.
However, much etiquette has had to evolve to suit a changing world and society. The most obvious is that affecting the relationships and conduct between males and females: the necessity that a man not sit while a lady was standing has become somewhat of a nuisance in the modern age (feminism helped stamp it out too I imagine), and the ‘rule’ of husbands and wives not using each other’s first names in public is a bit much for our more laid back society – particularly in Australia. But however much things have had to change, there are some that changes that are regarded with a certain sadness by myself. Marriage was once held in respect– it was inconceivable that divorce would be relatively easy or even remotely respectable. Living together before marriage brought shame not only to you, but your whole family. Society’s newly developed non-committal, fast paced lifestyle has reduced these attitudes to horrifying memories for some, when we could really take a leaf out of the book of those times.
The courtesy and basic manners that were a part of old style etiquette also seem to have dissolved somewhat with society’s busyness. We don’t have enough time to do everything we need to anymore, so we rush and push and don’t think about anyone else in our haste to just get that next thing done. Of course, it’s not the people that have changed; there’s always been discourteous thoughts, to say the least, beneath every face, it’s just who we are. But I think that society has become more lax in permitting us to behave rudely – it’s not nearly as frowned upon if you don’t return a greeting civilly or speak coarsely (in fact, it’s perfectly acceptable; not like the days when use of the word damn had to be excused).
You see, the basis of etiquette is how to ‘rightfully’ behave in society. It all comes down to, essentially, the respect due to the various people and classes you could come across in life. This was usually applied to an association between people of relatively close rank, or respectable people of society relating to those of even higher rank. Of course the poor were able to be disrespected without any injustice being impinged upon (except that of ethics), but for the middle class and above, respect was expected in due form. Now that our world now much less divided by classes, such rules have virtually disappeared. Except for the odd occasion when we may meet royalty and even there etiquette has been slackening gradually.
I do love a more casual society. Formal and staunch do not suit me in the least and I’m rather glad most of the rules maintaining the old formality are gone. The problem is that the respect and general manners have gone with the rules, and formality does not come with them as a prerequisite. It’s just being polite! As the underlying principle behind manners and etiquette, what I really find sad is the loss in respect required of all. Of course the inequality that the class systems of years ago once imposed meant that anyone below you was worthy of nothing much (if anything) from you. A foolish concept, but I think that if we could somehow combine our egalitarian views with the respect of the past times, a pleasing result could be reached.
However great it would be though, I see this aspired-to, ‘pleasing result’ as nothing more than an impossible dream. The poor are still forgotten and lorded over, no matter how socialist we claim to be, and the rich are worshiped. It is nothing short of wishful Utopia. It is our selfish, self-centered society that is causing its own degradation.
Maybe there’s more behind it all than equal respect for every man. Maybe it’s all in the morals.
Society of the western world was once driven by Judean/ Christian Ethics. Christianity was the western religion, and so people held to the biblical values. But of course this had to change - “Love your neighbor as yourself” is now scoffed at more than ever by a world driven by the individual and the ideology that it is ‘all about me’ – because this was all before the mysteries of the world were unlocked by science and man came to worship himself and science. We knew how it all worked now – or at least would prove it theoretically using the scientific principals – and didn’t need God anymore. And so I believe that it was Christianity behind the older morals and values, because you can see how they’ve been less and less valued since the theory of evolution evolved. Even if everyone is thought of as equal now, I don’t believe it’s a practiced thought and the rest of the values held dear by the world of today are superficial and in a sorry state.
What society needs is to redeem itself. Not by returning to the days when chasing a dog down the street was worthy of a scolding, but by borrowing the simple courtesy or etiquette, respect and morals that were once common. We can make society much more attractive than it is now by combining what we already have in causality and egalitarianism and what we have lost in manners.


Eric said...

"...but however i did rather enjoy that essay. did the author mean to say "evolution evolved"? Miss. Engel, one could emmit a chuckle at such a phrase!"

| : alyssa : | said...

Oh dear a couple of typos and words that should have been removed in there. :)