Social Question

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Can we have civility without repression?

Asked by ParaParaYukiko (6103 points ) October 26th, 2009

I got into a discussion recently about lack of manners in today’s society (in the United States). I mentioned that a lot of countries whose citizens are considered very polite (in this case, the Japanese) also have a very repressed society. This could also be said for the United States prior to the 1960’s.

It seems to me that ever since our society has had a more lax and accepting attitude about self-expression and sexuality, common courtesy and modesty have become increasingly rare. I know too many people who have the “I’m gonna say what I want and I don’t care what you think” attitude, which totally disregards any respect for others. I see too many people wearing disgustingly revealing outfits, talking loudly on cell-phones in the middle of a restaurant or classroom, and just being generally rude.

So, do you guys think it’s possible for a society to maintain common courtesy and propriety without severe repression of sexuality and individualism? Or must we choose one over the other?

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18 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Too much diversity is not good. This being a good example.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think concepts like ‘proper manners’ are very very subjective and in a country like ours, with so many cultures and ideologies, it is hard to agree on a common set of what we think are ‘proper manners’...an agreement is what’s necessary but it’s not achievable, imo…and ‘repression’ (of the Japanese or any other society) is not necessarily what it is, either…it only seems like repression to those of use who grew up in a different environment…this is an interesting question…I believe that if we had a more homogeneous society where collectivism came first, there’d be more of an attempt for everyone to ‘fit in’ and therefore follow the agreed on norms…but I believe it is completely possible for people to be good to others and to be free, sexually…as I’ve said to someone previously today on fluther in regards to attending swinging parties and still being able to be a moral person (something the person I was responding to didn’t believe in)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ChazMaz while I agree with you (as you’ll read from my comment above) that too much diversity makes it hard for people to agree on a set of norms, I don’t think ‘too much’ is not good…what’s too much, anyway?...

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

The idea is to treat people with respect which I do not see as repressive.

dpworkin's avatar

The political dialogue in the United States has always been hectic and vitriolic. This is nothing new; it’s part of our heritage and culture and has been since before Hamilton slew Aaron Burr.

jaketheripper's avatar

The way I see it civility without repressive institutions requires a great deal of personal responsibility and self control on everyones part. Not many of us are good at that…

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@jaketheripper but some of us are and these are values to pass on to our children…self-introspection, responsibility…we can do it…

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

common decency isn’t repression, it’s respect.

I always grew up with my mother pushing me to be respectful and polite, greet someone properly and with a smile—“hi, how are you doing today?’

I used to work in this gas station, and overall, if someone doesn’t show me manners I can just shrug it off even though I’m always polite to them, but when that’s all you get everyday you go into work, it really ruins your evening.

It’s not hard to be polite and to have some semblance of manners, it really isn’t, it’s just as easy as being rude to someone, but you can potentially make their day… so why would you not?

Rudeness is nothing more than being self centered.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I agree with you in the most part. Homogeny does make it easier to have “social norms” which often translate into proper manners in that society. I am most prominently reminded of this with this difference between Hispanics and Caucasians in the US… When caucasian women get whistled at and such by Hispanic men, it is often interpreted as being rude and disgusting, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the case in Hispanic society.

However, in the case of Japan, I believe that is true repression, at least to some extent. Japanese people have told me this themselves. Japan, being an incredibly homogenous society, does have a huge emphasis on conformity. Entrepreneurship is frowned upon, and students are forced to conform to certain styles of education, etc. This leads to a culture that is polite on the outside but full of repressed desires on the inside. But I do agree that “repression” is subjective idea, as are manners.

@The_Compassionate_Heretic No, treating people with respect isn’t necessarily repression, but it requires a good deal of self-control and the knowledge of when not to say or do certain things. That just doesn’t seem to happen much in societies where certain forms of expression are considered taboo.

Jayne's avatar

@pdworkin; I think you’ll find that it was Burr who did the slaying.
I would imagine that the same cultural characteristics that foster politeness are the same that invite repression, or apparent repression; namely, respect for rigid social structures and habits. It’s a correlative rather than a causative relation.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ParaParaYukiko yes I’ve studied Japanese culture and some Japanese themselves do find it repressive but many do not…point is we can all find something repressive…a lot of the things that you’d find as lax I would still find limiting to myself…

troubleinharlem's avatar

I think common decency is a form of respect. In other countries, however, you would have to adapt with their culture to see what is right and what is wrong to them. Besides, isn’t being kind and thoughtful / respectful a thing that will make the world a better place in the long run?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

The stereotype of the ugly American has nothing to do with civility. This came about because of Americans traveling abroad and taking their “me first” attitude into foreign lands.

You can be civil and not he repressed. Asking people not to be mean and spiteful is not repression. If someone feels they need to repress their dickish behavior, that’s a personal problem they need to work out by thinking of others before themselves.

wundayatta's avatar

Civility is learned behavior. It can be taught by parents or in schools. That is, it can be taught if people are consciously aware of the social norms for civility in this culture.

Civility can be enforced, but that is usually done through shame, and sometimes with incarceration. Essentially, in a close-knit society, any individual that goes too far outside the unspoken norm can be ostracized. Is this threat repression?

The question then becomes how much freedom do we want to confer on ourselves? In the US, we value freedom much more than they do in Japan. So we encounter more wildness and unconformity here than they do in Japan.

Well, we haven’t defined civility, so it’s kind of hard to say what standard we should use. Civility changes from moment to moment, depending on the current context. Swearing may be very uncivil at a business meeting, yet de rigeur at a football game.

The appropriateness of behavior is culturally dependent, and in the US, we have so many different cultures all mixed up together. In order not to step on toes, everyone has to be an anthropologist in order to determine the social rules that are operating in this place and how they are different from the place you were ten minutes ago.

If you don’t understand anything about any other culture, then you will find yourself being offended almost all the time. If you allow that other people have different rules, and that they probably don’t intend to be insulting, then perhaps you can maintain a wild and civil society, both at the same time.

Civility is a moving target. If you have only one standard for it, then no, you can’t have it without repression. If you are willing to let our notions of civility to be contextual, then yes, we can have civility without repression. The only thing is, we will all have to become culturally competent in multiple cultures for that to happen. The schools can help here, but they can’t help where people feel like they shouldn’t have to respect any other way of being besides their own.

LostInParadise's avatar

In his book Freakonomics http://tinyurl.com/yjo3g7u , which I highly recommend, Steve Levitt takes an interesting approach to examining various types of social situations. The question he asks each time is, What is the incentive?

So what incentives might there be for being civil beyond the satisfaction of knowing that you have acted properly and without causing offense? Power differential could be an incentive. It is why slaves act respectfully toward their masters. Mutual cooperation creates a reason for acting nicely. Commerce works well. It is why “the customer is always right,” though the sentiment may not be mutual.

What then are disincentives? If you encounter someone who you are not likely to meet again, you may tend to be more rude. You are more likely to encounter rudeness in a large city than in a small town where everyone knows one another. I think that the mobility and lack of community interaction in American society may account for a good part of the rudeness that we see.

fireinthepriory's avatar

I don’t think we have to choose between those things. I’ve been a part of communities that are incredibly civil to one another, yet tolerant of everyone’s differences (including sexuality, gender expression, et cetera). It does take into account what @LostInParadise is saying, though, since they were small communities. It also does take some manner of policing, even if it’s parents policing their children to be polite and tolerant, creating adults who will be (and do) the same.

bea2345's avatar

Perhaps the First Amendment is only possible in a country which is quite large and in which, although itself not homogeneous, multicultural communities are fairly recent? I mean, you still find towns in Illinois, for example, where there are no blacks; communities which are largely Jewish, or Hispanic, or Russian, and so on. In a small multicultural country, where space is at a premium, one learns early to avoid giving unnecessary offence, especially if the power relations among the various ethnicities and cultures are almost equal.

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon intake my breath in awe GA

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