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the Polite Society

Texting and inconsiderate driving are ill-mannered, but they don't deserve the death penalty



On the cover:

Woman with guns

Shooting people is not the path to good manners.

Penelope Cruz

Penélope Cruz Sánchez, born April 28, 1974, is a Spanish actress. Signed by an agent at age 15, she made her acting debut at 16 on television and her feature film debut the following year in Jamón, jamón (1992), to critical acclaim. | Photo: | Penelope Cruz, Spain, Actress, Model, Sexy, Gun, Hat, Western,

Shooting people is not the path to good manners.

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[Comments] Rude people make the world a worse place, but I don't think they deserve to be shot for it.

That puts me at odds with the-gun argument, that "an armed society is a polite society." This is usually attributed to SF author Robert Heinlein, who went on to add that "manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life." The NRA website says gun owners "instinctively understand" this, and a guy organizing a Texas pro-gun demonstration mouthed the sentiment recently. The trouble is, it won’t work, and even if it did it would be a bad idea.

You want to know what enforcing manners with guns looks like? It looks like the retired cop accused of shooting a man in a movie theater for texting back in January. It looks like shooting and killing a driver for cutting you off in traffic. Sure, texting and inconsiderate driving are ill-mannered, but they don't deserve the death penalty. People who text or even talk loudly in movie theaters should not, in fact, have to back up their behavior with their life.

Possibly Heinlein and the NRA don't really think people should be shot for rudeness, they just want them too scared of the possibility to behave badly. But if there's no risk of anyone taking a shot, nobody has a reason to be scared. And even if they were afraid, is that the ideal way to enforce courtesy? It sounds like encouraging schoolyard bullying to teach polite behavior — manners are good when you're terrified a bully may pound you into a bloody pulp.

On top of being a bad idea, the presence of guns won't actually create a polite society. We're simply too good at rationalizing that our actions are sensible and right, while the other person doing the exact same thing is an offensive cur. If someone cuts me off in traffic, it's because he’s an inconsiderate reckless jerk. If I ever cut someone off it's because I had to be in that lane to make my turn and I'm in a hurry, so obviously nobody has a right to take offense — I needed to do it! Case in point, the retired cop was texting, but he didn't feel his conduct was so offensive he needed to shoot himself. An attitude of "if anyone disrespects me, I’ll teach them a lesson they won’t forget!" doesn’t automatically equate into "I will, of course, show the same respect for others I expect them to give me."

And no, the NRA ideal of having everyone walk around armed so everyone feels intimidated isn't a solution. Being rude to someone packing heat may be foolish, but it still doesn't deserve death. Intimidation still isn't politeness And some bullies will always feel free to be rude in the conviction they can outdraw the other guy. Humans are stupid that way. And we're not even getting into how many bystanders will wind up dead as people start settling their issues with guns (like the four-year-old killed in one road rage incident)

Dueling to defend your honor or put down some impertinent popinjay does have a kind of retro-romantic, Three Musketeers/Klingon glamor to it — "You refuse to back up your words? You have no honor, cowardly dog!" But it's still about injuring or killing someone purely because you don't like the way they behave. It's the kind of violence civilization is supposed to rise up and away from, not sink down and embrace.


Fraser Sherman

Fraser Sherman, : Having graduated college with a degree in biology, no interest in grad school, and no interest in a science career, Fraser Sherman decided he’d try writing. It turned out he liked it. And he was even reasonably good at it. Over the next couple of decades, he sold articles to Newsweek, The Writer, Dragon Magazine (yes he played D&D. Want to make something out of it?), Air & Space and more specialized markets such as Painting and Wallcovering and Gulf Coast Condo Owner. Because he wanted... (more...)