Friday, November 7, 2014

A scout's virtues: courtesy

There are, as I have already discussed, though perhaps vaguely, two sections from the 1911 Scout Handbook that I am drawing on here. There is a section called "Scout Virtues" (pp 8-10) and a section called "The Scout Law" (pp 14-16). There is a substantial but not complete overlap between the two sections. Not all the virtues appear as laws and not all the laws appear as virtues. Courtesy makes the cut on both counts.

Let's look at the text. In the virtue section, it says,
Another virtue of a scout is that of courtesy. A boy scout ought to have a command of polite language. He ought to show that he is a true gentleman by doing little things for others.
The law section reads,
He is polite to all, especially to women, children, old people, and the weak and helpless. He must not take pay for being helpful or courteous. (Emphasis in original.)
I'm sure that some of the people who are kind enough to read my stuff take one look at this and wonder why I spend all this effort analyzing such seemingly trivial stuff. My answer to that is you learn an immense amount about the history of the culture here.

Consider first the two sins we moderns tend to see here. The quote from the virtue section commits the sin of inauthenticity. We see "command of polite language" and we think artifice and fakery. We don't want polite language so much as we want genuinely felt language that tells us that the person really cares about us. And that care  should be "felts", as opposed to "thought". We want the authentic response from the core of their being. When we read Jesus telling us to love others we imagine that to mean having "real" feelings for them. We don't think it would be enough to master polite language and good manners while perhaps hiding that we find the other person boring and unattractive.

There is, it seems to us, something condescending about courtesy. And we are right to think so because, as I am sure everyone knows, the root of the word is from court and to be courteous means to act like a member of the nobility and, we want to say, you are not nobility and that's a damn good thing.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the sin of authenticity is combined with that of sexism.
Benevolent sexism represents evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive, but are actually damaging to people and gender equity more broadly (e.g. the ideas that women need to be protected by men).
That's from Wikipedia. I love the way this clear case of ideological belief is reported as if it were scientific fact. Anyway, you can see the problem. The 1911 Handbook groups women in with children, the elderly and weak and helpless.

And yet ...

This stuff isn't crazy. I know we're not supposed to say it but women do need to be protected by men. Not all the time but there are some times when a big strong man or, better, a group of big strong men is exactly what a woman needs to protect her. We all play along with the polite fiction of integrating women into the military but we all know that it's men who who are going to succeed or fail in doing the protecting if we are ever attacked. Similarly, we all agree that women should be in the police force but only a ridiculously naive person would think that an all-woman police force could protect us effectively. The same is true with firefighters. There are some kinds of things only a man can do. Technology has shortened the list considerably but there are still a lot of things women need men to protect them from.

One odd thing about "benevolent sexism" is that just about everyone likes it. Men feel better when they behave this way and women feel better when they are treated this way. The fight against it brings to mind Ann Althouse's point that feminism is as much about changing women as it is about changing men; to succeed, feminists need to teach women to resent it when men are courteous. So far, they have not been able to do so.

As to authenticity, I've said a lot in the past and will say more in the future. Here I will only say that authenticity works best in an in-group. You need to know someone pretty well to show authentic love and respect for them. You can do it with your family and friends. If you work for a small employer, go to a small church or live in a small enough town, you might even manage it there. The second you meet a stranger, however, you'll need courtesy if you mean to be kind.

My final thought is that when you do meet that stranger, one of the reasons to be courteous to them is because you are a representative of an in-group where you can show more authentic concern for one another and one example of such a group might be the boy scouts.

No comments:

Post a Comment