Parade’s Mend: a Cultural Conundrum and a Code of Conduct

by Alexander Zubatov (August 2013)


I want to start by discussing an old novel and then proceed to discuss an old problem which, more like a fine fix than a fine wine, just keeps on getting worse as it gets older. The old novel, on the other hand, has not lost an iota of its greatness and is, as I hope you will shortly discover, more relevant than it ever was.

As the principal protagonist of the New Testament found out the hard way, “It is, in fact, asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you.” The quote itself is not from the New Testament, but rather, from a kind of last testament, Ford Madox Ford’s monumental and sadly neglected (though perhaps the recent BBC adaption will spur a new wave of interest) modernist tetralogy Parade’s End, in which the last of a breed, of England’s best and brightest, the noble, able, astute, aristocratic, self-abnegating, self-denying and Christ-like Englishman, Christopher Teijens, is subjected to the most outrageous slings, arrows and clumps of mud fortune that his unfaithful, amoral wife Sylvia can fling his way. The more Christopher martyrs himself merely in order to stay true to his lofty ideals, the more he finds himself suspected and resented, and this is because his creator has hit upon a profound truth: in a degenerating society, the degenerates assume everyone around is no better than they are, and when confronted with what would appear to be an obvious counterexample, they suddenly feel exposed, upbraided; this, in turn, calls forth their resentment, and thus, they are eager — we are eager — to see such saints revealed to be sinners or monsters beyond even the common measure so we can experience that familiar feeling of Schadenfreude when our seemingly noble heroes’ secret demons are finally brought to light; and we are, therefore, quick to believe the worst and to judge them harshly and mercilessly.  But the ultimate weight of our judgments comes to rest upon us, as Ford suggested, for if we were more noble than we are, we would still be capable of benevolence and sympathy.

If, for Yeats, these same years were a time when the best lacked all conviction, then Ford reveals how that loss of conviction comes about and what happens to the best when they cling stubbornly to their principles amidst the passionate intensity of the worst, which had brought on the dramatic material, political and social upheaval of the Great War. The war, as depicted in Parade’s End, is more in the nature of a culmination than a turning point, a kind of ultimate exemplification of the senseless war of all against all that had already begun to shatter a formerly well-ordered society. Nor should one imagine that, in this downward-spiraling milieu, the worst are satisfied with the outcome; it is telling that all the passionate intensity of Sylvia Teijens, certainly the worst of Parade’s End, is directed not at any of the other men with whom she dallies, but rather, squarely at her husband. Tormenting him through her serial infidelity, besmirching his reputation by spreading lies and gossip and making plays to misappropriate his money and property not for her personal gain but simply to gall him appear to be her sole raison d’être; as for the other men in her life, here is Ford’s very quotable description of the way she views them:

She was by that time tired of men, or she imagined that she was for she was not prepared to be certain, considering the muckers she saw women coming all round her over the most unpresentable individuals. Men, at any rate, never fulfilled expectations. They might, upon acquaintance, turn out more entertaining than they appeared, but almost always taking up with a man was like reading a book you had read when you had forgotten that you had read it. You had not been for ten minutes in any sort of intimacy with any man before you said: ‘But I’ve read all this before ...’  You knew the opening, you were already bored by the middle, and, especially, you knew the end ....

After all, then, her dull and perfect Christopher is the only one still capable of arousing her passionate energies (even if her one remaining passion is ire), and that she is, despite this fact, not capable of feeling satisfied and fulfilled by staying with him in a stable, sensible relationship is less a reflection on him than it is on a society becoming rife with sexual immortality, a society that has corrupted her, left her adrift and unmoored; the perceptive reader should get the distinct sense that in an earlier age, she and Christopher might even have been an ideal match, though less perceptive readers may imagine that he and Valentine Wannop — to whom he is outwardly far more similar but for whom he takes some 800 pages, the experience of war, of being a cuckold, and the subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement of all their acquaintances who either believe they are already together or else believe they should be, to conceive a slow-burning attachment — were meant for each other, even if Ford is careful to taint that match with the suggestion of incest (Christopher’s brother dabbles with the idea that Valentine is the daughter of their own father and the wife of her ostensible father and his oldest friend) and a delicately placed note of conjugal discord in the final pages of the novel, when the formerly stoic Valentine berates Christopher for his careless profligacy. 

The idea that Christopher and Valentine belong together and end up together at last would make of the novel a rather uninteresting exercise in illustrating the long and painful dissolution of a bad match due to Christopher’s high-minded principles and obstinate fidelity, with, finally, a happy romantic ending coming about when he accedes to his urges. But Ford is no romantic (and anything but uninteresting), and the novel’s true greatness is revealed when we consider that it is Christopher and his wife Sylvia that belonged together, whereas the long and painful dissolution that Ford is principally interested in is not that of their marriage but of society itself, its moral dissolution and dissoluteness, the end-result of which is that Sylvia cannot abide an ideal husband like Christopher, whereas Christopher is almost forcibly thrust into the arms of one of the few still a part of that increasingly narrow (almost incestuously narrow) circle of those who are yet uncorrupted by the kind of sexual deviancy and/or immorality afflicting every other character in the novel, committing, in that process, an act that, by his own lights (and hers), is the very kind of sexual immorality the refusal to engage in which had previously elevated them above their environment, with the added implication that the child conceived of that immoral and possibly incestuous union will inevitably fail to uphold the grand tradition.

So, one may ask (now that our little class in British Lit 201 is nearly concluded), of what possible relevance is this discussion of a difficult modernist classic to us here and now?  Well … you see … it is actually of utmost relevance: if the “parade” — the society in which distinctions, manners, mores and morals mattered — ended over a century ago, we are still living in the long denouement. Lacking now, more than ever, any shared, stable religious, political, moral or aesthetic vision of the Good to bind us together, we, like Christopher and Sylvia, cannot abide each other. Even as our ever-increasing economic inequality, see, e.g., here, continues to fan the flames of anger and resentment, we are experiencing ever-increasing social equality, in which no castes or classes are recognized, in which no genetic tendency, genealogical legacy or generated capacity, no hand-out or hard-won accomplishment, no distinguishing feature or mark of distinction is held to make anyone inherently better or superior in any sense that is widely, much less universally, recognized (attaining celebrity status, no matter for what or in what fashion, being, possibly, the only remaining exception). The barely literate hobo is as good as the ivy league university professor, and more and more, their manner of speech and dress is becoming indistinguishable (for undeniable proof of the point about their appearance, see here).  Flies on the walls of the streets of the ghetto or on Wall Street might be treated to scarily similar streams of street talk rich in puerile profanities. And that same brand of street talk (along, of course, with its concomitant attitudes) is rapidly becoming the lingua franca of the next generation, regardless of economic class, race, gender or country of origin. 

One could welcome such developments as sanguine signs that restrictive social barriers are finally coming down, that race and sex and class are no longer as socially salient as they once were, that our society is becoming more socially, if not economically, fluid and integrated at last. One could think such things, however, only if one ignored the glaring fact that the direction of the change is a downward spiral, that if we are becoming more and more alike, it is only because, in the absence of any prevailing social standards to command our respect or even our attention, we are all becoming increasingly more uncouth, uncivil, unmanageable and amoral. What is happening, in short, is not integration but mongrelization.

In the last book of Parade’s End, Ford does something theretofore unprecedented and brilliant and wholly modernist. He makes his protagonist disappear. Christopher Teijens, whom we have followed closely throughout the first three books, is all but entirely absent from the pages of this last one. Instead, much of the action, such as it is, takes place in the reveries of other characters in his circle of acquaintance, and most of it in the mind of Christopher’s near-equally dignified, aristocratic brother, Mark. This is fascinating as well because Mark spends this entire last book sick in bed, essentially paralyzed and absolutely refusing to speak. His internal monologue expressly references the final silence of Iago (Mark is no villain but, like Christopher, probably feels demonized because he belongs to that rarifying breed that holds itself to a higher standard of comportment and is consequently suspected and resented by the fallen): he has nothing more to say to the corrupted world, much to the chagrin of some of those who come to his bedside to supplicate him for one reason or another. (Ford, here, again proves eminently quotable: “At any rate that boy did not know — and neither did Mrs. de Bray Pape — that he did not speak; not to them, not to anybody. He was finished with the world. He perceived the trend of its actions, listened to its aspirations and even to its prayers, but he would never again stir lip or finger. It was like being dead — or being a God.”) Finally, in the very last pages of the book, Christopher returns only to proclaim he has failed to prevent the chopping down of “Groby Great Tree” by an American tenant of his wife’s (he has, of course, essentially left Groby, his massive ancestral estate in the North country, to her in order to provide for the welfare of their son, who is quite possibly not actually his son). The “Great Tree,” symbolizing the great line of his family, of England’s best and brightest, on the backs of whom its globe-spanning empire has risen, has been unceremoniously cut down, taking a part of the family home with it as it falls. Thus, Christopher makes his brief return at the very end only to inform us of his failure to reach Groby in time to arrest the collapse. It is a bit like imagining the New Testament (or the next testament) ending with Jesus, after all of that frustrating turning-of-the-other-cheek when one wishes again and again that he would, for once, have just asserted himself, at last returning to earth after a long absence only to proclaim that he has failed in his intent to save us.

Like Christopher and Mark Teijens in Parade’s End, our would-be protagonists have all gone missing or silent. This is a problem, and it is particularly a problem here in the U.S. because this, as we well know, is a nation of immigrants, of people from vastly different cultures and societies living and working (or, as the case may be, not working) side by side. For many years, the dominant metaphor for how our society dealt with this dazzling variety of cultures was a “melting pot.” In the 1990s, perhaps because raw food is more healthful, this trope was abandoned and replaced by the notion of a “salad bowl.” “Let all those vibrant flavors, textures and colors burst forth undiluted and unassimilated,” we proclaimed. But without so much as a dressing of olive oil and vinegar on top, our salad might prove unpalatable, and there are some foods, after all, that are disgusting or undigestible raw, that, in fact, carry toxins requiring cooking to ingest safely. Moreover, the idea that a fresh salad left to stand out on the table will remain a delectable, vibrant concoction is, of course, fallacious. If we do not take positive steps to dress, preserve and refresh it, it will eventually dress itself with a nice, thick all-consuming layer of mold. And this is precisely what we are now finding ourselves up against.

Diversity is a wonderful thing when people from various cultures and immigrants from all over the world come to a nation that has, in place, a stable, time-tested way of doing things and stands ready to absorb the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and even the wretched refuse of the teeming shore into its well-worn fold. But when the wretched refuse is left untended, as it were, then we have a problem; then diversity becomes a cancer, and before long, there is wretched refuse everywhere. As ground-breaking research has recently shown us, people reared in different cultures are far more fundamentally dissimilar than once thought, so that they are even prone to perceive basic sense data differently depending on what they may have seen, learned and experienced at various critical periods of their lives. This is all the more true for perceptions of the kinds of fundamental values that constitute a society. Our social sciences such as economics and psychology that conduct experiments on subjects and posit, on that basis, certain preloaded human tendencies to behave in certain ways in certain contexts may need to be revised substantially in order to account for anthropological data showing that we humans come to the world with far more of a blank slate than we had previously supposed, with the societies in which we grow up having a profound influence in shaping these most essential facts about how we perceive and interact with our world. What this means is that if our protagonists disappear from the scene and we abdicate our responsibility to shape society in accordance with ideals and values that we here hold to be good and true, or at least useful to realizing our collective aspirations, then we risk chaos and anomie. If we leave the salad to its own devices, we risk letting the mold grow unchecked. 

In certain highly structured, cohesive, unified societies, such as England before the axiological collapse depicted in Parade’s End, the social glue consists of well-known implicit, internalized codes, norms and standards. Everyone understands where they belong, who needs to kowtow to whom and when, how it is possible (or not possible) to better their lot, and why all of this makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Marriages and other social bonds and relations are stable and predictable. This is what Hegel referred to as “civil society,” the level of self-organized communal relations that intercedes between the individual and the state, so that when the individual looks upward and outward to consider the nation as a whole, he recognizes in it not an alien bureaucracy or regime, but rather, an extension and formalization of civil society; he sees in it, therefore, something that expresses his values and his character. 

When, for instance, a society exists in the thrall of a single dominant religion that imposes a universally shared vision of the ideal social order on earth and beyond, all is well — though woe be to the one who does not share in that vision. We here should abandon hope that the U.S. will ever be such a society … and, frankly, most of us would prefer something different. We were founded on different, more pluralistic principles, and to those principles, we would probably like to stay true. But Ford in Parade’s End shows what happens as a society grows more open and abandons any single compelling vision of the good life. The results are frightening. The results are that people can no longer live together peaceably, not as husband and wife, not as neighbors, not even as citizens of the same city or nation-state, within the boundaries of which mutual respect and civil political dialogue cease to be possible as its inhabitants, lacking any common thread to bind them together, gravitate ever more toward the utmost extremes.

So what is the solution? When even the most seemingly obvious matters of public propriety can no longer be taken for granted, when there are no longer implicit, internalized codes, norms and standards to constitute our social glue, then our only choice is to make such codes, norms and standards conspicuous and explicit. We must broadcast them again and again through our education system and in our public gathering places. I am not talking about brainwashing, Brave New World or 1984. I am speaking here about some simple, basic rules with which we expect compliance and which we are not afraid to enforce with disapproving looks, stern words and ostracism, if need be. The details are less important than the very existence and widespread public broadcasting of such a code of conduct, but I will take my crack at coming up with a rough draft. The goal is to teach this to kids at school from a young age, post it in the parks and in public transportation and in concert halls and museums and government buildings and at busy intersections. The idea is that this is how we Americans, regardless of our race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or belief systems, religious or otherwise, behave in public. You, in the privacy of your home, can do something else. You can come home and, as a gesture of greeting, spit in your spouse’s face for all we care, and if (s)he thinks such behavior is appropriate, you will have a happy, blissful marriage. But in the public realm, this is not something we’d tolerate. 

Please note: I do not believe an explicit code of conduct will solve every social ill under the sun. If you think spitting in your spouse’s face is A-okay, but your spouse doesn’t share that view, you may be in trouble, so, ideally, standards of private conduct will also grow sufficiently uniform with time, spurred on, perhaps, by consensus about what is appropriate in the public realm. In the long run, what we need is a return to the idea of a common culture, not just a common way of behaving. A religion, for instance, may come packaged with a certain set of behavioral expectations — rules for eating and drinking, for prayer and dress, for celebration and mourning — but, as the famed anthropologist Clifford Geertz has emphasized, it is ultimately their inextricable link with a shared belief system that makes these particular habits uniquely compelling to their practitioners; it is my hope that, just as with many new converts to a theological faith, the public habits necessary to make us good citizens of the same state will come first and, spurred on by the forces of cognitive dissonance, the underlying system of consistent socio-cultural beliefs will evolve organically over time. Thus, this is a starting point, not the finish line. But we have to start soon, because the mold began to accrete a long, long time ago. In this particular race between Achilles and the tortoise, in other words, Achilles has come up lame, and the tortoise has been granted a very big head-start; if we do not act, its advantage will become insuperable. If we win the race, we can even have a parade to celebrate. If the mold wins, well … what shall there be? Another world war, perhaps?

Here, then, is my proposal for such a code of public conduct. You will likely notice that the code seems, in multiple respects, somewhat more conservative than our present social practices. That is the whole point, after all. When people’s public behavior has gotten liberalized beyond all bounds so that it is rude, vulgar, uncivil and uncivilized, the goal is to change that, which, on many counts, involves attempting to turn back the clock in order to arrest the degeneration of our public sphere. But one need not necessarily see the results as reactionary. It is aspirational, an effort to inculcate a new tradition in a society liberated from the sometimes oppressive barriers and prejudices that came along with our old social classes, a new tradition in which everyone is invited — indeed, requested and expected — to participate on equal terms, in which only those who fail to abide by the rules will be held in low regard. So, without further ado, here we go.  Enjoy:

These are rules and standards for how you and everyone else might be expected to behave in public.  In reality, most of these rules are quite intuitive and can be reduced to this general principle (which is, in itself, already a quasi-redundant expression of what may be further reduced to this simple maxim: respect the existence of others in your midst): do not assault any of the five senses, do not make an undue spectacle of yourself, carry yourself with dignity and refinement, be considerate, be polite, be helpful and be mindful. The rest of these rules are really no more than applications and amplifications of this one.

  1. Shouting is useful when you need to call for help. Otherwise, speak at a volume no louder than necessary to communicate. Your conversation might be interesting, but someone else may, rightly or wrongly, not be interested.
  2. Your music is your music. It is not necessarily beloved by all. Keep it (and videos and video games) at a volume such that it is no more than barely audible (or, better yet, such that it is inaudible) to others.
  3. If you operate a business or other premises open to the public, the obligation to be considerate and not to assault the senses applies to you as well. You may, for instance, in your discretion, choose to play music audibly to create the kind of environment you are trying to cultivate, but please, unless you are a concert hall, club, bar or similar venue, do not make that environment one that leaves your customers with a throbbing headache or makes them have to raise their voices just to hear one another. The environment you are intentionally or unintentionally creating in the immediate vicinity of your premises is also your responsibility, so do what you must to avoid clogged sidewalks and loud or rowdy gatherings.
  4. Do not spit, belch, gurgle, pass gas, pick your nose, bite your nails, urinate, defecate, masturbate or perform any other unseemly bodily functions.
  5. Consensual, non-incestuous, PG-rated public displays of affection are okay. Public displays of pornographic groping and gross indecency are not. When you dance with someone, do not simulate sex in any way whatsoever. (If you’re not sure of the line, apply this standard: would you do if it your grandmother were watching you?) 
  6. Do not curse, say vulgar things or engage in obscene gestural displays. Generally, discussions of and references to any of the prohibited acts in Items 4 and 5 above fall squarely in the forbidden zone. 
  7. Do not bully, threaten, taunt, mock, incite, insult or aim to offend. If you do any of these things unintentionally, apologize.
  8. No hitting, no fighting, no biting. No breaking criminal laws (even if you doubt you’ll get caught or punished).            
  9. Do not panhandle, manhandle, glad-hand or grandstand. Unless you are in a designated “solicitation zone,”1 do not ask for signatures, donations or contributions. This means, as a general rule, leave other people alone unless you’re asking for directions or communicating in a way that you have good reason to think is either necessary or might be welcomed. 
  10. Do not intentionally touch, grope or fondle anyone unless you are greeting them with a handshake in a context in which such a greeting would be appropriate. Wedgies, noogies and similar practices are prohibited. Respectful flirting is okay in environments where it might be construed as appropriate. Being pushy in a way that is clearly violating someone else’s boundaries is not. 
  11. Do not proselytize either for or against any religious viewpoint. Religion (or lack thereof) is between you and your God(s) (or lack thereof).
  12. Do not vandalize, deface or damage persons or property.
  13. Do not litter. 
  14. Like your music, your germs are your germs. Do your best not to share them with others. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and do not cough, sneeze or blow your nose directly at other people. Wash your hands frequently. Take steps to avoid smearing your germs on surfaces, and, if you do so unintentionally, wipe them when you can.
  15. When you eat and drink, eat and drink mindfully. Mind your manners. Take your time. Wash your hands before eating. Use your utensils. A meal is not a contest to see who finishes first. Therefore, wait to eat and drink until everyone has been served, and then proceed at more or less the same pace as others around you; savor the taste of your food, do not stuff your face or guzzle down beverages like there’s no tomorrow. Offer to serve others, especially children or the elderly, and where appropriate, offer to share food with others, but don’t just poke your own utensils into their plates or shared plates; rather, use serving spoons, etc.(unless everyone in your company is clearly okay with a different arrangement). This is especially important when you are sick, in which case you should be the one primarily responsible for ensuring that you keep your germs to yourself. Do not talk with your mouth full, get food all over your face or make a mess of yourself or your eating area. Do not spit food out unless the alternative is vomiting, in which case, try to spit your food out as inconspicuously as you can, such as when no one is looking and/or into a napkin. Do not eat food that has fallen on the floor. If you make a big mess unintentionally, take steps to clean it immediately. When the meal is finished, even if you are not the one with primary responsibility for cleaning up afterwards (such as when you are at a restaurant), do your part to ease the burden for others by leaving your eating area reasonably neat and orderly or taking such other steps as may be appropriate to do your share. If you like your food, do not hesitate to convey your compliments to the chef.
  16. When you conduct conversations, be mindful and respectful of others. Do your best not to interrupt constantly or to talk over others. Do not monopolize the conversation. Defer to your elders or to those who tend to speak less often. Where people are in the midst of speaking about something, do not burst in with a different topic unless you are contributing something of immediate practical import or making a quick observation of some circumstance of interest in your environment that will be missed if you let the moment pass. Pay attention to what others are saying. Try to include everyone and make others feel comfortable. Do not deride them. As above, keep your voice down to the minimal level necessary to be audible to all participants but not conspicuous to strangers, and do not talk with your mouth full.  
  17. Upon greeting or parting with someone who is not already a good friend, intimate acquaintance or family member, do not fist-pump, chest-bump, high-five, hug, headbutt, back-slap, butt-slap or do anything other than nodding your head, waving, speaking (respectfully), kissing on the cheek or shaking hands.
  18. The only acceptable forms of public address, other than names, are “sir” or “Mr.” for men and boys and “ma’am” or “Miss” for women and girls. As such, do not address people as “man,” “buddy,” “buster,” “bro(ther),” “boss,” “chief,” “big guy,” “nigger,” “dude,” “chum,” “pal,” “friend,” “son,” “kid,” “boy,” "papi," "mami," “lady,” “sweetie,” “girl,” “girlfriend,” “darling,” “doll,” “babe,” “toots,” “ho,” “bitch,” or any variants on such terms, including, of course, anything that even borders on being a curse or derogatory term of any sort.   
  19. When you speak or write, do your utmost to speak and write grammatically and appropriately. Unless you have a medical condition that impairs your faculties of speech, do not speak in grunts or slur or apocopate words. Avoid street slang and clichés whenever possible. When someone else speaks or writes ungrammatically or inappropriately, do not be afraid to correct them when the situation and context permit you to do so respectfully. And if you are being corrected, do not take it personally; it is a learning opportunity, not a reprimand.2     
  20. Do not loiter unless there’s no obvious reason it poses a problem. This means, do not dally in any manner that obstructs passageways, doorways, driveways, highways and byways. 
  21. In crowded environments, be mindful of your surroundings. Be aware you are not alone, and be considerate of others. Try to move with the flow of traffic. Do not shove, scratch, push or pull. 
  22. When you walk, do not make a spectacle of yourself. Unless you have a relevant medical condition, do not limp, lurch, strut, swagger or sway from side to side.
  23. When you drive, obey the rules of the road. Defer to other cars, pedestrians, cyclists, etc., both when they have the right of way and when doing otherwise would result in accidents. Do not make a nuisance of yourself. Keep your music or radio audible only to those in your own vehicle. The horn is a tool to be used in order to alert drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. who may not be paying attention or, in rare cases, to reprimand them for disobeying the rules of the road. It is not a means of letting out your rage at the world. So use it sparingly and appropriately, and do not press it repeatedly or for longer than necessary.   
  24. When you ride a bicycle, skateboard, roller skates or similar contraption, obey the rules of the road, and do not ride on sidewalks or against the flow of traffic. As when you are driving, defer to cars, pedestrians, other cyclists, etc., both when they have the right of way and when doing otherwise would result in accidents. And as when you are driving, do not make a nuisance of yourself. 
  25. Dress in a manner that you reasonably believe to be consistent with any existent explicit or implicit code of dress on a particular occasion, and never dress in a manner that gratuitously exposes your undergarments (or your failure to wear any) or don anything calculated to annoy or offend. This includes all adornments and accoutrements, which should never be vulgar.
  26. Tattoos (or any other body art) and piercings (except ear piercings for women and girls) are, by their nature, vulgar. Avoid them. If you have them, remove them.3
  27. If you can help it, do not reek.
  28. Respect “no smoking” signs. And, remember, “no smoking” means no smoking anything whatsoever. Moreover, if there is no smoking inside a given residence, business or other venue, do not smoke outside in a manner that will result in the smoke being blown right back inside. 
  29. Respect all other (remotely reasonable) house and venue rules and codes of etiquette. It is your prerogative to impose on people reasonable directives about how they are to behave in your home (such as, for instance, asking them to put slippers on instead of stomping around in their work boots, etc.), so when you enter another’s home or venue, they should be able to expect the same.
  30. Keep anyone in your charge — kids, pets and the like — under control. Do your best to keep them from violating these rules. Groom them, curb them and clean up after them; in the process of doing these things, however, do not violate these rules yourself: unless there is immediate danger that can only be avoided through such actions, do not shout, scream, grab, push, shove, scratch, slap, claw, hit or make a scene.
  31. Unless someone else forced or tricked you into such conditions or unless something happened to you involuntarily or that you had reason not to understand the consequences of, you are responsible for what you do when you are drunk, stoned, high or in any other state of lowered self-control or altered consciousness. Think ahead, and if it’s already too late for that, and if you, as a result, have reason to believe you might do something that violates any of these rules, do your best to get yourself rapidly out of the public eye.
  32. When you can, help people who need help. Be considerate to those who are elderly, sick, disabled, overburdened or otherwise infirm. Offer a seat. When you see an opportunity to do someone a simple favor, don’t hesitate.
  33. Take every opportunity to be courteous, chivalrous and gallant. Let people who are older pass first. Hold doors open for people. Let them exit before entering. Offer to press buttons for them in elevators. These are only examples. Feel free to extrapolate.
  34. When you have done something you realize you should probably not have done, apologize. Then do your best to repair whatever may still be reparable.
  35. If you see others violating any of the provisions of this code, say something if you think you can do so safely and respectfully. And, above all, do not encourage them.
  36. Set an example. Do unto others ….  You know the rest.
 

[1]  We will designate particular public squares or other appropriate public gathering places as “solicitation zones.” Yes, this and some of the other provisions of this code might be seen as taking away from the vibrancy of our public places, but given how far we’ve already gone, a long lurch the other way, i.e., in the direction of dullness, might be a welcome antidote. While much has been made of Plato’s notorious proposal in the Republic to exile the poets from the ideal State, far less discussed has been a proposal of his in The Laws that is, in my view, far more salutary to the health of the State: to exile the professional beggars.  

[2]  A few words lest the many enemies of prescriptive linguistics see an opportunity to rise up in arms: I am aware that language changes and has always changed over time, that the errors of one epoch are the standard accepted forms of the next and that what is considered linguistically appropriate or grammatical is not an objective gold standard, but rather, an ever-evolving consensus necessarily responsive to current usage. My reaction to all of these truths is a simple so what? This is one of those matters as to which it behooves us as a society to act as if there are rules and standards, even if there will always be disputed matters at the margins. Just as we would (I should hope) never cease to teach schoolchildren standard spelling, grammar and pronunciation, we do not, for lack of objective rigor, need to give up hope of “educating” the adults amongst us who have not attained sufficient mastery of the field. Or, as Matthew Arnold puts it in describing those who oppose prescriptivism, “They tend to spread the baneful notion that there is no such thing as a high, correct standard in intellectual matters; that every one may as well take his own way; they are at variance with the severe discipline necessary for all real culture; they confirm us in habits of wilfulness and eccentricity, which hurt our minds, and damage our credit with serious people.” For those who need more convincing, this essay by Steven Pinker does a reasonably good job illuminating the matter: See Slate magazine here.

[3]  This is obviously a pretty conservative approach to take with respect to tattoos and piercings, but leaving people to their own devices on this score will, if looking around is any guide, rapidly lead to a race to the bottom and result in unfettered vulgarity.

 

Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics (a recent example of the last category appears here). In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”




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