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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ruptured Civility—Introduction

A year ago on Round and Square (28 April 2012)—La Pensée Cyclique: Mulan Granet-b
[a] Civil RF
I have been thinking a lot about civil society lately, and not just in the sense that Jean Jacques Rousseau might have meant. What I mean is that there have been a few events in the news that have seemed to many observers to be more than run-of-the-mill transgressions—things that really test the limits of our social patience and cause us to wonder if regular rules are really applicable. Disturbing things—things that make us ask if we really know how to get along in complex social settings anymore.
[b] Mostly bark RF

If you are an American, you may think that I am referring to larger events in the news, from Boston to Chechnya. While those are, indisputably, beyond the realm of civility, I actually mean something smaller and more likely to pass under our collective radar than events at the forefront of many news cycles. I am certainly not saying that they are unworthy of consideration. Quite the contrary, in fact. It is just that CNN, the major networks, and all of the newspapers will be covering it. It matters and we pay attention.

I'm looking from a different angle into the world of incivility. You see, Round and Square is devoted to analysis of those matters to which we rarely give our attention for more than a few moments at a time. We have examined "displays of authenticity," in which we try to show, in social settings, that we really do things right. We have also looked at ways in which we do things over—how second, third, or multiple tries are part of the cultural soup in which we cook. My goal, as I have stated often on these "pages," is to overthink everything...and especially the small stuff. The small stuff is really more important than we think, so we are going to play small ball again, and look at the creases, frayed edges, and tears (in more ways than one) that make alterations in our social fabric.

And that brings me to biting.
[c] Chomp RF

Yes, biting. People...biting...people. In sports.

You see, Liverpool's Luis Suárez was suspended ten games for biting an opponent during Barclay's Premier League play. Moreover, this is his second suspension in professional football (what Americans call "soccer")...for biting. Take a look at the news coverage.

Let's chew on this for a while. If you are like me, you cringed when you learned that it was a biting infraction. We tolerate a great deal when we watch sports, including vicious shin kicks, malicious "accidents" with people's limbs and heads, and other sordid matters. 

But biting... That just doesn't sit right with most people. That one sticks to the ribs, but not in a good way. We might wish to take a bite out of crime, but that is a very far cry from taking a bite out of...limb

We set out to study anthropology with a Rousseauian twist—the social meaning of human tensions. What we have instead is anthropophagy—humans eatin' humans...or at least taking a healthy chomp, for good measure. No joke. Gnaw, this is serious.
[d] Cheesy Poof RF

So why does something like adult-sports-biting bother most of us? What causes the revulsion, disgust, or shaking-of-the-head over a good arm bite that doesn't apply to, say, a vicious take down while storming across the pitch? Even an insanely ill-timed head butt doesn't rise to the level of biting.  

Is it the animal associations—carnivores in cleats? Maybe it is the connection to squabbling children and the line we are taught not to cross in our social interactions from an early age. Lying, cheating, and ordinary forms of deceit are all right in certain contexts (love and war, for example).

But not biting.

Why? Well, this is the question we'll be asking in various ways in this Round and Square series. We'll be looking for little ruptures in civility that are smaller than major crime but bigger than a white lie. And just so we are clear on this, we are not only going to discuss biting. That just gets us started with a peculiar variation on ruptured civility. We are going to build from this chewy foundation and proceed toward jokes-gone-wrong, bad manners, and public behavior problematic enough to make us take notice. Did you hear the person at the coffee shop the other day having a fight with a partner...screaming into the telephone over the foam of a cooling latté? Oh, right. You weren't there. You have seen and heard plenty of ruptured civility, though. This is not your garden-variety infringement of manners, people. 

We're not talking, in this series, about people with annoying ring tones. Nope, this is cutting edge stuff—something to sink our teeth into. Just ask Evander Holyfield about the difference between everyday bad manners at work and "Friends, Romans, countrymen... 

Really, just ask.

Stay tuned. And put on that mouth guard (and maybe long sleeves and ear muffs). This could get gnarly, even when we observe forms of ruptured civility that don't include teeth marks. And please don't bite my head off for bringing up a difficult topic.
[e] Uncivil RF

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