Slate contributor Seth Stevenson has an interesting justification for being rude: good manners are too much trouble.
This is the way the world ends, as T.S. Elliot would say.
Stevenson argues that instead of saying goodbye and thank-you to one’s host at a party, the best way to exit is “the Irish good-bye,” or in its non-ethnic stereotype form (Irish guests are presumed too drunk to say good-bye, you see), “ghosting.” “Yes, I know,” he writes. “You’re going to tell me it’s rude to leave without saying goodbye. This moral judgment is implicit in the culturally derogatory nicknames ghosting has been burdened with over the centuries.” That sentence is signature significance for me: Stevenson is an unethical jerk. I get comments and e-mails all the time accusing Ethics Alarms of “moralizing” or being “sanctimonious” when I write that obviously unethical conduct is obviously unethical. That’s because unethical people who do unethical things feel much better about themselves if nobody calls them on it, so they can maintain, as one recent commenter did here who was, I’m proud to say, chased away by the rest of you (and me) with torches and pitchforks, that ethics is “100% subjective”—Translation: “If I want to do it, it’s ethical.”
That’s essentially Stevenson’s reasoning, too. “Is it really so bad to bounce without fanfare?,” he asks. Score one for Seth on the rationalization scoreboard: it’s #21, the Comparative Virtue Excuse, a.k.a. “It’s not like I killed somebody,” a.k.a. “Manny’s Rationalization,” a.k.a. “The Bottom of the Barrel.” In ethics, the initial question isn’t how bad conduct is, but whether it’s bad at all. Yes, intentionally and unnecessarily skipping the civilized ritual of thanking your host for inviting, housing, entertaining and feeding you and otherwise extending good will and hospitality isn’t as bad as, say, projectile-vomiting in his face, but it’s still rude. Stevenson continues,
“We all agree it’s fun to say hello. A hello has the bright promise of a beginning. It’s the perfect occasion to express your genuine pleasure at a friend’s arrival. But who among us enjoys saying goodbye? None among us! Not those leaving, and not those left behind.”
That’s it, then. The reason not to say good-bye is that it’s a chore, and that justifies being rude to a gracious host. You know, saying thank-you is a chore, too. And “please.” I personally hate having to shave and dress respectably to go to the theater. Or to a wedding. Or a funeral. I hate not being able to chat away on my cell phone to a friend when I am having dinner with my wife. Chewing food with my mouth open is easier than keeping it shut…great, now I can eat egg salad my favorite way. And bathing! It’s a pain not to smell like a barnyard in public. Wearing pants to the grocery store? To hell with it. Too much trouble. It’s the Speedo for me!
Seth is, not to be harsh, but there it is, a boor and a clod. The reason such social rituals have significance is that they do require consideration and effort, and thus demonstrate gratitude and respect. Stevenson suggests that an after-event e-mail is just as good. Baloney. I expect that anyway. Sneaking out of my party without a good reason (other than Stevenson’s juvenile “good-byes are a bummer”) is an insult, and that email had better be an apology.
For good measure, he slips in one more classic rationalization which, I realize, I hadn’t included on the Ethics Alarms master list: “The victim was fine with it.” He tells us that hosts find guest farewells as unpleasant as he does. Okay, now I know how to leave his party, but he is falsely assuming knowledge of other party hosts’ minds for his own convenience. I, for example, expect a thank-you, in person, a hand shake, and a sincere good-bye, or I am likely to think my guest is an ungrateful slob…you know, like Seth Stevenson.
(Slate really does publish a lot of rubbish, doesn’t it? Here’s another example from today’s posts: Michal Lemberger says “Down with lemonade stands!” because they don’t teach kids anything valuable about capitalism. For the luvva…kids open lemonade stands when they’re bored and looking for fun.)