Comment Of The Day: The Not-Quite-Secret Language

This Comment of the Day, from intermittent participant Red Pill Ethics, is a model for dissenting opinions on Ethics Alarms. I omitted his amusing coda, in which he describes me as “the Stephen King of Ethics.”  That can mean any number of things; I think its a reference to quantity rather than quality….although a lot of the stuff on Ethics Alarms is pretty scary.

Here is Red Pill Ethics’ Comment of the Day on The Not-Quite-Secret Language:

Yeah….. nah. The core of your argument is that talking about someone within ear shot is somehow disrespectful. I don’t see how. If I walk around town in a clown outfit people are going to talk about me as I pass them. If I over hear them or not is irrelevant to whether or not it’s disrespectful – my behavior invites comment and there’s no ethical failure in people reacting to the intentional or unintentional invitation.

To bring it to restaurant ethics specifically: If you’re at a table and your table is making a ruckus (loud children, drunken adults, etc.) in an otherwise calm restaurant you have made yourself a topic of the local public conversation. Absolutely nothing wrong with people discussing their current environment. If you over hear it too bad – you dont get to skyline yourself and complain when your draw people’s attention.

More over not wanting the other table to hear your request to be moved is no way cowardly. Youre out of your mind on that call. If they were denigrating the other table then sure maybe you’d have a case for cowardice – fighting words absent the willingness to actually fight. But dear god, they asked to be moved. My mind is literally blown that you find that cowardly. What was the guy/gal supposed to do? Let look at the evidence.

1) The parents had signaled some level of disregard for the people around them by allowing their children to bounce all over the place.

2) The restaurant had signaled some willingness to accept this level of ruckus by not having the staff enforce some polite noise boundary on the table.

Now for some reasonable suppositions based on the evidence and personal experience.

A) Casual disregard for the people around you is inversely related to social agreeableness. So for example, if you’re the kind of person who will talk during a movie at a movie theater you’re also probably the kind of person that will see any kind of criticism as a conflict. Not guaranteed for sure, but certainly correlated.

B) I go to the movies a lot in a dense city metro and I often have people talk during the movies. I nearly always say something to them after a few minutes of distraction – my go to phrase is ‘Hey, can you not talk during the movie’ delivered with an emotionless stating-an-accepted-fact tone. Greater than 50% of the time they take it poorly and tell me something to the effect of ‘fuck off’ while ultimately shutting up (like 5% of times they dont and I get the manager). Each and every time I get that fuck you response, I spend the next 10 minutes seething in impotence because my options are to respond and escalate (like I want) and make a larger distraction for everyone in the movie, go get the manager (missing some of the film) and ask him to kick someone out who will will almost certainly be quiet by the time I get back, or wait and see if they shut up. It’s a shitty 10min that ruins a good portion of the movie if not the entirety of the movie. Don’t ask why I keep going – I have a reason but it’s irrelevant to the argument.

C) This style or restaurant (trattoria), while not haute cuisine, is also not chuckee cheese. Diners can reasonably expect the hum and occasional pop of dinner conversation. In this style of restaurant they cannot reasonably be expected to tolerate kids bouncing all over the place. If they choose to tolerate it, great but expecting and wanting a meal without children bouncing around is perfectly reasonable.

D) The people around the table had signaled willingness to tolerate the kids. That island of noise was therefore unlikely to support a social pressure bid to quiet the children.

So basically, our erstwhile diner had the choice between saying something and probably getting an unsupported social conflict out of it OR asking to be moved to one of the quite zones. Sophie’s choice this is not. The diner chose the win-win option of not dealing with the loud table and not risk a social conflict that could have soured an otherwise relaxing dinner. They also pursued it in way that was reasonably likely to cause the least inconvenience to the wait staff and the offending table – asking in a foreign language before they’d been seated. Sucks that they other table knew Italian but *shurg* see my previous comments about what reasonable expectations are when you’re standing out in public.

This choice was proven especially prudent when the woman was so socially agreeable and graceful that she sought them out to make a snitty comment. What are the odds that someone with that kind of gall would have taken “Hey can you not make a ruckus next to me table” well? I wouldn’t bet the relaxation of my dinner on it.

No sir, asking to me moved, regardless of how, is a perfectly valid and ethical move given the balance of likely outcomes and the fact that you can’t make a spectacle of yourself and complain when people talk about it.

Soon, Alamo theater will be opening up the next city over from me. I will literally only ever go to the movies there – they have a noise reporting system that allows you to flag the offending area and a member of the staff will hover and remove anyone making noise during the movie. Jack, am I coward for wanting a reasonable noise standard without having to play the complex and delicate game of enforcing social standards during what should be a relaxing time? I doubt very much that you’d think I was. This diner is in the same boat my dude.

This very much reminds of the last time we had this argument at the beginning of the culture war’s upturn a few years ago. Where there was a special needs kids making noise at a table and someone made an off hand comment about it and the waiter no shit kicked them out. I think you might have an ethical blind spot when it comes to kids and their behavior in public. In my opinion you are far too quick to forgive the parents derelictions and expect everyone else to kinda just take it on the chin.



9 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: The Not-Quite-Secret Language

  1. So many good lines in this COD…I especially love “You don’t get to skyline yourself and complain when you draw people’s attention.”

    • I had a good laugh thinking of an Italian-speaking restaurant patron saying “Hey can you not make a ruckus next to me table” with an Irish brogue.

      • There’s more nuance there, but contextually, for the case study we’re talking about, it’s irrelevant.

        One of my friends has literally the darkest skin I’ve ever seen in my life, but grew up in rural Russia, where people stand out when they have even the slightest of tans. He tells me stories of how, when he was growing up, he’s have to be careful, because people would become so distracted by seeing the real-life black person that his presence inspired car accidents.

      • I’m cool with it too. If what you are skylines you and people notice then they can’t be faulted for noticing what stands out. I’d also say that this is a healthy social mechanism – the out and proud gays of the 90s and early 00’s certainly skylined themselves and got people talking. They started conversations and it played a foundational role in what is arguably the single fastest cultural 180 ever. Let em talk.

  2. Thanks everybody. And for the record I love Stephen King. My significant other likes to read me his classics when I’m out wrenching on the family fleet.

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