Manners, Morals, Language

Forsaking the Beau-Ideal

Excepting deconstructionists, who believe there really is no such thing to begin with, most people who are at all conscious of language are in agreement that it exists in degraded form today.  Similarly, those who do not make a point of being self-consciously “of the people” (as the British used to say), or do not believe vulgar language to be a mark of honesty and authenticity, concur that manners have sunk to a state of corruption unheard of, apparently, since the invention of writing, no record having come down to us from so deep a deportmental abyss.  (In the cave paintings of Lascaux, families seated about their cookfires in backward baseball caps to eat their evening meal are not depicted.)  The critics who deplore the decline of language, and those who decry the decay in manners, are not, however, always—or even ordinarily—the same people; nor are the double phenomena typically presented as being somehow connected except in the most general sense, as in the collapse of civilization overall.  And yet it seems reasonable and even obvious, when we think about it, that behaving properly means thinking properly, and that thinking properly is a matter of understanding and, even more, respecting the language we think in—in which we can only think and, therefore, must think.

There is, first, the empirically verifiable fact that carelessness in any single aspect of...

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