Politeness has never completely shaken off the meaning and importance it had in its eighteenth century prime. At that time, it signified a general agreeability and courtesy, a disposition to please, skill in the practice and protocol of conversation. The accent on politeness, as Roy Porter pointed out . . .

. . . was no footling obsession with petty punctilio; it was a desperate remedy meant to heal the chronic social conflict and personal traumas stemming from civil and domestic tyranny and topsy-turvy social values.P43

But the age of industry changed the priorities. It preferred conversation to be about something useful, and politeness proved to be vulnerable to the rise of the contrasting virtue of authenticity: being the real you, saying what you really think. This I’m-not-messing-about ethic matured in some cases into a take-me-as-you-find-me ethic, expressed variously in clothes, language, sex and direct, straightforward thinking, which reaches for the nearest reductionist conclusion and defends it with the claim that anyone who disagrees needs to get real.

The virtuoso politeness of the eighteenth century has not survived, but there is a polite-lite remnant which still has a useful job to do. It means that you listen to the opposing argument and understand it before attacking it, you take measures to sustain and repair a relationship after a disagreement, and you forbear to be authentically blunt about the other person’s politics, fortitude, hair, clothes and children without their consent. There is courtesy, so you may find yourself not speaking the whole truth, being drawn into the art of compromise and tact. Politeness can therefore seem stuffy and dishonest; authenticity, by contrast, is refreshing, but it can make things quite lonely, being more highly rated as a virtue in oneself than in one’s friends.P44


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Frankness, Butterfly Effect.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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