Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tied one on

An interesting discussion proceeds in the corner at NRO. Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz are discussing ties. Click here and here and here to follow along. This is in reference to Rod Dreher's book which they are promoting so much at NRO that I will refrain from mentioning it more.

Jonah sez:

People wore ties and dressed properly at public events not just in our parents' generation but for several generations. I remember when I was a kid people still got dressed-up to go on airplanes. And if you look at pictures of old baseball games, everyone was wearing a tie.

And the point he makes is that a common societal expectation of attire is a leveling feature and one that promotes a sense of community.

John responds:
Jonah, it's true that people used to dress up to go on airplanes. But so what? Why on earth should people have dressed up to go on airplanes? The formality of previous generations was a social norm and therefore a convention. I suppose it had meaning in the sense that it was a way for people to look as much like adults as possible and that our casual-attired ways are an indication of the perpetual pursuit of youth. But the last thing you can say of the Crunchy Cons -- of whom I must say I am most emphatically not one -- is that they are acting like children. They're trying to live a more serious life. Rod's goal isn't to live a more sober life. It's to live a more sacramental life, to infuse the everyday with holiness.

"So what?" Ahh a marvelous rejoinder. As in "We are different, so what?" Something is lost in that difference. Do you take a person in a shirt and tie seriously? I do. When I was younger, Saturn did away with car salesmen wearing more formal attire and replaced them with polo shirts and khakis. Maybe salesmen were more comfortable selling cars. Okay. That's fine. But what are you saying? That you don't take your work seriously enough to dress up. What about the churches that don't want the congregation showing up wearing their Sunday best? Are they saying that it is okay to dress up for work, but the God they worship doesn't deserve your best? I think it's bigger and more problematic. It is part of a gradual dumbing down of societal expectations.

I believe that your outward appearance is not indicative of who you are inside. You cannot judge a book by its cover. But at what point does the cover diminish from the message inside the book. Here's a good example for your consideration. If you are a serious Christian singer, does a trashy and revealing image diminish your credibility in that genre? You bet it does. In the same way, you need to represent yourself seriously, if you want to be taken seriously.

Jonah seems to agree:
You could -- and I would -- make the case that dressing appropriately is part of good manners. You wouldn't go to a funeral in shorts and a tank top, for example. Of course, it's not just clothes....Customs, manners, social conventions: this is the sinew and bone of civilization.

Customs and social conventions are the things that make it impossible to imagine doing things outside of those conventions. Invariably ostracism follows violating one of those conventions. But in our land lacking judgments and a moral authority that is constant and not relative, violating social convention carries little or no consequence. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Immoral societal conventions need to be changed, like racism, sexism and so forth. But genteel societal conventions, governing politeness, appearance and decorum they should be nurtured and not discared do to be outmoded or old fashioned.


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