Are people really more rude to each other nowadays than in the past?
In a way, but only "in a way".
One thing about our time (in the West at least, but I think almost everywhere) is that we don't have hierarchies like we used to.
In the old days almost anywhere in the world (before 1950 for sure, and even after 1950 to a great extent), there were HIERARCHIES. Most people were either above you or below you. And you knew who they were. It was perfectly OK to be rude to people below you - that didn't really count as rudeness. It was EXTREMELY not-OK - sometimes fatally not-OK - to be rude to people above you. You Knew Your Place.
By way of compensation, since low-status people didn't have many people below them, it was OK for low-status people to be rude to each other. That WAS considered rudeness, but it was also expected: "rude people" was a synonym for "lower class" people. (Of course, if they acted that way to their "betters", they got nailed, hard.)
So now "we are all equal". We don't have a "Place" - not in any hierarchy. Some of us know, painfully, that we are not equal in some very important ways. But we DO all feel equal enough to be entitled to basic politeness, from EVERYBODY. Our great-grandparents didn't feel that, but we do.
So is there more rudeness now than 100 or 200 years ago? (Well, there are more people now, so I suppose there is more rudeness in absolute quantity, but you and I know that's not what I mean.
) No, there is more behavior CATEGORIZED as rudeness. There is a great deal of behavior that used to be acceptable that isn't now.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1922
I'll say a little about the least-western country I know anything about: China. The Chinese (like most people, really) have a tradition of politeness and respect for status. It's still there, to a great extent. For instance, you are polite to people who are older than you, regardless of other signs of status such as how they are dressed. And it's unthinkable for a Chinese student to be rude (or even familiar) to a teacher. But when the teacher gets on a bus to go downtown, he or she is fair game to strangers!
In China a hundred years ago, the teacher would have worn a long robe, and people in short robes would have known at a glance that this was a person not to be cheeky with. Nowadays people dress according to their age, not their status - and not always their age! So the teacher getting on the bus may be wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Fair game, folks.
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