Robert Hayes Kee,
An acquaintance has made contumelious statements about my home and me personally. How should I respond to this without sinking to his disdainful level?
Over the course of one’s life, many things will be said about one. It is best to avoid learning about all but the most opprobrious or actionable of gossip. However, stating that one does not wish to “sink to [person of interest’s] level,” is not an efficacious statement. This sounds like an admission of defeat and a passive statement is not the mot juste in this instance. I suggest instead, that one should devise a slow and steady campaign to discredit this individual. Many guides are available online, and while many do unfortunately come from conspiracy-minded sources, there are creditable options. Look for something leaked by a government operative or used by a venture capital fund. These are the most skilled organizations on concerns of character and corporeal assassination. Do not shy away from your task. Happy (metaphorical)1
What should I do about an acquaintance of mine who keeps trying to convince me of his inane ideas? How can I avoid this line of conversation concerns without rudeness?
A sad fact of reality is that most people are not intelligent. One will live a sad, unsatisfied life if one expects anything but the meanest intelligence from the ‘average’ person. You, as one addressing this column, are one of Nietzsche’s mountains, a peak of transhumanity. While we must guard against the reactive forces employed by the valleys of humanity, one should not do so disdainfully. Rudeness is not required to protect oneself from idiocy in even its most virulent forms. Also, while not strictly rude, it is unsavory to attempt to use a cultural relativist rationalisation. Do not justify another’s ideas by saying that it is part of their culture or education. Your interlocutor has chosen their cretinous path, and you should not so easily forgive them for it. Pragmatically, the best path is to cut this person from your life. Your emotional bonds are a weakness to be censured, not pitied.
I host frequently. While most of my guests are delightful people doing great things, sometimes there are exceptions. When is it justified, by the rules of etiquette, to act against someone inside your house?
The chief purpose of our existence is to encourage the production of delight and majesty. To do so, one must take constant risks. To avoid these risks is the gravest error of our existence and the mark of a cowardly soul. To meaningfully participate in the conversation across centuries, one cannot neglect one’s contemporaries. Solipsism is for university freshman (to extend this courtesy to sophomores is an undeserved leniency and an error in judgment). This means that one will frequently act amongst one’s chosen peers. Do so as graciously as possible at all times, but especially when hosting. Remember, choosing one’s peers is an ongoing process, and one to be approached liberally. Do not allow a ‘winter philosophy’ to develop in your regard to the works of others. Those humans will change, and true bottom-scrapers can only improve. While only one hundred and sixty of the eight hundred and twenty-one pages of Emily Post’s Etiquette concern ‘entertaining,’ this should not belie the importance of hosting and guesting in your mind or your interactions with others. Zeus Xenios started the Trojan War; this is crucial to the ethical mythology of the Hellenes throughout antiquity, and thus the entire western world. For this reason, one should open one’s home to any humans who have not proven themselves undesirable.
It is of this mind that I offer guests the pleasure of custom at my home and table. This is not to say that I have not erred in judgment. One guest did endanger the safety of my home and guests. He exclaimed emphatically that another guest was a ‘bonehead,’ and that he would prove this contention by exposing the os frontis of my guest’s cranium in a literal fashion, cum falxe. For this reason he was restrained. One cannot hold malice against those infirmed in ways beyond their liability. Yet, it is also untenable to allow such humans to act with the untrammeled malevolence they desire. This is the overriding obligation of hosting.
I have been granted the opportunity to use extortionate government property to personal ends. Is this a breech of etiquette or merely a crime?
It is important to note the distinction between etiquette and law as you have above, reader. Many view government as contractual because of the odious and outdated influence of the political philosophy of the enduring mediocrity that is John Locke. It is judicious to stray from this view, and stray far. Government is no way contractual with its participants. We as ‘citizens’ of a country are not equal partners but extorted and obligated participants. Feel no compunction to follow its laws in a more than perfunctory and pragmatic way.
The same cannot be said of etiquette. Civility and decency are indeed an assumed contract, one that acts over and above the machinations of government. We sign along the dotted line with the ink of placenta, while sliding down the birth canal. As such, we must act upon our commitments to others with elan vital. While possessing this implement of state power, do not behave badly or permit others to do so. This notwithstanding, you are free to act decently with this object.
The Board of Regents has decided to terminate my grant at the institution for which I worked. What do I owe my former employer, if anything, by the rules of etiquette?
Etiquette is of little use if it cannot address tense, or even difficult, circumstances, but as Emily Post says, “Vituperative remarks have a way of backfiring.” Petty comments and small revenge help no one, and do not release tensions as effectively as other pursuits. Avoid these illiberal indulgences. This does not mean however, that one has a speakable debt to one’s former employer. The relation between pecuniary and intellectual standing should not be assumed. It is quite possible that one will be removed from a post over the course of one’s life because of conflicts over one’s desire to follow the rules of etiquette. Many employers are obdurate people, and one should accept their disapprobation in stride.
A dismissal is not a time to speak ill of ones former employer. It is a narrow window for action. If one suspects, or even knows, that one’s time at an establishment is short, use this time to embezzle or extricate whatever resources one will need for one’s future projects. While this should generally be done with a broad view of one’s interests, bear some mind to the size of the institution involved. A small employer might suffer unduly from the removal of resources. However, if one is employed by a sizable institution, one should reallocate with impunity and imagination.
Please submit your own etiquette queries to Robert in whichever way seems most polite. It is very likely that your submission will be included in a future installment.
1. This publication cannot condone violent acts. It is a crime. However, you know in your heart that you should end this blagard in a satisfying, visceral manner. Do so with gentlehumanly action. (return)