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Olberding, Amy. The Wrong of Rudeness: Learning Modern Civility From Ancient Chinese Philosophy
2019, New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas
Publisher’s Note:

Being rude is often more gratifying and enjoyable than being polite. Likewise, rudeness can be a more accurate and powerful reflection of how I feel and think. This is especially true in a political environment that can make being polite seem foolish or naive. Civility and ordinary politeness are linked both to big values, such as respect and consideration, and to the fundamentally social nature of human beings. This book explores the powerful temptations to incivility and rudeness, but argues that they should generally be resisted. Drawing on early Chinese philosophers who lived during great political turmoil but nonetheless sought to “mind their manners,” it articulates a way of thinking about politeness that is distinctively social. It takes as a given that we can feel profoundly alienated from others, and that other people can sometimes be truly terrible. Yet because we are social neglecting the social and political courtesies comes at great cost. The book considers not simply why civility and politeness are important, but how. It addresses how small insults can damage social relations, how separation of people into tribes undermines our better interests, and explores how bodily and facial expressions can influence how life with other people goes. It is especially geared toward anyone who feels the temptation of being rude and wishes it were easier to feel otherwise. It seeks to answer a question of great contemporary urgency: When so much of public and social life with others is painful and fractious, why should I be polite?

Comment: This book provides a philosophical take on what it means to be civil in a modern, diverse, and radically changing social and political landscape. While the author draws on ancient Chinese philosophers to make her case, the argument is nonetheless firmly rooted in contemporary philosophical questions and in doing so, remains attentive to the particular social and ethical problems that frequently arise in modern conversation and disagreement. The book is highly readable and accessible for non-academic, non-philosophical audiences, and is written in a casual, engaging style that relies on anecdotes and stories to illustrate its points and claims. At the same time, it presents a clear and rigorous philosophical argument, and draws on many academic sources as well. The book, therefore likely spans a broad range of uses. For example, it might be used in a reading group or specialised course focusing on interpersonal ethics, political bias and polarization, or even a more interdisciplinary course (straddling, say, political science, sociology, and philosophy) looking at post-2016 politics and social landscape in America.

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