“Why you gotta be so rude?” Rending the Social Fabric

A prevailing social practice today seems to be violating norms of interpersonal behavior in the name of entertainment. Reality TV is the forum for what could be called tearing the “social fabric.” The metaphor is easy enough to understand: people in societies are woven together into a mutually supporting tapestry, which when torn begins to fray. Ideas of social cohesion often trace to MacMillan, Chavis and Sarasen’s work. The prevalence of this behavior is not only obvious to any follower of popular culture, but has been immortalized in a song: “Why you gotta be so rude? Iʻm gonna marry her anyway/ Marry that girl” sings Nasri of the reggae fusion group MAGIC! which reached number one on the Billboard in June. These lyrics describe many of the relationships represented or forged on reality TV, which has increasingly leaked in to real life.

The use of the term “awkward” as a constant description of social situations shows that we continually find humor in peoples social discomfort. Whether this rending of the social fabric portends some kind of social breakdown, however, is unclear. Some predicted that immigration was tearing the social fabric – it more likely did the opposite (though some still argue this point).

Increasingly harmonious social relations do seem to correlate with a kind of social evolution to more stable, even happier societies. Vico showed 150 years ago the progress Europeans had made from the time of Achilles’ “overweening anger” until his own. Another leap of this size has probably been made from Vico’s time to ours. But such “progress” (if indeed that is what it is) is fragile, backsliding is comparatively easy, and easy to feel like liberation (from overbearing social constraints). This, in my opinion, is a mistaken view. What Wilber calls the “pre-trans fallacy” describes a misguided effort to shed social conventions, and in the process, shedding hard-earned self restraints. We should not yield to the temptation to answer Rodney King’s heartfelt “why can’t we all get along?” with a brazen “because conflict is entertaining.”

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