George Will

WASHINGTON -- Let's be good cosmopolitans and offer sociological explanations rather than moral judgments about students, The Washington Post reports, having sex during the day in high schools. Sociology discerns connections, and there may be one between the fact that teenagers are relaxing from academic rigors by enjoying sex in the school auditorium, and the fact that Americans in public soon will be able to watch pornography, and prime-time television programs such as ``Desperate Housewives'' -- and, for the high-minded, C-SPAN -- on their cell phones and video iPods.

The connection is this: Many people have no notion of propriety when in the presence of other people, because they are not actually in the presence of other people, even when they are in public.

With everyone chatting on cell phones when not floating in iPod-land, "this is an age of social autism, in which people just can't see the value of imagining their impact on others.'' We are entertaining ourselves into inanition. (There are Web sites for people with Internet addiction. Think about that.) And multiplying technologies of portable entertainments will enable "limitless self-absorption,'' which will make people solipsistic, inconsiderate and anti-social. Hence manners are becoming unmannerly in this "age of lazy moral relativism combined with aggressive social insolence."

So says Lynne Truss in her latest trumpet-blast of a book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. Her previous wail of despair was Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, which established her as -- depending on your sensibility -- a comma and apostrophe fascist (the liberal sensibility) or a plucky constable combating anarchy (the conservative sensibility).

Good punctuation, she says, is analogous to good manners because it treats readers with respect. "All the important rules," she writes, "surely boil down to one: remember you are with other people; show some consideration." Manners, which have been called "quotidian ethics," arise from real or -- this, too, is important in lubricating social frictions -- feigned empathy.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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