Venturing out of the house and into public in contemporary America is nothing short of a dreadful experience because people's manners have become atrocious. Social unpleasantries, little reminders of the decay of Western society, are now so commonplace that they're hard to avoid on any given day. The unholy tandem of a godless culture and broken family life has reduced people to hopeless, bitter zombies living in habitual vice — and it shows, both in their crass bearing and their surly deportment. Hence, a recovery of our decency can only begin with a reconversion to Christianity.
Don't call me a curmudgeon. It's impossible not to notice: Social intercourse has degenerated markedly, even from where it was 20 years ago. Modern customer service is case in point. Businesses and places of public accommodation are regularly staffed by brooding, unhelpful goons who treat customers with contempt. Not infrequently, when I have to ask a question to or solicit help from an employee, he can hardly be bothered to look up from what he was doing, make eye contact and mutter a semi-cogent answer (which usually carries the taint of visible resentment).
And heaven forbid I have to ask a follow-up question; these are usually greeted by winces of anguish and audible sighs of chagrin. I guess I had it coming for interrupting the part of the work shift the employee had allotted to daydreaming about TikTok videos and live-action Disney remakes or whatever it is people with bad personalities fantasize about these days. Mea culpa.
None of this is to say that etiquette issues are confined to retail and customer service — far from it. American rudeness is on display everywhere. People, as a general rule, no longer say "please," "thank you," or "excuse me." They're abrupt and overbearing. They talk over others and interrupt. They use vulgar language in public, often loudly, often to complete strangers. They inexplicably wear sexual imagery and random derogatory slogans on their T-shirts. They plaster their cars with lewd bumper stickers. They dress down for every occasion where they can swing it, and when they do have to dress up, it's in the tackiest, gimmickiest way possible — think Jon Arbuckle–style plaid suit and aggressively loud polyester tie (with a comically large full Windsor knot, if they're feeling extra cheeky).
Modern women basically assault people's optic nerves with their immodesty. And the general correlation is the more grotesque the physique, the lumpier the body, the tighter the yoga pants. In summer, the goal is to wear Daisy Dukes so short that most of the internal organs in the caudal anatomy are visible. Even hygiene and grooming have tanked. Men hardly bother shaving anymore and frequently look the part of having just rolled out of bed, matted hair and all. Sometimes, for good measure, they'll even wear their literal pajamas, invariably faded and dirty, in public. Middle-aged women habitually sport untamed rainbow-dyed coifs with two inches of dishwater-colored roots exposed. Tasteful makeup? Nah, that's "prissy" and "passé." The natural frumpy look is what's hip. Of course, the icing on the cake is that at least one in four outings to someplace normal like the grocery store will see me engulfed in a miasma of marijuana smoke that's billowing off some deadbeat's Volcom sweatshirt like sulfur from Mauna Loa. We're in a bad way.
Ultimately, good manners are a fruit of living the gospel. In her classic volume on home economics, Julia McNair Wright makes this point well: "The first and highest law of good manners is, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'; and the only really valuable book on courtesy is the Bible" (The Complete Home: An Encyclopedia of Domestic Life and Affairs [Philadelphia: Bradley, Garretson & Co., 1870], 307). Good manners flow from the theological virtue of charity, which impels us to do good to others — even at our own expense — "for the love of God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶1822). This self-sacrificing agape love is a sine qua non for politeness. As one author points out, "A regard for the rights of others is the basic law of all etiquette, and the idea of avoiding unpleasantness to others lies at the back of almost every convention" (Lillian Eichler, The New Book of Etiquette, rev. ed. [New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1934], 16). Consideration is the opposite of the core satanic law "Do what thou wilt." So in a thoroughly debauched post-Christian society, of course manners are scraping rock bottom.
The secular man wittingly or unwittingly rejects charity in principle, since it is rooted in love of the very God he snubs. The worldling sees self-sacrifice and self-restraint as foolishness because, by definition, he cannot possibly prosper by them. If, then, such a man is in no mood to deal in kindness, to interact amiably, to be cordial, to speak with gentility, to act in such a way that puts people at ease, he simply won't. So we're at the mercy of the arbitrary fluctuation of our heathen neighbors' endorphins and brain waves, and that's not a happy position to be in.
Moreover, lacking as he is in the grace that comes through baptism and the sacraments, the secular man is easily seduced by sin. Sin, in turn, destroys or vitiates man's capacity to do good. To this point, the Catechism teaches, "Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus, sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself" (¶1865). So the natural boorishness of the secular man is only aggravated by an enslavement to vice, which, for all intents and purposes, is his destiny till liberation through Christ.
It shouldn't come as a revelation that America is now full of louts because we are, by and large, a morally bankrupt people. We need only consider a handful of statistics to get a fairly accurate idea of just how grim the moral landscape is: (1) 98% of men and 73% of women look at pornography at least once every six months (and 80% of men view it weekly); (2) 16% of Americans are outright pot heads (and 70% believe marijuana use is morally acceptable); (3) 40–50% of American marriages end in divorce (and 81% believe divorce is morally acceptable); (4) 23.7% of women, by the age of 45, will murder one of their own unborn children (and 80% of Americans believe women should be able to abort their unborn babies for at least some cause); (5) 71% of Americans are sodomy friendly; and (6) 95% of Americans have premarital sex. In the immortal words of Clark W. Griswold Jr., "We're at the threshold of Hell."
Is anyone earnestly surprised that the cynical perverts who are weekly exploiting OnlyFans tarts can't be bothered to have good people skills? Is anyone shocked that people who've stoned themselves stupid can't bring themselves to interact coherently, let alone graciously, when they're out on the town? Does anyone actually believe that the women who've, without remorse, had their babies assassinated by abortionists are going to treat strangers and acquaintances with warmth and hospitality? Does anyone think that a purple-haired ecofeminist that identifies as a dolphin is going to be anything but gauche in her social dealings? If so, I've got a bridge to sell you. Sin leads to hardness of heart and misery, and these in turn manifest themselves as rudeness, self-centeredness and aggression.
Furthermore, the family — the primary training grounds for manners, decency, empathy, consideration and, in the final analysis, the entire moral life — is in disarray in the Western world. And this forbodes bad things. Pope John Paul II famously warned members of the faithful gathered in Perth, Australia, "As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." A dysfunctional home life breeds moral turpitude, a gloomy disposition and, resultantly, poor manners. These blights can do no other than metastasize into the world. And civilized society is suffering because of it.
The plight of the American family runs deep. To begin with, roughly 40% of U.S. births take place outside of wedlock. Often, this means the father defaults on his paternal duties and abandons the family, and that the child is raised solely by his mother, causing "psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships" (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §25). And while the Church teaches, in the words of Pope Francis, that "children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity," as of 2019, only 50.6% of high school seniors lived with both of their biological parents.
The result of such familial dysfunction, according to the reigning pontiff, can only be "social fragmentation." This is intuitive because the family is "the area where the unlovable are loved" and "the environment in which love solves personality problems" (Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Children and Parents [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957], 22). So when the family breaks down, personality problems go unchecked and ripen into societal problems that affect us all.
Finally, in the name of equality and for purposes of social engineering, feminism has pushed women into the workforce en masse, robbing hordes of children of "the care of their mother[s] at home" (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, §52), which women are tasked "by nature" with providing (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, §42). Sadly, 67.3% of married mothers now work outside the home.
Since the mother is the heart of the family who occupies the "chief place in love" (Pius XI, Casti Connubii, §27), the home deprived of her presence suffers a coronary. Children raised in this environment do not benefit from the refinement, tact and delicacy of their mothers, and thus will carry a relative gruffness with them for the rest of their lives as they default to masculine overefficiency. Pope Pius XII hinted at this in 1945, when he stated that "the mother's absence from the home has another and more lamentable result: It affects the children's education, especially the girl's training and preparation for real life." If we are to restore decency and manners, then we must, in the words of Pius XII, "restore woman as soon as possible to her place of honor in the home as housewife and mother!"
A post-Christian society is an ill-mannered society. Period. So a widespread re-evangelization of America is what's needed if going out in public is to become a less odious affair. Of course, any efforts at renewal must begin with the family, which Vatican II heralded as the "first and vital cell of society" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, §11). The fate of the American family will be the fate of American society at large. And don't you forget it.