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Assholes and code of conduct manifests

Recently someone pointed out, that the perceived number of assholes is rising. This means, that anti-social behavior can be encountered more often. I responded that there seems to be some sort of sociological mechanism leading to anti-social behavior being more accepted than before.
Someone else asked what that mechanism might be, so here is my amateurish point of view.
Social interaction often is accomplished by communication. So examining forms of anti-social or disruptive communicational behavior might help to clarify some points. One form of disruptive communication is the so called “interactive vandalism” (Anthony Giddens, Sociology). Giddens points out, that effective communication or interaction is based on a cooperative behavior of the participants. If one party of an interaction deliberately behaves in a non-cooperative way, this often is encountered as a aggressive attitude by the other participants. But this is a stylistic device, not an explanation.
Another perspective is that of Erving Goffman‘s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life“: people behave as if they were acting. And like in a theater there is a stage and a backstage area. In the front region (stage) they act mostly according to common sense rules. In the back region (backstage) they can “give vent to feelings and styles of behavior they keep in check when on stage”. So acting more anti-social might mean transferring behavioral patterns from back to front.
In traditional social settings this would in general have been a completely unacceptable behavior, but why is it not judged that way now? There is a general process at work transferring the private into the public. Reality shows on TV, social media, liberalization of professional situations. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t judge those processes, but if not backed by a so called “good education” things can go wrong unnoticed. If this happens and some sort of “invisible control” doesn’t come into effect, openly visible regulation is a way to prevent unwanted situations.
An area where this currently happens are public conferences. More and more conference hosts issue code of conduct manifests. I got into some serious discussions because I objected that these rules are pretty obvious and stating them so explicitly might be sort of embarrassing for “well-behaved visitors”. Conference organizers assured me that these rules are not so obvious anymore. Maybe in the future we’ll see explicitly stated rules for human interaction more often. While being liberated from unnecessarily rigid forms of social behavior is a good thing, this feels like a cultural loss to me. But than again I just might be getting old.

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