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Noonan on Embarrassing the Angels

Peggy Noonan has a good column this week in the WSJ on the difficulties of being a lady in a society that no longer understands distinction. 

Young people are no longer taught to be ladies and gentlemen and they absolutely do not understand how to treat older people (like myself) who remember and value those distinctions.  Traveling really makes all tis plain as Noonan suggests. 

While traveling to Phoenix last week, my traveling companion (Julia Raffety) and I had to take a couple of shuttles.  Both times we were jostled around like cattle and made to stand while men (businessmen reading newspapers) sat without looking at us.  I have noticed that the climate in Washington DC is especially cruel in this regard.  Girls speak and act exactly like boys.  Is this to be our future, comrades?

A couple of months ago, while visiting New York, I was speaking to John Derbyshire (he sitting, me standing) when looking very uncomfortable, he suddenly jumped up and exclaimed, "I'm sorry, I simply cannot sit while a woman is standing.  I can't do it." 

Now, I think of myself as a modern woman, but that little courtesy almost made me weep with joy.  It was very touching, because it made me remember the way a gentleman used to treat a lady.  Civilization, we forget, is largely a product of the imagination.  Civilization reflects how we see ourselves and it is impossible to maintain when distinctions are erased in the name of some egalitarian ideal.  Culture is built on distinction.

I'm with Noonan.  The coarseness all around us is embarrassing our angels, even if it no longer embarrasses us.