Friday, January 22, 2010

A little overprotective?

Wandering Norfolk, I was struck by the number of warning and advisory signs, posted everywhere.  Uncommon in the Netherlands, they are usually only meant to prevent liability in the US.  Throughout Britain, though, they take on the tone of a cautious parent.

The British describe their national values as “kindness, politeness, and fair play”, sometimes to an extent that confounds Americans.  (“Irony” is also important, but, as a source of endless misunderstandings, that’s another topic…)  For more detail, I’m reading Kate Fox’s “Watching the English”, in which she dissects the rules that she believes to govern British behavior (below).

Fox 1

It led me to wonder whether the Values, in particular, could be extended to include the outward signs of helpfulness and giving notice that the signs seem to represent?

Another thought comes from reading Peter Clarke’s “Keynes”, in which he discusses the economist’s thesis on how to make decisions. 

Social history is distilled into rules after the fact, but individual experiences are more limited and varied.  In the absence of rules, decisions must be based on expectation, the probability that desired consequences will result from chosen actions.  There is always a balance between obeying social rules and following individual judgment (the decision to adhere to the posted speed limit in specific conditions, for example).

So, I wonder whether a country with a long social history might tend towards having more rules than a younger country, and foster a cultural temperament that gives more weight to rules over experience in making decisions?

I probably should just enjoy the display without thinking about it too deeply

And take their advice.

4 comments:

Brek said...

I'm thoroughly amuzed by the post warning of thieves operating 'in this car park'. An admission that 'We've tried to prevent crime here...we've failed....here is a warning for you to consider...its the best we can do.....eh."

Dave Hampton said...

Its especially surpising given the emphasis on community policing and foot patrols that is currently in vogue. There were signs on busses and stree corners warning that police were on watch throughout the local neighborhoods and asking residents to report anything suspicious so that it could be investigated.

Toad Tryouts said...

I don't actually think that it has anything to do with a 'long social history' - more like 'repressing the masses, keep them in their place'.

There is a history of class warfare in the UK, where a privileged few have maintained their superiority by instilling a mentality of subservience in the serfs - who need to be continually reminded that they should know their place. Yes, it's insidious and what is the result in England today?

Well, I could start with Tony Bliar - OK 1.5 million protested against the Irag war (I was one of them). The rest of the country trusted the Establishment to "do the right thing, what!".

I presume you heard about the CCTV cameras that are now equipped with loudspeakers? Drop some litter and you may well be assailed by some jumped up civil servant telling you to "please put it in the bin".

It's not called the "Nanny State for nothing". Sad. You have to have lived there to understand how the population are treated like retarded children.

Dave Hampton said...

It is a bit like having a worried parent sometimes. At first I thought it was just over-polite, but after living in the UK for a year, I realiized that they all take this very seriously. Friends claim that it is a deeply ingrained cultural trait, and one that we all just need to accommodate.

Easily said, but the British accent still gives it a voice of authority that makes an American jump.