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0300 hours humanities musings ahead. :P

Etiquette is probably one of the most interesting aspects of human behavior to me, because what constitutes proper practice in one context might be metaphoric or literal suicide in another. It's a complex system of passwords and filters, whose purpose is essentially one giant security check.

My heuristic for dealing with statements such as "I am outraged", "this is terribly rude", "you do not understand our values", "you are horribly entitled", "who taught you manners", "I am offended" and similar statements isn't to interpret them as statements about someone's emotional state or someone's competence.

What people are usually saying is: you failed a security check, and I am thinking of whether to fight you myself or to call for backup. Levels of possible hostilities vary.

So... How important is it to actually fail a security check? In many cases, it isn't directly, but may have consequences down the line anyway, in completely unrelated situations. Because there's just so many of them out there, most people will recognize that failing some is pretty much mandatory. What people will look for, then, is a) whether you failed a security check that's relevant to them personally, b) how exactly you reacted when you failed it.

a) is obvious. b) is more subtle. Did you run for the hills? Did you hide? Did you draw a knife and say "fite me111!" People will look for types of reactions desirable to them. In some cases, they will try to change your reaction to one more suitable for their purposes. Whether it's wise to change depends on whether those purposes align with your own.

Do you need to say in that environment? What are you willing to sacrifice? Is the security check there to fleece unsuspecting passersby ('this here's a toll bridge') or are there really wolves in the woods? Are you one of those wolves and can you afford to fight right now? Is "lay down your weapons" a trick or a warning people will shoot if you don't?

There's no single answer to these questions, and not even one algorithm to solve them, really.

Standard cultural algorithms are often found in stories we tell and in proverbs, as ways of transmission. If you ever wondered what purpose horrible day-time TV serves, you're welcome. The more cliches there are, the more gets transmitted.

Examples? From Slavic cultures: "if you need to explain something, then you don't need to explain at all." (If someone doesn't get what check they failed, that's a failure in itself, one that is severe enough to make them completely ineligible for the task in question). Addendum: "but if it's worth explaining, then it costs nothing to explain." (If the reason for failure isn't incompetence but non-familiarity with a given test, they will grasp the check quickly; a re-test is possible)

"Don't talk about rope in a hanged man's house" - if an alarm was just triggered, give the subject a wider berth than usual while people are sorting out the aftermath.

This applies to all the harassment scandals. If an entire community is running a system-wide security check, it is not a good time to express your opinion about the matter. Sorry, folks: nobody cares about your opinion and won't for a few years or decades, deal. People who wave toy guns at border guards win Darwin awards.

Conversely, as a vector of attack, this is the recipe for a social DDOS: someone recently got through a major scandal? They're gonna be distractable about that topic for a while.This is what people are afraid of when confronted with systems of complex social warnings; how do you keep the system from giving you false positives? Do you even care about false positives at this point in time? How about in five years?

Good news is: these things aren't new. It doesn't matter complexity-wise if the system of etiquette is "did you think to provide vegan food" or "which fork are you using", they're about equally complex. People have been adopting, discarding, and changing these systems for ages. If you wound up outside of the most common one right now, it's not a problem; people learn new systems all the time. The main principle of learning them is shutting up and watching what people react to.

Bad news is? Yes, stumbling across one of these can ruin your life in a particular community. It's a feature, not a bug. The point of a security system is to make life as hard as possible for an intruder, within reason. "Reason" depends on context, and can range from being literally murdered to being kicked out from your gaming group. Saying "it's not fair" is, outside of being a bid in that same game, about as pointless as saying electricity isn't fair.

Some systems are intentionally opaque: the test is how well you can catch hidden cues. On a micro scale, this is the mechanism used in groups which want slavish devotion: you have to devote all your time and attention to watching the leader and what the proper behavior is today, exhausting resources normaly allocated for other tasks.

On a macro scale, this mechanism is where all the rhetoric of "immigrants need to adhere to our values" comes from: it's a straightforward demand to devote time and attention to learning the local security system rather than using a middle-ground protocol, such as adherence to a particular legal code. The difference is, you can read a legal code, while you can't read a system of values; it's not codified. That's a feature, not a bug.

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