More on Mr. and Mrs.

The "Comments" facility that I've added doesn't allow for long comments. Here's a follow up on the "Mr. and Mrs." thing below. Requiring kids to use formal address all the time so that they "respect" their elders is an example of "the authority of the old," a social/cultural structure that is consciously designed to keep "the new" and "the young" in their place. (I'm hardly breaking new ground here; sociologists and anthropologists have been studying the uses of language to exercise power for decades.) There's nothing automatically wrong with of authority based on age (for example, it describes the legal system to a "t"), but people have to be aware of when it's being used, and why, and (especially) what its consequences are.

There's an interesting connection here between how we behave at an individual level and how we behave socially. Suggesting that "Mr. and Mrs." is overdone at an individual level is similar to suggesting that "the authority of the old" is overdone at the community level.

When a community uses "the authority of the old"--say, the community that is Pittsburgh relies on it (as in, "We've always done it that way," or "We need to recapture the great way that things used to be done around here," or "We need to save the City's Democratic base")--then it interferes with change, and growth, and the potential for good things. I suspect that this is actually what Richard Florida may be getting at with The Rise of the Creative Class. If you look at especially interesting, growth-oriented communities, you see places that keep "the authority of the old" at a safe distance.

(If that means that I don't get a certain amount of "respect" from young 'uns who call me by my first name, my ego can handle that.)


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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