So what have I got against politeness? Nothing, in itself. Politeness is nice; I’m polite myself. Politeness makes life a little more comfortable; it tells us that the person is conforming to the catalogue of civilised behaviours and is therefore likely to act generally in a predictable way, which makes us feel safe. But only on the surface; it’s no indicator of deeper characteristics.
Politeness resides in the veneer of respectability with which we cover our relatively settled and well organised culture – the veneer that’s the first thing to crack when things become difficult. It’s part of the mask we wear, hiding the deeper person within, some of which is usually dark. I’ve known some pretty nasty people who were impeccably polite, and I’ve known some rough and ready types who were decent to the core. Are sociopaths polite? Yes, unflinchingly, until they decide it doesn’t matter in a particular situation.
Politeness has its place, and I think it’s worth using. But I also think that those who express the view ‘politeness is everything’ are overstating its value, and betraying the fact that they see life too much in surface terms. That’s why I wouldn’t want such a person editing my book.