One thing that I learned / realized from talking with @jessi_cata this week:

Politeness is largely a matter of "skipping over" or ignoring things that might provoke shame or guilt. It's about pretending (correctly or incorrectly) that person didn't do anything wrong.
Simple example: if you're talking with someone and they fart, it is polite to pretend that you didn't hear it to spare them the embarrassment, or more specifically, the discomfort of causing you discomfort.
Or if you walk in on someone changing but can plausibly pretend to not have seen them, that's the socially smooth thing to do.

Again, sparing them shame.
(This holds even if you're totally fine with seeing them naked and they're totally fine with you seeing them naked. Unless there's common knowledge of those facts, each of you is sparing the other the discomfort of the situation.
In fact, this can create a funny dynamic, where you saw them, and they know that you saw them, but everyone pretends that that didn't happen.

The shame only comes when both parties know that both parties know that you saw them changing.)
Those examples are relatively innocuous, but this is on a spectrum of innocuousness.
If you hear a couple fighting loudly in the apartment above yours, the polite thing to do is pretend you never heard anything. You want to spare them the perception that you are judging them for their behavior.
Or if you're talking with a person and they causally mention how they raped someone (maybe in a "borderline" way, like getting the victim really drunk and then having sex when they passed out), this will feel really awkward.
There's a strong pressure to pretend that they didn't say that, or that it is just a normal thing to happen, nothing to comment on.
If they describe it as rape themselves, you'd (probably, depending on context) have social permission to say "What the fuck, that's not ok."

But if they don't tag it that way, themselves, pointing out that they're saying that they raped someone is definitely a social faux pas.
For similar reasons, people typically hate vegans, because they interpret (rightly or wrongly) a person's veganism as a condemnation of their own industrial-meat-eating.
And it is definitely impolite to talk about the horrors of factory farming with an industrial-meat-eater. This is apt to make them feel guilty!

So in practice, many vegans avoid drawing attention to their veganism in mixed company, to prevent meat-eaters from feeling that guilt.
Or the vegan might re-frame it in a way that undercuts the guilt-producing effect on others: emphasizing how their veganism is "a personal choice", as opposed to a moral view.
In fact, the vegan might THEMSELVES feel embarrassed for their veganism, because they're aware of the guilt-cost that it imposes on industrial-meat-eaters, even though the vegan is, in their own view, doing the right think where the IME is doing the wrong thing.
In some sense, they feel ashamed of their doing the morally correct thing.
This isn't the entirety of what politeness is about. It also involves ignoring differentials in status and power, for instance. That dynamic is about avoiding the discomfort of un-egalitarianism (from either side of the differential) as opposed to the discomfort of guilt/shame.
(Possibly, that discomfort IS just a subset of the discomfort of guilt / shame: if people have an implicit commitment to equality of some kind, emphasizing the differential makes the "superior" feel guilty.
But I think this kind of politeness is older than the egalitarian value, and it is at least as much about not emphasizing the inferiority of the "inferior".
...Though come to think of it, that also seems like a matter of sparing someone shame, just with the opposite assumptions about what one ought to be ashamed of.

Should the king be ashamed of his disproportionate riches, or should the peasant be ashamed of his lowly standing?
Ok. Maybe it IS the case that politeness, in general, is about avoiding emphasizing things that would provoke shame / guilt.
With this in mind, politeness is meaningfully a kind of collusion, where a group of people all agree to ignore something to together. And SPECIFICALLY they agree to ignore that someone is doing something judgement-worthy.
In some cases, the thing doesn't actually deserved to be judged. It receives social condemnation unjustly.

Like I imagine, in other times and places, it was polite not to draw attention to the fact that someone was gay, even if almost everyone knew.
There's nothing wrong with being gay, but they would still be shamed for it it were common knowledge.
But this is, in some sense, a degenerate case, due to an incorrect / unjust application of shame. In general, politeness is about colluding to ignore that someone is doing something WRONG.

Which makes politeness seem like a pretty corrupt dynamic.

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