Question: Are manners objective? In a recent Rapid Fire Question, I think you rather too quickly dismissed the idea that manners or etiquette can be objective. You fairly quickly threw the whole lot of them over into the socially-subjective category. However, I think there's a lot that's not at all subjective, nor even optional, about manners. I happen to live in a country, China, which is much-renowned for its lack of basic human decency, and I would argue that this is a fair claim. For example, it's quite regular for a parent to pull his child's pants down and facilitate his or her urinating or defecating all over a vehicle of transportation, up to and including an international flight. It's also quite normal to hawk in such a way as to clear every cavity in one's upper torso, admire a particular piece of ground, and splat the results of one's personal nasal expiration for all to admire and tread upon. After a home-cooked meal, a guest is expected to belch massively. A small belch is a sign of dissatisfaction. To me, the latter seems quite a matter of optional cultural choice. What you said before about manners applies quite nicely to that issue: it's fairly arbitrary whether you should or you should not belch after your meal. At my in-laws' place, please do. At my mom's place, please don't. However, when I think about other ways in which Chinese people are "rude" to an American, I can think of a thousand examples where it's not just subjective. Pissing or shitting on a public bus is not just arbitrarily unacceptable to us silly overwrought Westerners. It's objectively rude. For another example, today when I was trying to get onto a bus, hale and hearty Chinese twenty-somethings were pushing in front of me in a giant triangle of evil. Nobody cared if I was there before them, nobody cared if the signs all said to line up respectfully, they just elbowed each other out of the way in order to get on the bus. So are manners objective, at least in part?
Question: Do smoking bans violate rights? Cities are banning smoking in private businesses like bars and even smoke shops. Are these bans immoral – meaning, do they violate rights? Does second-hand smoke violate the rights of non-smoking patrons or employees? What should be the policy for government-owned property like parks, court houses, sidewalks, etc?
Question: It is wrong to inflict second-hand smoke on other people? Although smoking is detrimental to a person's health, whether or not someone smokes is (or should be) a matter of his personal choice. However, what is the proper moral and legal status of "second-hand smoke"? If second-hand smoke contributes to the development of respiratory diseases or if others simply find it noxious, shouldn't people refrain from smoking in public or smoking around people who haven't consented to it? In a free society, would and should most workplaces ban smoking? Could second-hand smoke be considered a tort, such that the state should forbid smoking around people who object to it?
Question: Is breastfeeding children in public wrong? My wife and I want to have kids, and one question we have concerns public breastfeeding. Is it immodest or improper to breastfeed in public? Should stores permit or forbid it on their premises? Should public breastfeeding be restricted or banned by law as indecent?
Question: Why are disputes so belligerent in online communities? I've noticed that people get into very loud and heated disputes online, whereas that doesn't seem to happen in local communities. Disputes in local communities tend to be less frequent, less belligerent, and last for a shorter time - even when some people end up hating each other and refusing to have anything to do with each other in the end. Why is that? Also, why do people who are closest with each other (whether close friends, dating, or married) seem to agree more on hot-button issues? Are people more willing to reject a stranger's arguments than those of a friend? Is that an error?
Question: Which bathroom should a pre-operative transgendered person use? The brutal attack at McDonald's on a transgendered person in April 2011 was apparently started because that person used the ladies restroom, which was already occupied by a 14 year old. Was the transgendered person wrong to use that restroom?
Question: Do restrictions on nudity and sex visible to others violate rights? While having a zestful online debate, someone claimed that Ayn Rand contradicts herself in claiming that public nudity should be censored. (See "Thought Control" in The Ayn Rand Letter.) Since sex is a beautiful act, why should people be protected from it? Could a ban on visible pornography or sex be a slippery slope to other intrusions by government?
Question: What's the proper approach to nudity? Should we all be nude all the time? Should nudity be saved for your lover only? Should children see their parents naked? Should we have clothing-optional get-togethers with friends? Basically, what is your view of the proper contexts for nudity?
Question: Is it dishonest to use tact when talking to someone? When I have something important to tell someone and I am concerned that the other person might be put on the defensive or have hurt feelings, I try to say what I need to say with tact. That is, I change what I say from brutal honesty to something easier for a person to hear and accept. However, I worry that I'm being dishonest in doing so. When does using tact cross the line into dishonesty?
Question: Is it rationally selfish to be brutally honest in some contexts? Often, you need to tell a person some hard truth, and you can do so either tactfully or brutally. In many instances, you might want to be brutally honest because you fear that the person will not understand what you say if you're tactful. So which approach is better?
Question: How do you objectively define manners? Is that even possible? What makes some action rude or polite? Is it purely subjective or based on personal values? For example, some people think that guests ought to take off their shoes in another person's house, while others don't care or even prefer shoes to remain on the feet. And some people think that putting elbows on the dinner table or feet on the coffee table is barbaric, while others regard that as fine. Since manners vary from person to person, how do you "mind your manners" when interacting with other people? Or should you not bother with that, and instead do what you please?
Question: How can I criticize someone's work without hurting their feelings? In student theater circles, I struggle to be honest when asked what I thought of an actor's performance, or a director's job, or the writer's work. The writing can be very bad and the performances pretty flat too. My first instinct is to latch onto anything positive I can in the play, and to just talk about that. However, then I seem to be someone afraid to offer criticism to someone's face, and I'd hate to criticize behind their back. So how can I be critical in a helpful and friendly way?
Question: What is the proper etiquette in regards to dealing with a deeply irrational person you have to deal with temporarily? Especially when his irrationality interferes with your value pursuits to some extent.
Question: Objectivists seem to be disagreeing a lot recently about some hot button issues. Do you have any principles to suggest on how to best handle such disagreements?