Covering or Not?

David Schraub, at long last has responded to my earlier final response to covering. This post is a little exasperating in which Mr Schraub tends to attribute “a sort of arrogance” and “emblematic of deep-seated misogyny” to my thesis on parts where it really seems that his objection is concerning points I’m not making. It is also somewhat odd, that in borrowing Mr Yoshino’s style of using personal narrative to make one’s point, Mr Schraub rejects this and takes this as an opportunity to decide that such forms are not allowed for such as myself, lacking the epistemological basis to say, well, anything on this subject based on my little life.

Mr Schraub points to two distinctions between what I term as badging and covering. These two differences “two axis” in his essay, lie along the source “top down vs bottom up” and “willing vs unwilling” alteration of dress or praxis. To highlight the points I’m trying to make, so that they are what is being addressed instead of red-herrings I’ll resort to the dread bullet list:

  • Badging is universal. Everybody badges in a multiplicity of ways. Humans form numerous voluntary associations and indicate them by altering our behavior to indicate our membership. That’s all that I mean by badging, that is external signs and habits that signify our associations with creed, group, or other associations. The arguments posed against and highlighting the harm of covering does little in the way of acknowledging the sources, the good, and as well the universality of badging.
  • Badging is a shortcut. Recognition of others badging is a way in which we gather cues as to nature of “other” as we interact especially with those we don’t know intimately yet. In many cases, an instinctive negative reaction to exposed covering, is seen as counterfeit or deceptive practice by making those cues unreliable. It’s the reaction against a person revealing that one is not holding with a given association just appearing as such.

The discussion continues below the fold.

I’m going to work through a number of types of badging and some covering, and discuss them a little.

From Mr Schraub’s post:

I had to wear a polo shirt and khakis when I went to work at a law firm. I presume (though never asked) that they expected me to keep relatively cut and short hair. To say the shirt, pants, and hair were a “badge” of my office rings less hollow than it rings ridiculous.

OK. Fine. The “word” badging doesn’t work so well here. I’m not a sociologist nor trained in the terminology in the field in which “covering” is commonly used. So Mr Schraub, feel free to choose your own blinkered word. The more important point is that what I mean is understood. However, the way I’m using the term badging is to indicate your associations and in that sense, the particular dress code is exactly what I mean. With the dress code and so on, a personal ettiquette and behavioral norms cames as well. What comes along with the dress code are behavioral and speech norms. If you examined a society of Hell’s Angel’s bikers gathering in North Dakota, you’d find they have different badging. As well, different conduct. This dress and the behavior indicated the shared assumptions and community which comprised that law firm or the biker clubs. You couldn’t wear the one to the other or vice versa … and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this.

In a similar way, in the early 1990s when the company I work for was much younger and smaller (4 of us), we took a “badge” that we thought indicated skill at programming, based on our reading of the best in our field at the time. We wore t-shirts and jeans, often not extremely clean. We worked crazy hours, e.g., once I clocked just shy of 100 hours in a five day work-week. However, we soon discovered that our customers were not looking for “great programmers” or anybody looking that way. They saw us as unprofessional and out of control. So we changed. Did we cover or badge? We donned the button down shirt, dress shoes, and the occasional (though less common today) tie, and (I at least) cut our hair short. We cleaned up and made ourselves look safe, that a project manager might feel more willing to put (possibly) his career on the line betting we could do the job. Was it “covering” that we had to doff the iconic image of the great garage programmer and don corporate camouflage? I’d argue not. We, after all, might have stayed in business as we were. It’s just that we would almost certainly not be getting the jobs we wanted , we would make less (possibly much less) money. So … our choice was between two badges. We could done the praxis and dress of one, and make more money. Or not.

Mr Schraub uses a long exposition of a legal case involving a young lady, a bartender at a casino, who lost a job because she decided not to follow through with regulations regarding dress. She felt “dolled up” and thus refused, and then lost her job. How does this case differ from the one above? The only difference is size of company. The casino, like our company, made a corporate decision that it needed particular changes regarding personnel image. I wasn’t part of the decision to change dress and praxis, however the distance for me was certainly far less. Mr Schraub writes:

Second, the Harrah’s case reminds us that sometimes, covering requirements can be premised upon subordinating perceptions of the “proper” position of a given social group.

This is one interpretation of what was going on. However it is more than likely not what was actually their motive. Harrah’s as a collective company is in the business of making money. Their requirements of dress and presentiment were set out (and possibly) changed based on market perception (not subordinating perceptions of “proper”). They felt that a polished professional and perhaps glamorous look in their employees uniformly presented likely would draw the more of the type of customer they desired and put that same customer in an “out-of-the-ordinary” frame of mind. A frame of mind in which that customer might be more inclined to gamble his money. The defendent apparently didn’t want to work at a job which was partially theatrical.

Mr Schraub insists that covering, unlike badging is

Covering demands, by contrast, tend to come from up on high. They are societal demands, not consented to by their targets, often the expectations of social elites or corporate executives.

“on high” here equates to “corporate executives” (?!) and “social elites” (??). I wonder which social elites decided that young hip-hopsters would wear their particular styles in chosing how they might badge to signify their membership in their sub-community. Corporate dress is decided in a similar communal manner as the youngsters. It’s fashion and custom. Does he imagine that the editors of Ladies Home Journal or Judith Martin sit on some jeweled throne somewhere and dictate “polo shirts and khakis” will be worn by pre-law interns? And they are in fact consented to by their targets. The targets of covering do indeed consent to the demands. Their choice is to consent or seek membership in other groups. There is a cost and benefit to both decisions. How this is unlike any other decision we make is unclear to me.

He, and the author of covering, stress the negative aspects of covering. Additionally, his “axis” to determine covering vs badging does not meet the facts. Take the long quote excerpted in my initial essay from Genesis. The rite of circumcision, brit milah, one the one axis, this ruling comes from as close to the top as top-down can come, and is not necessarily voluntary as well as permanent. Is it covering or badging? How does that fit in? Mr Schraub notes that at Synagogue he wears his kippah, but takes it off in secular surroundings. Circumcision is a more permanent badge, and as a sign of Covenant which cannot be taken off, is certainly a sort of slightly less public but nevertheless a badge as I’ve defined it.

From last night’s essay, quoting Bailey:

One day, the 1920s story goes, a young man asked a city girl if he might call on her. We know nothing else about the man or the girl — only that, when he arrived, she had her hat on. Not much of a story to us, but any American born before 1910 would have gotten the punch line. “She had her hat on”: those five words were rich with meaning to early twentieth century Americans. The hat signaled that she expected to leave the house. He came on a “call”, expecting in her families parlor, to talk to meet her mother, perhaps to have some refreshments or to listen to her play the piano. She expected a “date”, to be taken “out” somewhere and entertained. He ended up spending four weeks savings fulfilling her expectations.

This ritual had been abstracted from praxis and patterns based on an idealization of late 19th century rural America “calling” customs for the 1920s urban life. To participate in that society badging requirements were far more restrictive than in today’s environments. Probably Mr Schraub would censor every participant as undertaking odious levels of covering, after all the restrictions were “from on high” (whatever that means) and involuntary. However at the same time, ordering and regularization of courting had definite benefits, but alas didn’t work universally in society (the poor and the very rich rejected it). It was supplanted by dating, in many ways a much less copacetic arrangement especially for the fairer sex.

In my recent synthesis of Solzhenitsyn and Jouvenel, I’ve come to the conclusion that it the most important political change in our society is to push as much sovereignty and power to the local level. That those decisions which are so fractious today, divorce, abortion, marriage, church in the public square and so on should not be done at the State or Federal level, but at the local municipal, precinct or parish level. One benefit of this is that customs like calling vs dating vs ?? can be localized. That is the extent of badges for the same profession will likely not be as universalized. The problems of odious covering can be reduced because societies praxis and norms, the “badges” we wear in our local environs can become far less uniform. And thereby, those who seek to badge differently in a chosen field of endeavor might more likely find the same.

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