Although Miss Manners is not a member of that vast population described by the telemarketing industry as grateful to be rescued from her own reverie by a cozy voice addressing her as an intimate friend and surprising her by anticipating her wishes as a consumer, she has to agree with one point an industry spokesman has made.
In opposition to the possibility of Congress's passing legislation to establish a national registry of people whom they are forbidden to call, a representative of the telemarketers' trade association pointed out that all such restrictions amount to using the law to deal with actions that do not constitute wrong-doing, but are merely annoying.
Miss Manners also believes that the law should not have to regulate mere annoyances, as opposed to actions that do serious damage. The law has more important things to do, and, anyway, it is not very effective in discouraging petty annoyances. It is helpless to prevent your uncle from smoking in your living room and the neighbors' children from cutting across your lawn. You may dream about your uncle's being condemned as a public health hazard and suing the neighbors' children for property damage to your lawn or mental health damage to yourself, but it is not going to happen.
Annoying behavior is supposed to be regulated by the etiquette system, which can't fine or jail violators, but uses the threat and punishment of social disapproval. Your uncle should respect your house rules because he doesn't want to upset you -- or someone he is more wary about angering, such as your aunt or your mother. The neighbors' children should keep off the grass because they'll get into trouble with their parents, and their parents should respond to your request because they don't want hostile neighbors -- and are seizing the chance to make you make your children turn down their music.
But Miss Manners is forced to admit that the law has had to start regulating petty annoyances over the last few decades in instances where etiquette regulation has failed.
The reason etiquette has failed is that it depends on summoning the good will of the annoyer, or someone with moral authority over the annoyer, to refrain from creating annoyance. This is why its first defense is to assume that the annoyance was unintentional ("Uncle, dear, I'm so sorry, we don't have smoke in the house, but you could have a smoke on the porch") and its second defense is to summon creditable help ("Ma! He's your brother, make him stop!").
When no one cares, or is smart enough to realize that a society where no one cares quickly becomes as unbearable for scofflaws as for their victims, the system doesn't work.
So yes, she is afraid that the telemarketing system is never going to be controlled through etiquette. The industry's position is that it doesn't care if it annoys some people as long as it can make a profit getting to others. Etiquette cannot operate where there is no good will or moral sense or community concern to reach.
Gadgets to stop the calls are proliferating, and all Miss Manners can do is to assure the timid that although she has a total ban on retaliatory rudeness, politeness does not require them to take such calls or, if caught, to hear them through. She has to concede that a national registry of people who want protection from such calls is needed, but also that it will not solve the problem. If you resent the annoyance of these calls, you are not likely to want to interrupt your life even more in order to take legal action against violators.
But if it works, she has another request. She wants her name on a national register that would protect her from having to listen to the clever ploys people have developed to use on telemarketers.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My fiance and I are both in our 40s and have never been married, and so we have nearly all of the things needed to form a household. In fact, we have more than a single house can hold, since we both own our homes.
The problem is how to tactfully say in the invitations that we prefer the Wishing Well Wedding, since we really don't need or want a bunch of gifts.
GENTLE READER: Just now, Miss Manners has another unpleasant message she would like to put tactfully. Hers is: If you have more than you need, perhaps twice over, why aren't you thinking of giving things away to people who are in need, rather than wishing for more?
Oh, dear, she is afraid that some things don't lend themselves to being said gently. A prime example would be: "When you come to our wedding, we're planning to collect money from you."