Civility? Maybe. Maybe not.
by Prairie Weather
James Fallows has been asking his readers to email him their thoughts on civility. Some excerpts:
In the private sector people are mostly polite because it’s good for business and crucial to getting things done. The harshness that we find in the public political discourse is the result of self-selection: only the nasty and the really thick-skinned opt to engage in political life. I and many others are turned off by the nastiness and choose to disengage from the public discourse. I confess that I have abandoned the future of my country to the nastiest people around, both Democrats and Republicans.
To which I’d say that it’s the private sector and the media greed machine that promotes incivility. Incivility gets ratings! Which the next emailer seems to recognize:
Talk of your opponent as someone with different views, beliefs or opinions that you think are wrong, but not as a bad person.
That to me has been the most damaging thing in our politics in the last 30 years; people cannot simply disagree with their opponent. They have to somehow paint the other person as being a bad person as well. This eventually leads to the kind of crackpot rhetoric we see from Beck and Limbaugh and Palin …
So turn off channels carrying those jerks. Seriously. And:
…Avoid equating your opponents and/or their programs to historical figure, acts, movements, or periods that are widely understood to be examples of evil unless you could make the case for the analogy with a straight face to a credentialed academic historian knowledgeable about the time period.
To put it another way, get educated! One benefit of education is the ability to be skeptical but civil.
Does everyone in politics, in fact, have “the best interests of Americans at heart”? It would be surprising if they did. American politicians are not, in general, less selfish, greedy, or corrupt than people in any other field or any other country. And if someone in public office is behaving in a selfish, greedy, or corrupt way, it doesn’t help to pretend that he or she is merely a well-intentioned-but-misguided patriot.
In other words, get rid of the fake-o goody-goody “everything is beautiful” stuff that came out of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. My response to those who ask why the ’80’s through the present day has been an era of so much anger and disillusion is to point at the overdose of artificial sugar America fed itself a decade earlier. We’ve been having a diabetic reaction ever since.
I like best of all this response to Fallows’ request for ideas.
How about we simply go back to manners. Remember manners? Emily Post? Handshakes, where people look each other in the eye, hats off in buildings, boys, etc. Let’s easy up on the profanity.
Boycott bombastic, self-serving media outlets, and take the time to call, email, text companies who advertise with those outlets, and or boycott those companies. My wise and sage 94 year old father would say, “hit them in their wallets”.
Of course, it’s hard to be civil to people who hate Fox and who are scornful of entertainment-news but quote it and support their advertisers. If you want to be civil and do something about the sources of incivility, get rid of your TV subscription. People do that when they’re serious. They “hit them in their wallets” even though that means a change in personal habits.
You’re either part of the solution or you’ve decided to remain another of America’s problems. One response to the Fallows challenge has this:
An adult should know what is civil and not civil, by one’s own standards, when one experiences it in one’s own and others’ behavior. Having this sense is as important as having “civility” defined. The same concept applies to “shame.” Chinese say: To possess a sense of shame is akin to having courage.”
“…Sense of shame akin to having courage?” Of course, I immediately thought of George W. Bush. Here we go again…!