Bleachin’ your teeth. Smile and flash. Talkin’ trash under your breath.
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Solid general advice. When exchanging ideas and positions, always being civil and moderating one’s position can lead to unexpected consequences.
I read this article earlier this year that advances the theory that politeness in discourse has led to “increased stupidity”. I had been wondering how, exactly, we got to where we are. Things seem to be going in reverse politically and socially. The Guardian piece resonated with me because it offered a potential explanation (which confirms my worldview, imagine that!). It also made me think about the weaponization of civility.
I lurk but rarely comment at a libertarianish blog that prides itself on civility http://ordinary-gentlemen.com That is an admirable thing to have as a goal and there are frequently interesting posts and comments. The commenters at the League are naturally aware of any incivility and generally ask uncivilized people to kindly make a point germane to the topic at hand or be marginalized. The system works (they ban people very infrequently). From time to time I’ll see someone support an objectively preposterous position. Then, the mocking commences, even at a place that discourages this sort of behavior. Inevitably, the original commenter cries, “Incivility!” This isn’t really a defense as much as it is a misdirection. In a larger sense the commenter is saying that because you are uncivil, the content of your criticisms should be ignored. There is a built in incentive to “game” civility.
I saw another post by Paul Shirley that is an example. I really enjoyed Shirley’s book Can I Keep My Jersey. He had a job writing for ESPN and uncorked an offensive post about Haiti and was summarily dismissed. Seemingly undeterred by the course of events, and apparently lacking any self awareness, Shirley dutifully churned out this post The shorter version is that when Paul was 8, his dad told him liberals were the tolerant ones. Therefore, uncivil liberals should be ignored. Shirley read another author’s post, agreed with the content of its criticisms but hit the fainting couch about the tone. Money quote:
The real test of liberalism, or of liberals, is this: in order to stake your claim in Liberaldom, you have to be accepting of all people, even the ones who disagree with you, and (here’s where it gets difficult) even the ones whose opinions are based on awful logic and easily-disproved nonfacts. This belief in acceptance is the only thing that makes liberalism the “good” side.
Why can’t one simultaneously accept that someone has a belief, as is their right, but still mock the belief? Some positions merit scorn. Removing snark as a rhetorical tool renders the left as the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest. Their ideological adversaries, with whom they are purportedly attempting to compromise or exchange ideas, can come to the table with a bad faith starting point. This will not likely lead to a good outcome. The effect is that the Overton Window, the the political theory, not the horrendous book by Glenn Beck–shifts so that the next time the position is legitimized.
Does the left aspire to be the “good” side or does it aspire to get results? Is this about governing or getting the Good Sportsmanship Award? The line for this litmus test was carefully drawn and used for a specific purpose under the guise of civility.
Caustic commentary is, and has been, prevalent in our discourse. When utilized, people may object. Those objections may say as much about the objector as it does the snarker. I believe that incivility goes to the weight that a comment is given, not its “admissibility”. I know from the personal experience of being on the wrong end of some (mostly deserved) online beclownings that I heard the content of my adversaries’ comments. Harsh words and all. I may have thrown a fit about the tone. But I knew.