The last eight years were characterized by a viciousness that may have been unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, and though Republicans have, I honestly believe, treated President Obama with much greater respect than Democrats treated President Bush, it remains the case that with the advent of blogs, cable TV, and talk radio civility seems to have become an anachronism.(via Hatless in Hattiesburg)
Some people, perhaps, might think that it's only those who suffer most from the kind of eye-gouging that occurs daily in the blogosphere and on the airwaves who call for civility. Civility, in this view, is the plea of those who hold to what Nietzsche called slave morality, the attempt by the weak to mitigate the harshness of their masters by foisting a moral system on them that would constrain their will to power. In other words, pleas for civility are the recourse of society's losers who don't want the strong to be all the time beating them up, but who are otherwise powerless to prevent it.
I think, though, that the opposite is true. Civility is a mark of strength. Calmness and courtesy are indicators of confidence in one's positions. Lies, insults, and rudeness are red flags hoisted by people who subliminally recognize that their arguments are inherently weak. The flimsiness of a point of view can often be measured by the level of shrillness and meanness with which it's presented. If one's ideas are compelling then he has nothing to fear by extending courtesy and respect to the other side. . .
It's hard to treat people with respect and dignity, of course, when they refuse the same courtesy to others, and it's easy to succumb to the temptation to call one's opponents names when they behave in ways that make the name appropriate. It's not always wrong, after all, to call a stupid idea stupid or to call a despicable human being despicable. Sometimes, when stakes are high and the battle hot some rhetoric and behavior are warranted which would not be otherwise, but incendiary language should be used sparingly and judiciously, never gratuitously. If it's deemed appropriate to use a pejorative in our discourse the reason for it should be explained, and it should not simply be employed as a pinch-hitter for an argument.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
RLC at Viewpoint: