Is Civility Overrated?

be fucking civil

All the talk these days by political pundits, news reporters, columnists, journalists and of course politicians seems directed towards decrying the lack of civility in politics.  It is common knowledge that there is a war between the Democrats and Republicans going on.  Each side sees the other as bent on destroying democracy, mom, god and apple pie.  They have become bitter enemies, and no one is taking prisoners.

To study this problem more, I decided to invoke Santayana’s famous dictum on “those who forget the past.”  I fired up my trusty time machine and selected four eras and events from the past where it seems civility had also been called for.  As you perhaps know, when journeying to the past, you become invisible and there is no way that you can influence any past events.  This is in accord with Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle.  I report on these events in the following four narratives as I witnessed and remembered the discussions.

Moses and Rameses – 1440 BCE

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:   Not on your life

Moses:  Then I will bring numerous plagues to smite you Egyptians

Rameses:  Go ahead.  See if I give a dam

A few weeks later:

Rameses:  Look Moses, can’t we be civil about this

Moses:  Sure, let my people go

Rameses:  Not happening

Moses:  Then I will bring a new plague that will strike all first-born Egyptians dead

Rameses:  I thought we agreed to be civil.  Can’t we discuss this more?

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  The hell with you Israelites

One week later:

Rameses:  Moses, I thought we agreed to be civil.  Look how many of my people you killed

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  To hell with you, get out and don’t come back.  I hope I never see you again

Moses:  Now that is what I call being civil.  Goodbye!

in pursuit of civility

War of Independence – 1776 CE

King George:  You dam colonists.  Who do you think you are?

Benjamin Franklin:  We are your loyal servants my lord, who merely want to be treated with the same rights as Englishmen in your country

King George:  You are low-lifes with no civility.  I can’t believe you dumped all that tea in the harbor?  Furthermore, you don’t even have tea-time each day like we do.

Benjamin Franklin:  My lord, the customs in our country are very different

King George:  Different my ass, you people are nothing but barbarians

Benjamin Franklin:  All we want is to eliminate taxation without representation

King George:  Do I look like I care what you want?  I’m the king

Benjamin Franklin:  I am afraid we are prepared to go to war over this issue my lord

King George:  We want to have a civil discussion and you dare to threaten me?

Benjamin Franklin:  What does civility mean to you my lord?

King George:  Your people stop whining about our taxes and get their asses back to work

Benjamin Franklin:  I will bring your message to my people your lord, but I don’t think they will agree

King George:  Then we will crush them like we crush all the enemies of the empire.  They will be begging for tea and not coffee.  You are dismissed.

12-years-slave

 

Somewhere in Mississippi – 1860 CE

Plantation Overseer:  How many times Moses have I told you that you can’t run away?  You are going to get another whipping boy

Moses:  Yes, master

Plantation Overseer:  How many lashes do you think you should get Moses?

Moses:  I don’t rightly know master

Plantation Overseer:  Look Moses, I want to be civil about this, so I am asking your opinion.  I was thinking that since it was fifty last time, we should add ten making it sixty.  That would be ten for each time you ran away – agree?

Moses:  Go to hell!

Plantation Overseer:  Mind your mouth boy.  I thought we were having a civil and friendly conversation and now you go ahead and insult me with your vile mouth.  I am going to add ten lashes to your whipping.  That will teach you to be more civil!

Moses:  Go to hell!

four-components-of-etiquette-33-638

Hollywood Producers Office – March 15, 2018 CE

Producer:  Look Emily, I would like for you to get on the couch and take your clothes off

Emily (Aspiring actress): I don’t understand what taking my clothes off has to do with an audition

Producer:  Well, you have heard of “quid pro quo” right?  Well, I just want you to do me a little favor and then I will do you a bigger favor

Emily:  And what if I refuse?

Producer:  Can’t we be civil about this?  We are both adults

Emily:  I do not plan to screw my way to a role in your production

Producer:  I am tired of trying to be civil, now get your ass on that couch

Emily:  Unlock the door!  Please let go of me!

Producer:  Just relax, you will enjoy it more

Emily:  Get off me, I will scream!

Producer:  Can’t you be more civil Emily?  I am just doing this for your own good

Emily:  Fuck you, get off me!

Producer:  Not until I finish what we started

Emily:  Crying

Producer:  See it wasn’t so bad was it? Maybe after this we can be more civil to each other

Emily:  Screw you!

trump on civility

Well, that is all the time I had for my time journeys. I report the above narratives to the best of my memory.  I was wondering what messages or meaning I could ascribe to these events in terms of the problem of civility that I mentioned earlier.  I know Trump, McConnell, Graham and many others on both sides of the aisle have all called for more civility in politics.

Somehow though, I question when and where civility is appropriate and where a good “Screw you” is more appropriate.  I have no doubt that civility is of value in some circumstances but like any value, perhaps it can be overdone.

death of civility

Webster’s defines the term Civility as: 

1:  Archaic training in the humanities

2a: Civilized conduct, especially COURTESYPOLITENESS

b: A polite act or expression

If we dismiss the first definition, we are left with courtesy and politeness as being the sine qua non of civility.  But I ask, who and when should we be courteous to?  Should we be courteous to:

  • Someone who is robbing us
  • Someone who is trying to kill us
  • Someone who is obviously lying to us
  • Someone who is preaching hate and fear
  • Someone who is taking money from the poor to give to the rich
  • Someone who will deny others the chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

sarahhuckabeesanders1

There is a time for civility.  I have no doubt.  But there is a time for anger and indignation.

It takes more courage to stand up to bullies and wrong doers than to merely stand passively by and acquiesce to calls for civility.  To conclude, I observe this about civility:

  • It is often a call by the more powerful to the weaker to be subdued and humbled
  • It can be used to hide evil of the first order and should be suspect
  • It is of merit only when it is reciprocated

Beware the Trojan horse!  Beware those who want civility without justice, truth and freedom!

Time for Questions:

Are you always civil?  When are you not civil?  Why?  Do you agree that civility is not always a virtue?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“In politics, disagreements between opponents is the sign of a healthy and flourishing democracy. When politicians show too much deference to each other, fundamental ethical questions are likely to get buried and power can go unchecked. Meyer points out that insults are a non-violent way of curbing the excesses of the powerful, and he argues that politics must therefore ‘allow for a boorishness typically at odds with polite society’. Similarly, Kennedy argues: ‘The civility movement is deeply at odds with what an invigorated liberalism requires: intellectual clarity; an insistence upon grappling with the substance of controversies; and a willingness to fight loudly, openly, militantly, even rudely for policies and values….” Meyer, ‘Liberal Civility and the Civility of Etiquette’, 79; Kennedy, ‘The Case against “Civility”’, 85.

The above exercpt is from:  “Six Questions About Civility” by Nicole Billante and Peter Saunders, 2002

 

 

 

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