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

 

 

 

Debate versus Discussion:  Why Debates are a Waste of Time!

(Listen to the Debate Song, while you read my blog this week.)

berniedebateOnce upon a time, I thought debates were the answer to the question of “how do we discover the truth?”  I thought that if you put two intelligent people together and each took opposing positions on an issue, that through the interplay of ideas the truth would emerge.  If you think about this a bit, it is the basis for our judicial system in America.  One side argues for the defendant, the other side argues for the prosecution or against the defendant.   It is also the basis for an academic exercise called Dialectical Research or Dialectical Inquiry.

dialectical inquiryA dialectical investigation is a form of qualitative research which utilizes the method of dialectic, aiming to discover truth through examining and interrogating competing ideas, perspectives or arguments.  This latter method is often applied through the use of case studies in which students or investigators discuss real world examples of complex situations.  The purpose of a case study is to provide a more thorough analysis of a situation or “case” which will reveal interesting information to the reader.  As I use them in my classrooms, my goal for my students is to help them understand how to better form strategies for success in business.

159_TJ_Dillashaw_vs_Dominick_Cruz.0.0Unfortunately, in the real world the strategy of debate does not work.  Debates are a waste of time when honest discussion takes second place to winning or looking good.  Dialectical Inquiry is also often useless since the complexity of the subject can be beyond the ability of many students to grasp.  Real world situations are froth with uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity or as some have called it VUCA.  VUCA is an acronym used by the military to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  Many complex situations are seldom able to be accurately modeled leading in most instances to weak images or portrayals of the actual situation.  This is why debaters opt for simple explanations rather than complex explanations.  Another example of this watering down of reality is a Hollywood movie depiction of a supposed “true” story.  Recent movies that come to mind include the following:

  • The Revenant – Story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass.
  • American Sniper – Story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
  • Steven Jobs – Story of the founder of Apple Corporation
  • The Theory of Everything – Story of physicist genius Steven Hawking

Hollywood loves to take stories of great enterprise and or daring do and change them into a 1. 5 hour dramatic show full of love, heroism and imaginary situations that often did not exist.  Did I say lies?  Perhaps that would be more accurate.  For often, these Hollywood epics are no more than half true.  The other half are stories added for dramatic impact.  Even worse perhaps are the often skewed biases that intrude into the movie which distort the reality of the character or situation.   For instance, here is what one critic had to say about the Steve Jobs movie:

“With all this in mind, I was disappointed in the Steve Jobs movie.  Partly because as an Apple expert I watched the film in dismay as events were pulled out of context and people appeared in locations and at times where they simply wouldn’t have been around.  I can’t help but think that in his desire to avoid the chronological retelling or Steve Jobs story, a traditional childhood to death epic, in favor of three acts (which would be better suited to a theatrical production) Aaron Sorkin constrained himself too much.  The only way he could tell the story was to pull events from all corners of Jobs’ life and present them as if they had happened in the 30 minutes before a keynote presentation.”  — Karen Haslam, 10 Nov 15

I mentioned earlier that debates cannot work when winning is the primary objective.  Hollywood’s version of winning is making money.  Making money becomes a more important objective than telling the truth.  Similarly, the truth takes second place to winning in political debates.  Winning for the networks means providing entertainment to sell ads, not necessarily a stage full of erudite rationale individuals trying to discover the truth.

The 2016 debates for both the Republican and Democratic candidates have not only been a farce but they have been an insult to the American People.  Here is one comment regarding the Republican debate on TV a few nights ago:

“The GOP debate on FOX last night was an embarrassment.  The talk show hosts said it best.  This debacle stooped to a new low. Penis size?? C’mon people.  Seriously. We need to respect our President.  It is beyond my comprehension how anybody could respect this pathetic excuse for a candidate.”

politifact-photos-Trump_gesturesI have watched several of the debates now and I see no evidence that truth is being discovered.  The debates have become hyperbolic spectacles of insults, half-truths, reality distortions, innuendos and petty personal attacks.  I doubt if anyone has found much truth in these debates never mind elucidations of complex policy positions for any of the candidates.  Trump 2495-so-funny-and-true-rhetoric-wallpaper-427x454will build a giant wall.  Cruz will fix Syria.  Rubio will fix health care.  Sanders will fix inequality in America.  Hillary will fix Obamacare.  Do you know how any of the candidates will accomplish these lofty goals?  Of course not, since they know that the “debates” are no place for such a complex discussion.  Trump perhaps realizes this fact better than anyone and has kept his discussion and clarification of his policy positions to less than fifteen second descriptions.  The general consensus seems to be that if a candidate cannot explain their position on any subject in less than fifteen seconds, they are doomed, i.e., they lose.

In their book, Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, (1988) Jamieson and Birdsell make a case for the importance of Presidential debates but only if certain changes are made to the usual format.  Their book was written over twenty five years ago and if you have watched the recent debates, you will note that their recommendations were not heeded.  Furthermore, the present debate formats have probably encouraged worse excesses in rhetoric and sophistry than either Jamieson or Birdsell could have imagined in 1988.  Looking historically at debates, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the epitome of rationality and decorum.  Today, the networks want drama and entertainment.  Debates such as took place between Lincoln and Douglas would never qualify as either drama or entertainment.

debate parrotsOn a more personal level, I have a problem with debates.  I have a few friends who love to debate.  I have noted as a result of recent discussions with them concerning the Presidential elections that do not want to understand or clarify any issues, they just want to argue or perhaps debate.  I say that they want to argue, because their main agenda seems to be looking good or advancing their points and not understanding my points.  They often enter into these contests (Since that is what a debate means to them.  It seems to be a contest between winning their points and looking good or losing their points and looking bad.) with a pretense of trying to understand why I think or feel a certain way.  Sometimes, they start the “debate” with a flat out rejection of my position or with a declaration such as “you are dead wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about.”  I confess that such latter utterances often preclude my disposition to have a rational discussion with them.   I see no point in it.

Have you ever changed anyone’s mind which was made up?  Have you ever tried to have a rational discussion with someone who was being emotional?  Have you ever tried to explain something to someone whose main objective in talking with you was to score points or make you look stupid?  Under the rubric of “debate,” are we to think that our antagonists give one farthing for the truth or where we stand on an issue?  There is a big difference between debating me on an issue and discussing an issue with me.

The result of these “debates” with erstwhile friends have led me to two inescapable conclusions.  First, I don’t need or even want debaters in my life.  I have little time left for scoring points or winning games by making someone else look bad or proving that they are wrong and I am right.  Second, debates do not start from an honest position of fruitful and objective inquiry and thus cannot lead to truth or relevant knowledge.  Rather, most debates start from a position of “I am right and you are wrong.”  The antagonists goal being to show you or the audience how right and smart they are and how wrong and stupid you are.  Is there a point to such an exhibition?  I presume winning is the payoff and reward.  As Vince Lombardy once said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

If your objective is to understand something or if you want to find the truth, I suggest that you think more of discussing and less of debating with others.  A good discussion aims to find an understanding and comprehension of complexities that is often beyond our singular abilities to understand.  The truth can usually (but not always) be found between two extremes.  However, the process of truth seeking is more important than the process of truth finding.  The truth will inevitably change over time.  You will never have found a truth that will be good for all eternity.  There will always be a new truth to be found somewhere.  Thus, the process of truth seeking becomes a way of life that outfits the seeker for a journey through the cosmos that may take the seeker to the end of the universe and back to the beginning.

Well, if you finished my blog and you think I did not give a fair presentation on the evils of debate, then please listen to the song I noted above.  This song makes a case for the value of debate.  It does it in an Indian Rap song with great visual effects, music and choreography.  I am probably undoing my entire argument by including this song but Amen or so be it. 

(Listen to the Debate Song, it makes a great case for the value of debate)

Time for Questions:

Do you seek first to understand or first to be understood?  Do you debate others or discuss with others?  Are you more concerned with understanding or looking right?  How do you grasp complex issues?  How do you insure that you truly understand and are not being duped by charlatans trying to sell you simple answers to complex issues?

Life is just beginning.

“And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:”  — The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

 

Patience or Why You Should Never Run a Green Light!

“You mean Red Light, don’t you?”  “No, I mean Green Light.”  From a conversation at a motorcycle safety meeting.

Patience is number three of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Wednesday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the patience to avoid judging others today and forgive me for those times when I fail.

Augustine-of-Hippo-Patience-QuotesBefore, I explain the story behind the Red Light versus Green Light comment, let me give you a little test to see how patient you are.  I will do this by way of posing three scenarios.  I will suggest some possible paths that you could take in each scenario.  You select the action that you would be most likely to take or that perhaps you usually take.  I will then give you a score for each possible path.  The scores will point to your “patience quotient.”

checkout

People waiting in line with shopping baskets at grocery store

The first scenario involves a common enough occurrence in most of our lives.  You have finished your grocery shopping and now need to find a cashier to check out with.  Today, there are only six lanes open and the lines seem to be somewhat disproportionate in length.  Do you?

A. Try to find the shortest line before moving your cart into position

B. Simply take the first line you come to

C. Hang back and see if they will open another line

D. Get into one line but hop over to another line if it seems to be moving faster

mc-cullgreets-061611-sn-tifOur second scenario involves going to church service.  At the end of many services, the minister (Do Rabbis and Imams do this?) will wait at the door and greet the outgoing parishioners.  Do you?

A. Wait in line and wonder why the heck they have to do this

B. Get in line and look forward to greeting the minister

C. See if you can find another door to exit by

D. Say some prayers in your pew until the line shortens

Our third and final scenario finds us on our ubiquitous freeway system wending our way to some appointment that we will probably be late to if the traffic stays so slow.  Do you?

A. Silently curse the other drivers on the road

B. Try to find the fastest line

C. Simply resign yourself to being late and stay in one lane

D. Weave in and out to get ahead of the other traffic

If you selected, D for 1, C for 2, and D for 3.  You have a patience problem.  On the other hand, if you selected B for 1, B for 2 and C for 3, you should be writing this blog and not me.   All other choices put you somewhere between patient and impatient.  You decide and be honest where you are at on this continuum.

It is has been said that Patience is the greatest of all virtues, but I will not argue that point because it is meaningless.  Patience can save your life. Patience can save your sanity and Patience can save your soul.  These three facts are cause enough to consider that Patience should rank at least among the top virtues in terms of importance.  How high it should rank for you will depend on how you rated yourself on my scenarios.  For instance, if you weave in and out of traffic trying to get someplace a few seconds or even minutes faster, you not only endanger your own life but you endanger the life of other people.  You have a patience problem.

Patience can save your life because as the saying goes “Haste makes waste.”  How many people have died because they could not wait?  They were so impatient and they just had to take the shortcut.  Whether it involved shutting the electricity off before doing some repairs, waiting for someone to hold a ladder for them or taking their time crossing the road by looking both ways, impatience costs lives.  You will live longer if you are more patient.

“He that can have patience can have what he will.”  ― Benjamin Franklin

“Patience can save your sanity, because you will be living a pretty stressful life it other people’s actions can dictate your feelings.  If you get mad in lines at the behaviors of people who take too long or have too many coupons, you will be habitually angry.  If you get mad at “inconsiderate” other drivers, you will be stressed whenever you set foot in a vehicle.  If your expectations of people mean that they should help you to save time in your life, you will most likely die from a premature heart attack.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”  — Leo Tolstoy

Patience can save your soul.  A good person is someone who can have empathy for others. Other people make mistakes.  Other people are late.  Other people may not plan as well as you do.  Other people may be preoccupied and seem inconsiderate.  If you lack patience, you will lack empathy for others.  Lacking empathy for humanity is a sure way to become calloused and soulless.  A spiritual person does not judge others and as Jesus said “

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  — Matthew 7:1

So why should you never run a green light.  Well, the answer is simple.  How many times have you sat at a light and watched some frenzied driver try to beat the light and fail?  How many times have you seen someone run a red light while you were waiting to enter the intersection?  How many times might you have been killed if you had been in the intersection when the other party ran the red light?  I always make a point of slowly entering an intersection after a light changes as opposed to gunning my engine and racing though the intersection.  This simple thought of “never running a green light” has saved my life more times than I can count both when I was on my motorcycle and in my car.  This was my point at our motorcycle safety meeting that day and everyone nodded thoughtfully after I had explained why you should “never run a green light.”

Time for Questions:

How did you do on my three scenarios?  How patient a person are you?  What would you have to do to become more patient?  What is stopping you?

Life is just beginning.

“Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess”

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old.  Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs.  With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it.  But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity.  But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others.  Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle.  I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy.  Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen”
― Margot Benary-Isbert

 

 

 

 

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