A Call for Civility

January 11, 2017 at 9:11 pm

Everyday I read numerous articles and comments online.  The articles are generally informative.  The comments are atrocious.  Quality and intelligence seems to be in short supply in the realm of online commentary.   Most comments are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.  Many demonstrate a pointed ignorance of the topic being discussed.  Probably the most disappointing aspect is just the sheer number of comments that lack all civility.  At times, the article itself is guilty of the same shortcomings; sometimes by design, sometimes by oversight.  We need a return to civility.  We need to remember that each of us are unique individuals fighting our own daily struggles.  Can we not discuss with mutual respect, even in disagreement?

Granted, I’m guilty of this from time to time.  It is a fault that I recognize and am attempting to make a concerted effort to improve upon. Perhaps the following is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but perhaps it needs to be done.  I find that this lack of civility is non-partisan.  Conservatives are guilty of it.  Libertarians are guilty of it.  Favorite terms of the Right include taunts like “libtard”, “commie”, and plays on the names of disliked individuals on the Left.  Libertarians use many of those same terms as well, but since we bash the Right as well as the Left, add “hick”, “redneck”, “neocon” (which describes a particular political outlook, but is frequently abused), and of course, our favorite universal slap: “statist”.

The Left is likewise guilty.  They still use the standard insults, but have devised a more Orwellian toolkit of defamation as well in which they dress up their insults by using more subtle language and politically correct buzzwords.  The common slanders of course include such staples as “racist”, “Nazi”, “xenophobe”, “misogynist”, and typically some form of “stupid-fly-over-state-dwelling-hick”.  The Left’s latest innovations include a number of loaded, vaguely defined buzzwords like “privilege”.  While the idea of privilege may warrant discussion, all too frequently the word is hurled at an opponent not to increase the scope of conversation, but to stop it in its tracks, cutting off discussion and demonizing target at a personal level.

The ideas of “white privilege”, “male privilege”, etc… should be analyzed and discussed using the impartial lens of reason.  I find these terms particularly troubling due to the accusatory way in which they are frequently used .  Being that I happen to be a white middle class male, I’ve had these terms used against me, and I’m quite sure they will be again.  I’m going to take this opportunity to point out a few items of importance.  I did not choose my parents, place of birth, ethnicity, or gender.  I did not choose the socioeconomic class I was born into.  I have never personally oppressed someone based on the color of their skin or the form for which their genitalia take.  I am willing to acknowledge that these aforementioned privileges are worthy topics of discussion and that individuals outside these so called “privileged” groups may be at a disadvantage but I will not accept that “privilege” is justification to discard my opinions or arguments, or to attempt to silence me.  I strive to respect the people I come into contact with and to treat them as I would want to be treated regardless of their physical characteristics, background, or any other collectivist labels that would have me view them as something other then who they are as a single unique human being.  I should hope that if I am privileged, and if it frames the way I see myself and my expectations of treatment by others, that my treatment of “unprivileged” individuals as equals elevates them in some small way.

My point with all of this is that we need to all stop thinking of one another as a skin color, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, nationality, etc…  Those are all aspects of who we are as individuals, but we should never allow these parts to eclipse the whole.  We need to greet each other with respect, honesty, and civility.  Let us end the name calling, the anger, and the hatred.  Let us seek to listen to and learn from one another.  Let us find agreement where we can, and respectful understanding where we cannot.

More than anything, the 2016 election cycle and the subsequent election of Donald Trump has thrown into stark contrast how uncivilized we as a country have become when dealing with each other within the context of political discourse.  Nearly all discussions become personal attacks.  We must resist this trap. There are times to be ruthless and harsh, but let us direct those forces at ideas, not the person presenting them.  If you destroy an idea, you have pulled the rug out from under all who hold to it. If you seek to destroy a person, you only make an enemy, and neither you or the world are better off.

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