On civility

Merriam-Webster defines civility as:

polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior.

The interwebs are filled with anything but civility today.

For most of the rest of the world, watching the discourse coming from not just Washington DC but the United States in general most likely lies somewhere between reviews of the worst theatre production ever and an unthinkable reality show capturing a mass of petulant, pouting, spoiled brats hurling food, mud, insults and anything else at one another (check out the comments in the link). What’s worse is that those actors this very large schoolyard bully fest don’t have the slightest inkling what they are actually fighting about anymore, other than that the other side is just ‘wrong’ and ‘immoral’ and they are not.

There is scarcely little in the way of public displays of civility between waring factions in the US anymore between politicians between friends and even between family members at times. What happened?

I’m not a member of any political party in the US or elsewhere. I can see merit in many positions (although I confess that I do find most of what the Tea Party spews to be utterly incomprehensible and unconscionable). But, I don’t 100% agree with any party on every single issue. Who does? I’ll certainly entertain policy outlines and listen to agendas which attempt to solve a problem or provide a solution to an issue which faces us all and which keeps human rights and dignity at the forefront. I’m open to debating issues as long as it doesn’t become personal and attacks are not launched at a party or class or group of individuals categorised as ‘the other’ or those ‘who are to blame’.

We are all humans. We are all guilty of some sin or another just as we all have good within us. And, frankly, we should all share a portion of the blame for the situation in which we now find ourselves. No one is infallible. No one is above reproach.

But, increasingly and especially at the moment, having any sort of discussion is like sitting several centimetres from a tinderbox doused with a litre of petrol and a burning match dangling ever so closely to where the tinder is just beginning to smoke. Sparks are flying ever so closely and we all seem in danger of erupting fully and violently (I include myself in this — I am under no illusions to those who might think otherwise). It’s a little frightening to me. As much as I love to discuss policy and politics, there are many moments when I’d rather not since I know the inevitable flame wars will ensue.

Again, what happened?

If we cannot create a safe space in which to voice our concerns as well as our ideas and solutions, we’ll never find common ground and we cannot hope to find a happy medium. If we ever hope to regain that greatness and promise of a brighter future for our children and grandchildren, if we are ever to begin to address the most pressing issues of our day, we must regain that sense of collective good. To do that, we must keep discussions civil and even-handed, and we must remain open to alternatives.

I’ll do my best. Will you?


5 thoughts on “On civility

  1. Hey, рыбка, how does Suomi deal with this sort of an issue (when the different arms do not agree)? My understanding is that pretty much every country except Uncle Same rules to dissolve the dysfunctional government rather than to shut down its services. If our folks had this Damoclean sword near their necks (and better yet with a provision that a previous member of the Parliament cannot be re-elected), they would never behave like that. Reminds me of Yeltsin vs. communists in the early 1990s which you may have evidenced. The tanks shooting at the parliament building in 1993 were epic; it looks like some vets are ready to storm downtown DC, too!

    I also think that the minimal qualification requirements are long overdue for elected politicians; you need to have an Ed.D. to be a school principal, and MD to do surgeries on people, but you don’t need to have even a GED to be a senator. How’s that logical?

  2. Thanks for the comments, Stas. Always good to hear your perspective. Must be a treat to witness all this nonsense!

    I’ll start with you last point re: minimal qualifications. I don’t have exact figures, but I believe most Congressional representatives and elected officials are actually JDs. Fat lot of good it has done us. I’m not sure if it would help that there is some sort of litmus test to qualify for public office. It’d be great if there was; but who would set the criteria? And, what would they entail? Often, it is not the actual representative that is gathering information — it’s his/her staff. So, who would need to be qualified? All of them? Or only the individual up for elected office? IMHO, we as the electorate need to be much more demanding in terms of substantive debate on actual policy and policy solutions and outlines during elections and less concerned with party affiliation and/or sound bites. We’re incredibly lazy in understanding who we’re voting for and what they intend on doing. Our criteria seem to focus on a) which party they represent; and b) one or two hot-button issues (e.g., taxes, abortion, wars, environment, etc.). We get what we deserve. And, frankly, we deserve very little if this is how we choose our representatives.

    Re: Finland — You’re right AFAIK. There are many parties (I don’t know the exact number. But, during the municipal elections we had a choice between I think 15-20 parties, about 8 of which were fairly large). Actual governing is done by coalition so that it doesn’t seem quite so extreme. And, I seriously doubt any country on the planet has the same sort of ‘shutdown’ potential. It’d be nice if someone could dissolve government and we could start over. But, until we fundamentally change how elections are carried out in the US (e.g., get money out of campaigns and make it about people and substantive discussions), not much is going to change. Sigh….

    My tuppence anyway.

  3. I know that they are mostly lawyers (there was only one US president in the past 50 years who was not a lawyer, and only three or so were not graduates of Yale). Wasn’t it your argument that you would rather want the top US politicians to know their legislation? The congressmen and senators should be responsible for everything that comes out of their office; blaming the office staff for having prepared anything poorly that came with the senator’s signature is lame.

    I think these elected politicians should be required to have a graduate degree (doesn’t matter if it’s an electric engineering or anthropology or anything medical — I wand them to have demonstrated an ability to think critically as confirmed by other people who can), and to have had an actual salaried job in the past 10 years before the election. Правда, в России это выродилось в массовую закупку научных степеней. Ideally, if you want to be elected anywhere, you should be assigned the median income of your constituency (all of their investments are to be moved to Retirement 20XX mutual funds, or may be simply to the stock market index), move into the median price house, have the home address publicly available in the campaign materials, and send your children to the public school. May be for a residency requirement of two years before running for any major office. Otherwise, they would have no факинг clue as to what’s going on in the world they are supposed to represent.

    • Indeed, I would prefer all those legislating to understand the process of legislating and have a thorough understanding of Constitutional law and their relationship to that. And, I fully agree that those elected are responsible and not their staff. No argument here.

      I think if you want them to demonstrate an ability to think critically then we need a different sort of criteria. Having a graduate degree does not necessarily guarantee that ability. Thus, real debates about real issues for me seems like a better option. And, something which is much, much more substantive and not dependent upon 60-s canned responses to a list of pre-approved questions. I say, make the format more like a Town Hall and questions come from audience members who are not members of individual candidates support staff or avid supporters of any candidate.

      I like the idea about making them be more like their constituency. But, I doubt it would ever fly. Hell, there are some districts I’d prefer the representative resemble anyone but the constituents. But, they do need to know something firsthand what is to be an average American. Not many of them do. The residency requirement does exist in many states, although I’m not sure it is 2 years. And, again, we get in to issues of enforcement.

      Honestly, I think we as voters need to be better informed. If we understood just how much influence is bought and paid and took a very honest and real look at how much money goes in to campaigning, we’d probably understand just who those currently in office are representing those who do not necessarily vote them in. Of course they aren’t going to act in the best interest of the average voter. Why should they? As long as they spew whatever rhetoric gives them an edge in the polls, we’re not really important—those with the bankrolls are. Stop the flow of insane cash for campaigning and things would change very quickly, I suspect.

      And, finally, thanks for the comments, Stas. I’m enjoying them immensely! x

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