Thursday, July 31, 2014


Retriever sends along this exchange with a NYTimes writer about civility, and the lack thereof.

I suppose there might be people who are, as a practical matter, not deserving of civility, and fully eligible for social sanction.  As an intellectual and historical exercise, one can find extreme cases.  Even Jesus landed on some people pretty hard.

But once one person is deemed worthy of incivility, it is only a matter of time before everyone is.


Texan99 said...

That exchange is interesting. The beleaguered gay man feels a real threat simply from knowing that there are people who believe his sexual activity is wrong. I don't find that very surprising, given the fairly recent history of people being thrown in jail if not beaten or killed for it. I try to imagine myself in their shoes: what moral stances threaten to destroy my (never very robust) civility and patience? I know, for instance, that radical Islamists believe I'm worthy of death as a polytheist because I believe in the Trinity. Or because I'm a woman living far outside their boundaries for women in untold numbers of ways. I would find it difficult to be civil in a discussion with an Islamist who calmly and civilly explained to me why he thought I should be put to death. I might even find it hard to remain civil while he explained why my viewed were hopelessly sinful and my way of life was doomed.

I certainly become exasperated with men who explain to me that my feminism is undermining Western Civilization (and that happens more often than you might think). I regularly lose my temper with commenters who explain to me that my government had every right to destroy my health insurance, because it probably was substandard and I wasn't capable of making those decisions for myself.

I guess it's a question of whether I feel my interlocutor is likely to have the power to enforce his offensive views against me. It would be much easier for me to listen patiently to someone's grandmother tell me that it was wrong for me to have been the primary breadwinner in my household, because she couldn't do anything to subject me to economic dependence no matter what she believed. Gays, in contrast, appear to be terrified that the Church Lady will take control of Congress, and I sort of understand their fear even though I'm appalled by their growing ability to behave just as badly in imposing their views on others who disagree.

Sam L. said...

He who claims there are those who deserve incivility, is such a one.

Texan99 said...

It's not that I don't think the people I'm arguing with don't deserve civility, only that I'm not always capable of living up to that standard. I do try. I think I fail most often when I'm most afraid.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It was still theoretically possible for homosexuals to be jailed in "fairly recent history," but I think it has been a long time since it happened. And even longer since it happened regularly.

Texan99 said...

Oh, I know it's been many decades, at least in the West--but not that long ago, from the point of view of cultural memory and paranoia. It's still an awfully risky business in some countries. And it definitely has not been a long time since gays risked being severely beaten or killed. However rare these events are, they are vivid and scary enough to affect people's control over their own civility.

As Screwtape said, if you want to make a deep wound in a man's charity, first undermine his courage.