Saturday, June 30, 2018

True Civility

This is either efficient or lazy.  I will plead to either. I have posted before at length on the subject of True Patriot, and have referred several times to the section in Mere Christianity where C S Lewis talks about the True Christian. Rereading both this afternoon, I don't think I can do better, other than to note that the True Civility claims, which I encountered looking for other things at The Ringer and 538, fall into the same category. Straw men.  False dichotomies. Most importantly, redefinitions of everyday words in order to show that all real virtues are, ultimately, just liberalism. Also, critiquing the Knibbs editorial, there is the point that language doesn't work that way.  It is not valid to say "this is the root of the word centuries ago, this is its real meaning, its better meaning, its more educated meaning now." Even if there's an interesting book out there by another liberal who claims that civility is supposed to equal the larger category of civic virtue (because just look at the root word!), which means protesting against evil authorities for the good of The People, it still doesn't work. Word derivations are interesting more than illuminating. See how the word silly, related to German salig, has changed over the centuries, for example. BTW, I wish Protestant preachers would learn that as well.  What the word meant in the KJV is not what it is really, really supposed to mean now. Nor what Noah Webster thought, either. Words change, and are an agreement in a speech community, not cast in stone.

You can figure out what my current essay about True Civility would be from reading the first two links. You can even write it yourself, just for the fun of it.

They can see the faults of conservatives clearly.  They cannot see even the simplest things about themselves.

Update: Someone interesting weighed in on civility, in just this way. Even now, listen for the questions she is not being asked.

Ann Althouse seems to agree with me.


Texan99 said...

"Isn't the real incivility doing XYZ that I think is evil, rather than communicating uncivilly?" Honestly, we're going to end up jettisoning all words in favor of "good stuff" and "bad stuff." "Isn't the real injustice the fact that some people make more money than others, rather than convicting people on the basis of reliable evidence under fair and transparent due process?" "Isn't the real violence an atmosphere of judgment rather than being put in the hospital with a broken jaw?" "Isn't real liberty having everything in the world you can possibly imagine at the expense of others, rather than a system of natural rights combined with individual responsibility?"

Grim said...

"'It is not valid to say "this is the root of the word centuries ago, this is its real meaning, its better meaning, its more educated meaning now.' ... Words change, and are an agreement in a speech community, not cast in stone."

Yes, but I would modify this conclusion partly with an example from Tolkien. I maintain that there's a power in the ancient meanings that survives somehow in the words themselves; which is why words like 'warg' and 'orc' could, by one who knew the old meanings, be brought forward in a way that was so powerful.

I often think it is worthwhile to go back in that way. Meanings change, but there is something in the structure of the logos that endures. Why that is true is an interesting question, because it shouldn't be true if the standard model of language is true. But I think it is true, whether or not it should be.

William Newman said...

I think Althouse got carried away. ("Calls for civility are *always* bullshit, because the real motivation is political advantage.") Bullshit is certainly common, but italicized "always" is a pretty high bar, and I don't think the facts clear that bar. It might be that public calls for political civility are overwhelmingly BS, but I don't know enough to say, and she wasn't that specific. Personal actions actually limiting incivility (not just political BS) are common: disruptive people can get formally kicked out or informally ostracized in all sorts of nonpolitical situations in the physical world, and similar dynamics can also be surfed to on the web. E.g., sometimes blog moderators seem quite serious about various aspects of civility in ways that seem hard to explain as politics and easy to explain in terms of considerations like "will it make my blog comments section an incoherent toxic waste dump"?. Even limiting myself to the Friendly Sites list on this blog, I find it hard to explain Scott Alexander's attitude solely in terms of political advantage. And on the broader web, I nominate the gaming blog Twenty Sided for moderation that sometimes reminds me how much I could learn about moderation (but still does not do much to soften my resolve not to have to do that:-).

(Scott Alexander does ban people for reasons that are not 100% guaranteed to impress me, but the reasons seem more like the ordinary "I don't like being annoyed" or "this discussion would be a pain" or "will I regret approving this as I am being lynched or formally guillotined", rather than pushing rationalizations for speaking political power to truth, e.g. about true civility being welcoming everyone, and truly welcoming everyone being making the truly valid people feel welcome, and that requiring banning posters that truly valid people determine to be problematic.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ William - yes, "always" and "never" are usually tipoffs of a discussion that has moved into the emotional rather than fully rational.

I did not know Alexander banned anyone. I don't follow it that closely, because even though he is brilliant, he writes at great length, and he attracts comments in the hundreds fairly consistently. I have other things to do with my life, even though he makes me smarter. Thanks for the info.