Civility in discourse Posted by: mcq
on Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Kate Phillips, at the NY Times blog "The Caucus", while discussing the Edwards/blogger fiasco, says:
Civility, we would once again mention, seems a lost concept, no matter whose set of beliefs are held dear, or whose writings are found objectionable. (We are in no way taking sides, just offering up, yet again, the observation that the online conversation has devolved into truly abhorrent language.)
Phillips observation and reaction are kind of common for new bloggers. But for the most part, I agree with her point that civility seems a lost art anymore. I'm not talking about sarcasm or being snarky ... if done well, even those on the butt end of it can appreciate it.
Instead we're talking about obscene language, threatening language, and language designed to incite people.
Obscene language is simply rude. And intellectually lazy. It assumes everyone else is at the same low level of discourse you are and that the terms used are in common use among everyone in all aspects of life. It is an assumption no one should make. It is one, however, which is routinely made by untold denizens of the net (especially in some of the more fetid fever swamps of both right and left).
Threatening language is also something not to be tolerated. One of the few people banned on this blog was someone who threatened another person. Although he claimed in an email to me that it wasn't a real threat, I refused him reinstatement. Lines need to be drawn.
Inciting people is different than challenging their ideas or provoking them into thinking about something a different way. Incitement is an attempt to provoke a certain type of reaction, usually violent or harassing in nature. You incite people with an eye toward directing their behavior into a particular mode or to do a particular thing.
Bill Donohue must immediately rescind his hateful comments against these two young women and call on the hate-mongers, which he is responsible for inciting, to cease their threats against Amanda, Melissa, and their families. Call him at 2**-***-3191 and demand this.
Now we can quibble about these terms but I'm more interested in talking concepts and ideas. Yes, you can "incite" in a good way ("make a donation to this charity"), but that's not the incitement I'm talking about.
One of the points about the Edwards/blogger problem that is now being lost in the spin, especially by the left, is that Marcotte and, to a lesser extent, McEwan, were anything but civil in their writing. And what I've found to be true is uncivil writing begets uncivil commentary and emails.
It attracts a certain type that doesn't have to really present arguments or ideas, but can instead engage in a like form of verbal abuse. And for many of them that's the extent of their capability anyway. Add the anonymity of the 'net and the cover that provides, you find people saying things here that they'd never say elsewhere.
So what to do? Well nothing overtly that involves monitoring or regulation. Instead it is incumbent upon those who enjoy the freewheeling and open debate that does exist despite the vulgarians to quit tolerating them.
Yes, gentle folk, I'm talking about intolerance. If you're interested in civil debate, if in fact that's of value to you and something you want more of, don't tolerate the other kind. Why must we give into the vulgarians? Why must they be the ones who set the tone?
One of the things I discussed by email with someone who wondered if Jon might be susceptible to an attack like that which was made on Marcotte was to point out that Marcotte's style was not Jon's style, nor, really, the style of QandO.
Consequently, given the tone and the chance to discuss ideas in a relatively civil atmosphere, we seemed to draw commenters who correspond in a similar tone and who, for the most part, eschew the vulgarities. Obviously we're not perfect nor is every comment a shining example of civility. But for the most part, especially when compared to some other blogs, bulletin boards, journals and websites, it's an oasis. And I'm pleased and proud about that. It's also a reason Jon isn't the subject of the same sort of scrutiny to which Marcotte was subjected.
My left Wing, a liberal blog, was today lamenting Marcotte and McEwan's resignations. And, of course, that turned into the typical missed point in all of this:
I have to ruefully admit I am not a regular reader, but what I have read on both blogs resembles nothing like the portrait of these two women being painted by even the mainstream press, which has a nasty habit of dissing blogs before they have all the facts. To verify my memory I went through the archives of both and found some excellent writing coupled with stimulating commentary. Yes, there were some words in a very small number of posts that might not pass the mythical NBC censor and yes there were some angry posts that reminded me of Rick Kahn's anger.
But that is not the issue. Since when has it become wrong in this country to express anger? And why is it OK for Limbaugh, O'Reilly and company to talk like barflies and not for anyone on the left to utter anything not in perfect English? And where were these enforcers of decency when Dick Cheney uttered a four-letter word on the floor of the United States Senate? Since when can free speech be codified like a dictionary of thou-shalt-nots-a list of permitted and banned words-in the manner of some totalitarian dictatorship?
The final arbiter, sir, are the people who read the words. And when those words happen to attack their religion in very precise and unmistakable way, then it isn't the number of words (and how he comes up with a "small number" is beyond me) but what they mean and say. The words that he so glibly passes off as "words which might no pass the mythical NBC censor" were vicious and vile. They were abusive. They were bigoted.
There isn't a "dictionary of thou-shalt-nots", but there is, or used to be, a tradition of respect and decency which people of good will voluntarily invoked and followed when they corresponded with each other or put their ideas out there for consideration. That, apparently doesn't apply if you're "angry" and on the left.
Last item and then I'm done.
The other point lost to many on the left in reaction to this flap is that the right to free speech is not a right to "no consequences" for your speech.
It goes like this: Action —> Reaction —> Consequences.
Or said another way, you are free to say whatever you wish and we are free to condemn/challenge/dispute what you said.
That's how it works and it sure would be nice if you guys complaining about "free speech" would figure that out.
It would also be nice if both that which is said and that which disputes what is said could done in a more civil manner than is common in many venues.
Didn’t Deb Frisch also claim she recieved "death threats"?
It’s all the same game. Disagree with a Leftist? Well you are a racist, fascist, warmonger, stupid, scary, evil...and finally, inciting violence.
Same game, every time.
As brought up before, did the collective Left ever take responsiblity for "inciting" other Leftists to shoot .22 bullets through GOP campaign headquarters, beat people up at "peace rallies," spit on veterans, slash tires, etc etc etc.
It’s the "consequences" that folks keep missing, your’s was spot-on...You CAN call Believers "Godbags" and a la Ventura talk about religion as a "Crutch." But the consequences can be bad....Ice-T made a comment once, prior to his issuance of "Cop Killer" where he said, "The first amendment ought to say, ’Say whatever you like’, but in teeny-tiny print at the bottom it ought to say,’but be careful what you say.’" This was in response to a controversy about lyrics in a Guns n’ Roses song.
I think Ice-T hit it, say what you want, but be careful what you say, because it can come back at you. Marcotte et al. are upset that they insulted folks, they don’t like, and that those insults came back to haunt them. If they had wanted to work IN politics, not AROUND politics, they really ought to have been more careful about what and how they said things.
Ann Althouse is "worried" that this controvesy limits bloggers in the real world. No it doesn’t, Ann, UNLESS you’re the Emperor Mischa of the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler or Ms Marcotte, THEN it does. You can not expect to be rude and vile to folks and then have a campaign hire you to be their public face, because your rudeness and vileness are what people will remember.
Lastly I can NOT believe that Edwards hired these two! Come on how clueless can you be? Allen and McConnell hired Henke. I seldom agreed with Henke, BUT you’d be hard pressed to find anything in Henke’s writings that REMOTELY compares to Marcotte or Mischa. Jon Henke IS employable, Marcotte is not.... and a quick read of her blog ought to have demonstrated this. The Candidate is the Message or the Message is the Message, not the Messenger(s) and this kerfluffle takes the focus off of Edwards and his message...and that’s bad campaigning and I can not for the life of me figure how or why these two folks got hired...again There is no such thing as Bad Publicicty may be true, but what people remember is Marcotte, not Edwards, so even the Publicity is not good campaign publicity.
Consequently, given the tone and the chance to discuss ideas in a relatively civil atmosphere, we seemed to draw commenters who correspond in a similar tone and who, for the most part, eschew the vulgarities.
Usually those using vulgarities are those who are fresh out of arguments.
However, sometimes you run into particularly "dense" debaters (often those who should know better, and who continue to push an argument they KNOW is wrong), and you realize you are essentially debating a brick wall. At that point there is an urge towards vulgarities.
I guess what I’m saying is that you might resort to vulgarities when you are out of arguments, or when your opponent is sufficiently dense they don’t respond to logical arguments. But the former is much more common.
this — The Dems have merely taken political advantage of the GOP failure to defeat the enemy....to help the enemy defeat the United States America, possibly leading to a wider-war in the Middle-East, the overthrow of the democratic Iraq republic and genocide and tryanny for Iraqis. YAY FOR DEMS!!! WHOOPEE! STICK TO THAT EVIL FASCSIT CHIMP!**
(** even if brown people get to be oppressed and die - after all, we Leftists did in Vietnam, why not again?)
Written By: Dems = Racist Haters
was posted in an earlier thread. pot, kettle. etc.
The other point lost to many on the left in reaction to this flap is that the right to free speech is not a right to no consequences for your speech.
The same comment I made on the Arkin thread applies here:
There is an idea on the Left that anyone who vents against Bush or the Iraq war in any manner is engaged in a sacred form of communication that is exempt from being judged by the normal standards of civil discourse, and the rest of us are just supposed to clap, because someone is "questioning the government."
Maybe there is a critical mass of people on the Left who view politics as street theatre and they think the internet is supposed to work the same way.
I have the utmost respect for those who really are questioning government policy, in the sense of raising serious concerns or making thought-out critiques, but if you are spewing personal attacks, cynical snarky comments without substance, illogic, ludicrous conspiracy theories, or propaganda slogans, be prepared to get called on it. And no, that is not silencing your dissent.
The final arbiter, sir, are the people who read the words. And when those words happen to attack their religion in very precise and unmistakable way, then it isn’t the number of words (and how he comes up with a "small number" is beyond me) but what they mean and say. The words that he so glibly passes off as "words which might no pass the mythical NBC censor" were vicious and vile. They were abusive. They were bigoted.