On civility and scoundrels

civil discourse

I want my commenters to be uncivil. There is no virtue in politeness when confronted with ignorance, dishonesty, and delusion. I want them to charge in to the heart of the issue and shred the frauds, without hesitation and without faltering over manners. These demands for a false front of civility are one of the strategies used by charlatans who want to mask their lack of substance Ò€” oh, yes, it would be so goddamned rude to point out that a huckster is lying to you. I am quite happy that we have a culture of being rude to frauds here.

I’ve been thinking about this statement quite a lot since P.Z. Myers posted it the other day. Perversely, I actually agree with P.Z. that complaints about incivility and can be used as a smokescreen and a distraction to deflect attention away from critical issues.

However, being a “time and a place for everything” kind of gal, I think that deliberate civil dialog does have its utility, and and that there’s a time and a place for it. That time and place being Main Street Plaza, all the time. πŸ˜‰

6 thoughts on “On civility and scoundrels

  1. Hello?? Doesn’t anyone disagree with me? Either for defending P.Z.’s position or for wanting something completely opposite on MSP?

    Or are you all just spending the weekend with your families instead of on the Internet? πŸ˜‰

  2. PZ? Auto-agree. πŸ™‚ PZ is a time and place where you know what you get and that’s why you go.

    Same with MSP. So, as is the case more often than not, auto-agree with Chanson.

  3. lol πŸ˜‰

    But it’s true that in each case there’s a consistent and stated style, even if the styles are different from one another…

  4. I was going to write something about how I agree and disagree.

    We have to start from an “original position” of civility and this original position sets the stage. We can’t enter a meaningful conversation already thinking, “He’s brainwashed!” or “He’s mired in sin.” or “he’s a huckster!” These preconceptions would taint the rest of the argument. (but then again, maybe we don’t want a meaningful conversation. Maybe we just want a one-sided confirmation party [one-sided confirmation party? In my groups? It’s more likely than you think.])

    On the other hand, even taking the position that each person is a basic, reasonable person, this need not extend to the arguments themselves. So we can say, “OK, I know this stuff is great for you, so I’m going to assume that you believe it not because you’re crazy or brainwashed but because you genuinely believe it for the reasons you say, but your arguments are utterly convincing so I’m not going to accept that they are reasonable until you can come up with some convincing argument otherwise.

  5. Hate the sin, love the sinner I always say. I prefer to point out the weaknesses of an argument without calling someone an idiot. Plus, aren’t we all idiots sometimes? I try to remind myself of that because us-versus-them is a recipe for the status quo.

  6. but then again, maybe we donÒ€ℒt want a meaningful conversation.

    I think this is essentially the key — it depends on your goal. If you want a real two-way exchange of ideas, civility is absolutely essential. That includes the assumption that the other person is basically reasonable (even if his/her position may or may not be).

    I prefer to point out the weaknesses of an argument without calling someone an idiot.

    Absolutely! And I agree that — even if one’s argument is basically sound — calling someone an idiot in the same breath poisons the well and turns it into an “us-vs-them” battle rather than an opportunity for understanding.

    On the other hand, I think there may be times when civility isn’t necessarily appropriate. Quoting MLK (via PZ again):

    We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.

    Or more generally, when there’s a massive power difference, a polite “Excuse me, but would you please look into this injustice…” doesn’t always work. Similarly, if you’re up against someone who’s being deliberately dishonest, insisting on a politeness code can put the honest person at a disadvantage.

    Additionally, I’d recommend being wary of people who complain of others’ incivility while not offering civility in return. It can be a way to sidestep the real issues:

    Once again, we call on those involved in the debate over same-sex marriage to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other.

    I actually read this statement a number of times before it hit me that the church never made any offer of civil discourse. The use of the term “debate” in the first part of the sentence evokes the idea that they want to have a civil dialog (instead of all this impolite protesting). But the church offered nothing of the sort — there’s no way they were going to address or even acknowledge the criticisms against them in any kind of civil, “mutually respectful” forum. This “Hey, be polite!” was really a “Hey, shut up!”

    (Sorry to keep bringing up that press release, but the thing astonishes me to no end. It’s not just disingenuous, it’s like a masterpiece of disingenuity, and, as such, it’s instructive to analyze it.)

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