What Happened to Civility?

With all the division and dissension today, most will agree on one thing: Civility is breaking down in our society.

Maybe not so much in day-to-day life, for most of us. But certainly in the realm of business, academia, entertainment and especially government.  It seems reasonable to ask: How long before this filters down into the rest of society, even more than it already has?

What’s the cause of civil breakdown? It depends whom you ask.

One person will say it’s social media. But that’s blaming the medium. It would be kind of like blaming the telephone for a fight during a phone conversation. It’s not the telephone – it’s the people! Social media is no different.

Another person will say it’s the breakdown of religion. But religion has been challenged for a long time, going back to the 1960s or before. Thomas Paine, one of America’s most influential founders, was an atheist. Thomas Jefferson was a deist, someone who believes in a God but also believes God’s role in human life is very limited or nonexistent. The current breakdown in civility is much more recent than the questioning of religion.

Another will say it’s all Donald Trump’s fault. But another will say it started because of Obama. But we have to look deeper. Whether it’s Obama or Trump causing the breakdown in civility, what makes people vulnerable to this manipulation and exploitation in the first place?

My answer: The decline of reason.

Think about what “reason” actually is.

When you’re reasonable, you refrain from certain things.

One is the use of force. The other is the threat of force.

On that point, the conservatives and Trump supporters have the high ground, like it or not. There is no Antifa of the right. There are no conservatives shouting down and threatening violence against speakers on campus who have differing views on taxes, environmentalism or Islam.

I’m not aware of any conservative proposals to launch a government takeover of the Internet, giving it the Orwellian name, “Net Neutrality”. Imagine the hue and cry if Republicans tried such a thing.

Generally, conservatives and right wingers want less government, not more. So for conservatives, by and large, it’s not about coercion. For leftists and “liberals”, it’s always about a new mandate, and political correctness is, in itself, the ultimate form of coercion.

It’s just a fact. Leftists like force more than conservatives, and force is the opposite of reason and civility.

Another thing a reasonable person refrains from is the use of personal attacks and emotion as a substitute for rational points.

While both sides can be guilty of this on social media and elsewhere, I hear a lot more of it from the left than the right.

While there are people who oppose Trump or conservatism while practicing reasonableness themselves, I honestly find that to be a rarer and rarer exception. I can’t blame this on Trump. These anti-Trumpers are free to challenge the President in reasonable ways. There are NO restrictions on free speech under his watch, to date. And criticizing the media for its slander and dishonesty is NOT a restriction on free speech.

I’m very vocal about my own views, on social media and elsewhere. When Obama was in office, and I opposed virtually everything he did and stood for, I did not personally attack or even “unfriend” people who thought differently, although many personally attacked me. I remained friends with most of them, although most of them will not speak to me since Trump’s election.

I frequently encounter Trump supporters who are genuinely fearful — for their business, their safety or other personal concerns — about expressing their views, even on social media. I have not yet once heard of anyone on the anti-Trump side facing any such fear. The difference is so startling and skewed, it seems reasonable to ask at some point, “What is it about leftism that’s so intimidating and emotional that causes non-leftists to go into the closet as they so often do?”

I know of many who would take issue with what I’m asserting. But I don’t know how you can deny my most fundamental point: Intimidation, emotion and the use of force are the opposite of reason.

If you feel a need to personally attack or coerce, whatever your views, then it’s a red flag you better start doing some introspection, for your own self most of all. If you’re right, then start acting like it. Point to the facts and logic that support your points. And if you can’t find any … well, maybe you’ve got to start rethinking one or two of your positions.

Why on earth is this so difficult for so many to accept?

Civility is based on reason. And only with a renewed and firm commitment to REASON will we ever get out of this mess.


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