• Posted: Jan 16, 2011 12:29:19
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The recent shootings in Tucson AZ have prompted a whole lot of talk about the need for "civility" in discourse. The underlying assumption is that emotionally charged, highly polarized rhetoric laced with demonizing false logic, distortions of fact, wild fearful imaginings, and threats creates an atmosphere that can and did lead to people getting irreversibly hurt. That assumption, though strongly discounted by such self-serving empty-headed pundits as Sarah Palin, is undoubtedly true. For that exact reason it is illegal to holler "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. Point in fact, this same week saw more than 100 die in a panicked stampede in India. By contrast, civility delays emotionally prompted selfishly ill-considered action in favor of rationally considered socially responsible action. Civility integrates "the other" and "consequence" into thinking. Civility allows for doubt and uncertainty, acknowledges multiple possibilities. Civility values the individual as a contributing member of the larger group, while at the same time acknowledging and celebrating the benefits of group membership and coordinated group action.
Popular culture has often poked fun at the trappings of civility. Few of us can look at the powdered hair, painted faces, bell skirts, and tight knee britches of the late 1600's early 1700's without being amused. But that time of so called "enlightenment" was in fact just that, a time when vast numbers of people finally began to realize that there was much more to be gained through civil sharing and equitable allocation of knowledge, experience, and resources than there ever was or could be through warlike competition. Informed by notions developed in that time of enlightened civility, our hallowed United States Constitution was conceived and written. Unfortunately, the lessons of that time have not stuck. Each new generation must tragically be reconvinced through horrifying firsthand experience. Still, some among us do try to remind us of those enlightened truths now and again. Marge Simpson, for instance. Hank Hill, too.
But, we smile, don't we? And do not actually take the message to heart. Witness the next time we take to the road in traffic in our cars. It is a time of dancing with our fellows. But do we dance in peaceful, safe, and efficient harmony? Or, in our minds, do we subjugate our fellows as morons and cretins, and let our frustrated emotions boil over into "F U, F U, A Hole!!"? Where then is civility? Where then are the lessons of Hank and Marge? And this coming week, as state and national politics resume, where will the disquieting lessons of Tucson AZ be?
Perhaps, we should all get out our powdered wigs to remind each other, and ourselves??
Thursday, January 13th, 2011