I have received a few outraged emails from folks I will not name as I don’t think this should be an issue about them, expressing ire over the fact that I have either not posted some of their comments or that I responded to them in a particular way that they believed to be over the top (apparently ignoring that this person and I have a long history that has not been happy). One of these emails was even vaguely threatening, digging up stuff on me on the internet as if to say “I know who you are!” This, of course, reminded me of tactics I’ve seen on rightwing blogs where people go after the personal lives of their opponents when they do not like what they’re saying and posting it on their blog inviting others to go after them at home or in their place of work. At any rate, I think a very basic point is being missed in these exchanges: civility, or, according to Merriam-Webster, a: civilized conduct, especially: COURTESY, POLITENESS, b: a polite act or expression.
I don’t know why this point is so difficult to grasp: Rudeness, mocking behavior, sarcasms, insults, etc., simply do not translate well in this medium and cause discussions to spiral out of control, becoming like a Cold War arms race, where each side begins to respond to the other side in a more heated manner, hurling uglier and uglier insults at one another. I admit it, I have a thin skin about these things. I don’t like them. I don’t feel I need them in my life. I don’t think a person’s intellectual contribution outweighs whether or not they contribute it in a way that they are civil. That is, given the choice of enduring a really obnoxious person that is brilliant and not enduring that person at all, I’ll choose the latter. I do not associate with mean and rude people in real life and have no desire to do so here. There’s plenty of other stimulating engagement to be had, so why bother with those who can’t be bothered to conduct themselves in a civil way?
If Hegel taught us one thing, it is that social relations are, in part, based on mutual recognition and can only proceed on the basis of mutual recognition. Where that recognition is lacking or absent you only get endless struggle and conflict. Recognition and respect does not mean agreement, but it does entail relating to others with a modicum of politeness and respect. When I have occasionally pointed out incivility in another person’s comments or mode of address, I have either been told that I can’t take criticism and just want a bunch of people who agree with me milling about, or have been rewarded with the ever popular “but you do it to!” With regard to the former charge, I’m more than happy to entertain criticisms. What I can’t stand is obnoxious rudeness, not criticism or disagreement. Moreover, this way of responding is itself rude. When someone says to you “look, I really don’t like or enjoy how you’re addressing me!” you should say “sorry, my bad!”, not compound the problem by further attacking the person who feels they’ve been wrongly treated… At least, that’s the way a rational person who’s genuinely interested in discussion and the issues at hand, and who cares about others would respond. With regard to the latter charge, this is the whole problem with incivility: once it starts it spirals out of control and you get both sides hurling their shit at one another without being able to determine who hurled shit first or why. In the mean time, the discussion gets entirely side tracked as people air their hurt feelings about being wronged in this or that way. In light of recent events, I’ve concluded that my only recourse is to delete those comments that I find to be lacking in civility, or to be rude, obnoxious, or combative without contributing anything to the discussion. There’s no reason I should make my blog a place for the graffiti of those who seem only to desire pot stirring or generating conflict. My blood pressure doesn’t need it and it doesn’t look to me that those who conduct themselves in this way are really interested in discussion. A little civility goes a long way. A little respect in how one comports oneself goes a long way.