Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is civility dead?

Since October 1, I've spent a good deal of time on political topics, including the GOP government shutdown and default crisis and the ACA (Obamacare), not just on here but on Facebook as well.

I know that a lot of people don't like talking about politics on Facebook, but I figure that people can easily unfriend or hide me if it bothers them that much, or even send me a private message.  I do try to limit myself, but especially on the ACA stuff, it is important to get accurate information out there.

It would probably not be necessary to do that, except that there is a well funded effort that is determined to sow seeds of opposition to Obamacare by any means, including by outright lying.  There are a lot of people who are frightened to death that Obamacare will succeed.

I have some rules for Facebook political stuff, and really for Facebook in general, that I find tend to make the process go more smoothly.  They are:

  1. When seeking to inform, be informative with accurate information.
  2. Keep your sense of humor. Be funny when you can be, but never let being funny get in the way of being kind.
  3. Treat everyone as your intellectual equal and your social better, even when they aren't.
  4. Never say anything you wouldn't want your mother to read, even if you've fought hard to keep her off Facebook.
  5. Be patient with people who disagree with you, even if they are ill-informed. 
  6. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong, even when the facts show that they're wrong. If you must correct someone, be diplomatic about it, even if you have to insist.
  7. Remember that there are many people who may read your comments, not just the person whom you are addressing directly.
  8. Allow for the possibility that you're wrong and someone else is right. Nobody's right about everything.  Even people who appear to be ill-informed or malicious will occasionally have the right side of things.  Therefore, you must keep an open mind.
  9. Try hard to put yourself in the other person's shoes, both while you are commenting and where that person is likely to be after reading your comment.
  10. Above all, remain civil. If someone insults you, respond with kindness, or at least with disappointment, instead of with insults. Be slow to take offense and quick to apologize.  And remember that the people you are addressing are at least nominally your friends.
I don't always comply fully with these rules, but I do try to, and when I do, the results are better.

Two things prompted me to put this in writing. One was a private note from a friend, sent during a long discussion with another friend about Obamacare, remarking on my apparent patience.  The truth is that even though I might have an impulse to be something other than nice to people and patient with them, even when they disagree with me, I have long believed that being rude to people tends to undermine any chance of winning them over. 

The other thing was a news item in which it was reported, according to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who is the Senate Democratic Whip, that during negotiations over the government shutdown, one of the Republican House leaders who attended those negotiations told President Obama, outright and to his face, that "I cannot even stand to look at you."

It is difficult to imagine saying something that rude to anyone.  (Perhaps to a child whose behavior was extremely disappointing?)

It is simply unfathomable that someone would say that to the President of the United States.

I don't think it is a secret to anyone that I wasn't George W. Bush's biggest fan.  I have never found myself in the same room with Mr. Bush, so I've never had an opportunity to test whether I could be a bigger person than the anonymous Republican House leader was to Obama.  I do have a lot of anger toward him, and, with reason, at least for his first term, I do not believe he was the legitimately elected President.

However, there are no such reasons available to this extremely rude anonymous Republican.  Obama's elections weren't tainted by anything.

But what has become tainted over the last five years is the Republican attitude toward Obama.

They have charged that he was not born in the United States.  He was.

They have charged that he is a secret Muslim. He's not. He professes to be a Christian.

They have charged that he is a Socialist.  He isn't.  He has utterly failed to advocate in any real way for any socialist policy.  Even the ACA is a model capitalist approach to health care financing, and Obama pushed a blue-ribbon commission that recommended that Social Security essentially be gutted in order to "save" it.

They have charged that he was planning to seize guns, to the point at which perhaps millions of fearful gun nuts spent the last five years loading up on weapons and ammunition, to the point where ammunition became so scarce that stores could not keep it in stock.  To date, he has not advocated any serious gun-law reform, and he has not seized anyone's weapons.

Perhaps the most serious, if largely unvoiced, complaint that Republicans have about Obama is that he's black.  They got that one right.  And that one might explain why Republicans like Joe "You Lie!" Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, feels free to scream epithets at the President during the State of the Union Address, or why this anonymous GOP leader could tell Obama that he couldn't even stand to look at him.

What gives these Republicans the self-permission to behave so incivilly?  What cause have they to be so rude, so personal?

Perhaps they believe their own lies.

Perhaps they believe that Obama really is a foreign-born Socialist/Communist/Marxist/Fascist/Hitler Admirer/Muslim who is hell-bent on destroying the Constitution.

Perhaps they believe these things despite all evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps they believe these things despite the fact that no one could simultaneously be all of the things they charge Obama with being--a condition that suggests, at a minimum, that these are just random insults, not informed by any real understanding of what the words mean (other than that they are bad).  They might as well have called him a nose-picker or a pornographer.

Perhaps it doesn't matter.  If they believe their own lies, they don't deserve a place in government because of the mental malfunction required to get to that point.  And if they feel entitled to be rude, they don't deserve a place in government because of the mental malfunction required to generate the narcissism necessary to feel that way.

And that is why they must never be placed in a position of authority, ever again.

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