Their opprobrium is not for America's enemies, but for its own citizens. From the unseemliness of Jane Fonda, recipient of such opportunities that only this country has had to offer her to the spittle-flecked rants of others
--is how all-fired uncivil The Left is, with their opprobrium and their unseemliness and their neverending spittle-flecked rants. It just isn't nice, how they do. They are so Not Our Kinds of People.
I was emailed a link to a post about this a few months ago that I thought was quite good on the subject of civility. Let's see if I still have it . . .
. . . and, no, I don't, but I found it for you anyway. Read it, and try to read it with an open mind, because I'm in about 50% agreement with what Judith has to say about relations between Democrats and Republicans:
They [Democrats] always start political conversations. None of us do. We have learned that no one wants to argue issues on their merits, that the room gets very quiet and unfriendly, that people start screaming at you, or rant the most loopy beliefs and conspiracy theories. We just assume that is not a topic anyone can treat in a dispassionate manner.
But they always provoke political conversations. Well, not conversations, which would be enjoyable and enlightening. They make pronouncements. And look around the room to see if anyone not only doesn't agree, but doesn't agree enthusiastically. As a friend deep in the closet in the theater world put it, you can't just sit quietly and wait for the topic to change. No, you are suspect if you do not vocally endorse the official opinion of the group. You thought you were in a project meeting or a coffee klatch or a dinner party, and all of a sudden it has turned into the Communist Youth League Self-Criticism Session.
And then, after they have assumed, because no one in the room has fangs or horns, that a political support group is what everyone wants (and they do, except for you) - if you express your difference of opinion, they are offended that you spoiled the intimate feeling in the room by being other than they assumed, based on their superficial reading of you. In other words, they brought up politics, but they are the only ones who get to play. If you join in, you are the one who soured the conversation by bringing up politics. Because they weren't trying to start a political discussion, they just wanted to commiserate with friends. You party pooper.
Yes, I have had experiences like that. I'm in a mood to borrow off of Chris Clarke today, so let's call such incidents the Inbred Cousins of the Berkeley Theater Experience:
It reminds me of sitting in a movie theater in Berkeley with Becky and Ron and Joe watching O Brother Where Art Thou, and having a handful of the audience members applaud when the Cyclops Klan character played by John Goodman got spanked by the burning cross. Because, you know, it’s possible that the rest of the audience in Berkeley might actually have felt support for the Klansmen in the movie, and only by the brave action of booing Klansmen in a dark movie house in Berkeley, California could those folks make sure that their stalwart opposition to cartoon evil was made known in every possible venue. One wonders if those folks hiss “sexist!” at Snidely Whiplash when watching the Cartoon Network.
So I get where Judith's coming from on "they just wanted to commiserate with friends." It's really a passive-aggressive way of ranking your friends by ideological purity--and that makes the person doing it the real party-pooper, not the poker pal who turns out to favor the flat tax.
I'm also in strong agreement with this side note of Judith's:
Spirited argument is sexy to me (think William Powell and Myrna Loy), and a marriage with someone who disagrees with me on various issues sounds energizing and playful and always interesting. (I would insert a link to Mary Matalin and James Carville here, but I think Carville is just too weird.) But most people don't feel that way anymore, at least not liberals. Champions of diversity, they want lovers and friends just like themselves.
I know one couple who broke up over politics. (Well, the wife tells me, there were deeper problems, and that just exacerbated them.) But I know several couples who just agree to disagree, and it's clear they are a team and politics is just not a good enough reason for estrangement.
. . . not least because that last sentence about sums up my own relationship. If you think we haven't had some horrible, heated clashes over foreign policy in this house, think again. But I don't run and cry to this blog every time it happens because I like knowing that the person I'm with isn't a doormat, that he'll disagree with me boisterously and often if the subject's important to him.
Here's where I have my problems with the current conservative view of civility, though. Speaking of Josh Trevino, Judith says:
If you read this blog you know I disagree with Josh's description of and attitude towards the gay marriage movement, but I think his diagnosis of liberal cultishness is right on. And I know that if Josh and I got to sit down for a cup of coffee - as we kept trying to do when he was in town for the GOP convention in 04 and never found the time - we would enjoy each other's company and have a friendly argument about it. (Hell, Josh had been reading my blog for over a year when he emailed me to let me know he would be in town, and he wanted to hoist a few anyway.) And I know if we each had three kids the same age, he would allow them to play together even if I had an Andrew Sullivan magnet on my fridge.
The reason why Judith and Josh could have "a friendly argument" about gay marriage is that neither Judith nor Josh is personally affected by the issue. Neither of them is gay. Neither of them is struggling to obtain health insurance coverage for a same-sex partner. Neither of them is dealing personally with any of the issues related to the inability of same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their partnerships. They can have a friendly argument, a dispassionate argument, because for most heterosexuals, gay marriage is an abstract issue. I mean, it's just politics. It's an issue a heterosexual can care very, very much about, but at the end of the day, a heterosexual retains the privilege of being able to throw that issue overboard, of being able to table that issue in order to emphasize some other issue that is personally more important to him or her--like, say, terrorism. And I ought to know, because that's exactly what this heterosexual did in the 2004 elections.
"I really hate social conservatives. But, ooh, Kerry threw his medals and loves teh terror! I'm voting for Bush. Besides, if the terrorists win there won't be any homosexuals anyway. We'll all be dead."
I'm not going to get into whether that was a "just fine" or a "totally not okay" thing to do. We all have to prioritize our decisions as best we see fit. I AM, however, going to assert that having cast my vote as I did, I would have some nerve objecting if a homosexual friend got uncivil with me for doing it. "Well, fuck you too, Ilyka," is not an uncivil response in that context.
The problem with "relax, it's just politics" is that it can only be "just politics" when you abstract out the other human beings affected by those politics. Sometimes you have to do a little abstraction just to begin talking about an issue. Sometimes you have to start dispassionately. But it is not civil to stay dispassionate. It is not civil to forget you are always, always talking about the problems of other human beings.
I always used to wonder what some liberals were going on about when they'd say something made them feel "erased." "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," I'd chirp back, and wander off to pick daisies with a song in my heart and a spring in my step. Silly liberals, always erasing themselves like that! But this sort of thing, this is what they are talking about--the colossal arrogance it takes, not to discuss issues that don't affect one personally (for all of us who are not either Iraqi citizens, or active-duty members of the military, do that every time we discuss the war), but to expect that the actual human beings who are affected by those issues personally should not become personally offended by one's friendly discussions of "just politics."
Here's another example: Ann Althouse, of whom you will recall I am not exactly a fan, shares her reaction to some of the panel discussions at the Liberty Fund colloquium, whatever the hell that is. I am going to quote a lot of it, but (are you sitting down?) I really think you should read the whole thing:
I came away surprised that some people, especially the libertarians, were hardcore, true believers, wedded to an abstract version of idea and unwilling to look at how it played out in the real world. I had come to the conference thinking I had more in common with libertarians but was quite put off by them in person. By contrast, the conservative position, because it had more to do with the real-life context, was much less troubling to me. This surprised me, because I disagree with so much of what social conservatives favor.
. . .
What disturbed me was the assertion in the writings that the public accommodations provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were pernicious. And when I said that at the conference, a lot of the participates immediately challenged me. Did I think the law was right?!! This is what I mean by the excessive belief in the libertarian principle at the abstract level. These folks -- including Bailey, I think -- would have left restaurants and hotels to continue discriminating against black people as long as they pleased. Someone asserted that the free market would solve the problem better than government regulation. I said that the restaurant in the case about the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in fact made more money by seating only white customers and serving take-out to black people. One other person at the table agreed, but the point was pushed past. It didn't fit the abstraction.
And more from Ann, responding to Ron Bailey's remarks, which I've placed here in italics. I have also added emphasis to those points of Ann's I particularly applaud:
One session at the end of conference was devoted to Meyer's defense of federalism-his idea is that the constitutional structure that divides state power among political subdivisions tends to limit the power of the state over individuals, thus enlarging the sphere of personal liberty. The tragic historical abuse of federalism was state-mandated racial segregation which Meyer defended. As I understood Meyer's argument, he believed that preserving federalism as bulwark [sic] against the growth of central government power was more important to him than vindicating the rights of black Americans.
Big of him, huh? He really believed his principles, so deeply that black people were just going to have to suffer for his beliefs. What a guy! But you tell me: How do I know he loved his principles first and felt just terrible about how other people were going to have to pay the price for his lofty commitments or whether he actually came to love his ideas because of where they would lead? Why do you love the abstractions you love? To ask this question is not to fail to be an intellectual. To fail to ask this question is to fall short as a thinker.
I know everybody here just fell over dead because I not only quoted Ann approvingly, I quoted her approvingly on at least the tangential subject of what defines an intellectual. Blame my father, who has always been fond of saying, "When you're right, you're right." Here, Ann's right, and Ron Bailey is being repulsive. For that matter, so is Radley Balko:
Apparently what so offended Althouse is that anyone could possibly believe that a private business owner should be permitted to privately discriminate on the basis of race. This, to her, isn't a position that's compatible with civil discourse. Or, at the very least, if you hold this position, the burden is on you to prove to Althouse that you aren't ignorant, racist, or sociopathic.
Well, yes. Like Hubris once said:
It's interesting how this rhetorical method has become sort of a stupidity-powered shield against being called what you truly are, e.g.: "Ohhhh, I said 'nigger' so I guess now you're going to call me a RAAAACIST!"
Yep, you called it, asshole.
If your commitment to the abstract principle of "liberty" outweighs your commitment to the concrete treatment of human beings, don't look all who-farted? when someone suggests you don't value human beings very much. I italicize "abstract" and "concrete" deliberately here, because fucking hell, libertarians, Ayn Rand went over this distinction. She went over it A LOT, in great detail, with much verbiage. You're supposed to have read that shit, libertarians. No Howard Roark gingerbread-men cookies for you!
This mixing-up (and often deliberate confusing of) the difference between the abstract and the concrete is what's leaving too many on the right side of the blogosphere baffled by so-called leftist incivility. It is not uncivil to become offended by bigotry. Keep that in mind, and see if your dinner parties and cocktail hours don't run a little more smoothly from here on out.