F#@k Civility

For a very long time, I have been writing about the false equivalencies drawn, by pundits and by politicians, between progressive and conservative positions in the United States, in order to create an illusion of parity, rooted in a mendacious narrative about good faith disagreement, that does not exist.

I have written, again and again, over and over, about the inherent lack of equivalance between the left and the right, in both the nature of our policy positions and the tone of our public communications. It is not my opinion but a statement of fact that progressive policy positions broaden choice while conservative policy positions limit them. It is not my opinion but a statement of fact that progressive rhetoric does not seek to normalize eliminationist language. These are vast and irreconcilable differences between the "both sides" that we are meant to understand are similarly problematic.

The imagined similarities — designed to function so as to suggest that "both sides" are equally troublesome to the other — can only exist in a public square riddled with profoundly dishonest discourse that has obliterated truth beneath an insistence that opinion is all that matters, and all are equally valid.

The slow but determined erosion of the idea that there are facts and there are fictions, and they are not equivalent, is how we arrived at the point in which we now find ourselves — a point at which Democratic leaders and editorial boards of national newspapers are lecturing the resistance about their lack of civility toward an administration who is keeping babies in cages as a matter of national policy so aggressively unjustifiable that only wholesale lies can be invoked in its defense.

The trail leading backwards to the origins of the bothsideserism currently plaguing us, underwriting both silencing of legitimate criticism and the amplification of calls for "civility" directed as dissidents, is visible. Scattered all along its way are the scrawled traces of Cassandras who urgently deconstructed the harmful dynamic as it emerged.

Here, for example, is me writing on the subject thirteen years ago:
The media are further compromised in the current political climate because they're faced with an administration which repeatedly exhibits such wanton contempt for the truth, that genuine objectivity would often require calling the president, a member of his cabinet, and/or a close advisor a liar...

Giving ample time, as Ezra [Klein] suggests, to "everything going wrong in the country, they're certainly not buying the spin on Iraq, they're certainly not glossing over gas prices," isn't really the point. Ample time only matters if the time given produces something closely resembling reality, something genuinely objective, and the media has (repeatedly) mistaken objectivity for giving equal time to opposing sides, sans critique, irrespective of how fallacious one side may be. This tendency manifests itself most evidently in coverage of wedge issues like gay marriage and intelligent design, which weren't mentioned in Ezra's piece.

To wit, a recent AP story contained the following paragraph:
The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation. Nearly all scientists dismiss it as a scientific theory, and critics say it's nothing more than religion masquerading as science.
Two big problems here:

1. Identifying intelligent design as a "theory," while also referring to the theory of evolution in the same story, is, if I'm generous, bad application of language as theory is used in its scientific sense ("a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers") in regard to evolution and in its layman's sense (a proposed but unverified explanation) in regard to intelligent design. If I'm not generous, it's a cynical attempt to imbue both sides of the debate with equal viability. While both sides have a right to their arguments, the suggestion that both are correct in their assertions their beliefs belong in a science class is sheer claptrap.

2. An intellectually honest statement about scientists' critique of intelligent design would be: All credible scientists dismiss it as scientific theory. Not "nearly all scientists." Any scientist who recognizes intelligent design as a scientific theory, considering it hasn't meant the minimum requirements for being categorized thusly, is utterly lacking in integrity. The suggestion that there are respected scientists within the scientific community who recognize intelligent design as a scientific theory is misleading at best and outright bullshit at worst.
That is a long excerpt, but an important one. None of this happened in a vacuum. It happened to the lingering echoes of critics who foresaw the deleterious effects such conjured parity would have on our institutions, our democracy, and eventually our very sustainability as a nation.

It happened as Cassandras who were shamed for our incivility pointed out that "policy differences" — one platform of which was increasingly defended using religion as a shield for otherwise indefensible bigotries — were, to an ever greater extent, becoming proxy battles for an overarching war over empathy: Its valued and governing presence on one side, or its contemptible status and resultant absence on the other.

Which brings me to the question that nags at me (and maybe you, too) a lot these days: How can "both sides" coexist as one nation, when the thing that divides us is not really policy difference at all, but fundamental differences in the way we express our own humanity and value others'?

On one side — and it's not in perfect alignment with progressive and conservative distinctions, but it's closer than not — are people who prioritize empathy and don't regard human variation and difference as something to fear or despise.

These folks support universal healthcare access, jobs with liveable wages, legal and accessible abortion, racial justice, gender justice, full LGBTQ equality, disability rights, voting rights, equal pay for all, restrictions on guns, regulations on capitalism, fair housing, public education, desegregation, criminal justice reforms, asylum, a fully funded social safety net, and other policies that broadly recognize the humanity of their fellow countrypersons.

It's the policy of empathy, struck through a rational self-interest driven by the understanding that we are all in the same leaky, creaky, unreliable boat — and the knowledge that a fortune is worth nothing at the bottom of the ocean, less than a single penny carried safely to shore.

On the other side are people who hold empathy in disdain, who sneer at the "weakness" of caring about strangers and regard the social contract as a zero sum game.

These folks support whatever personally benefits them, or, failing that, what will provide maximum harm to the people they've erroneously decided are responsible for their not having the life they want. Restrict healthcare to those who can afford it, good jobs are for white men, criminalize abortion, white is right, women are trash except their moms and wives, no gay marriage, trans people aren't real, more guns, fewer regulations, privatize schools, militarize the police, shut down the borders, no entitlements, fuck you.

It's the policy of selfishness, of privilege, of insularity, insecurity, ignorance, bigotry, hatred.

And we cannot change their minds. Not with all the civility, understanding, patient explanations, facts, appeals to reason, photos of infants in cages in all the world.

I could not change their minds any more than they could change mine.

The difference, however, despite the pundits' and politicians' insistence on concealing this rather significant reality, is that I want to enact laws that let us both live our lives as closely as possible to the way we'd like and they want me fucking dead.

At least some of them. Many of them. Large numbers. I've got 14 years of missives from their ranks to prove it.

Now we have reached the point where they control virtually everything — all three branches of the federal government, most state governments, an increasing share of the lower courts, and an abundance of media.

And it still isn't enough for them. Now we must bow. Be civil.

I will not. Our refusal to be civil is the one thing we've got left.

I don't know how we can coexist as a nation when we can't agree on the most fundamental issue of basic empathy. I'm not sure that we can. But what I do know is that I won't abet some sickening false harmony with authoritarian sadists by offering them my capitulation under the auspices of "civility."

Fuck civility. And fuck anyone who asks me for it.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus