Thursday, September 23, 2010

Civility for thee but not for me

On the Sojourners blog, Jim Wallis has posted his semi-annual call for truth and civility, where he decries the foul state of political discourse and (as always) credits his own efforts to be civil and truthy.

Here is the cover of this month's issue of Sojourners Magazine.

Per the cover story, Glenn Beck hates community organizers because "they upend the power structure to give people at the bottom a better chance."

Say what you will about Beck (I do not understand the appeal), I am certain that he does not "hate" community organizers because they "upend power structures" and "help churches work for justice". To suggest as much is manifestly dishonest and uncivil.

To which, why is it that the loudest voices calling for civility seldom practice what they preach? Because of the way civility is perceived.

In short, civility doesn't really matter. There is no advantage to be gained by being civil. It won't get you a promotion, or get you into a good school, or win you friends, or make you famous.
Neither is there a religious compunction toward civility. Jesus wasn't civil. Neither was Paul. The old testament, what with the babies being dashed across rocks, isn't civil, so that takes the Jews out of the equation. The Koran? My goodness.

Of course, nobody wants to go out of their way to be UNcivil. Nobody likes a jerk, and everyone likes the idea of civility, even if they do not wish to practice it.

This is especially true in politics. People want the appearance of civility, but do not feel compelled to be civil when it comes to their own beliefs.

In politics, the call to civility is a bludgeon. Jim Wallis calls for civility because it allows him to make the case that he is civil, and to imply Republicans are not.

The charge of incivility has morphed into an epithet, a way of dismissing valid ideas and contributions. The irony explains why those who call for civility are so infrequently civil themselves.

Bugger that; it's a trap. I'll not take moral lessons from moralists. Give me someone who is forthright and sincere, and leave the self-righteous preening about civility to the pots and the kettles.


Blogger John Mulholland said...

Jim Wallis is a jackass. How's that for uncivil?

12:10 PM  
Anonymous shefzilla said...

great post, and let us say Amen

7:47 PM  
OpenID brgulker said...

Criticism can be leveled harshly and still be civil. Calling someone a liar - which Beck most certainly is - is no less civil than calling a kettle black. It's simply a statement of fact.

3:54 PM  
OpenID brgulker said...

Not sure what happened to my full comment, ah well.

My point was simply to say that it's possible to to make claims that appear harsh and cutting and still stay within the realm of civil debate. The key to doing so, however, is to ground one's claims in fact.

In my view, it's almost too easy to ground the claim that Beck is a hateful liar in fact that I'm surprised anyone would even bother trying. It's like saying the sky is blue or that smoking will kill you. Duh.

Simply observing something that's factually true doesn't make you uncivil, and it certainly doesn't make you dishonest.

While I'd agree with many of your statements in isolation, your application of them to the Wallis - Beck situation is a pretty obvious non sequitur, the net result of which makes it appear that you're doing little more than name-calling.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

If you want to say that Beck is a liar, make your case. Pretending that Beck hates community organizers because they help poor people is obviously dishonest.

My view is that Wallis and Beck are peas in a pod. Both are hysterical and dishonest about the opposing viewpoint. Do you think this is fair?

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beck showed images of Saturday's rally in Washington, D.C. in which there were people holding Communist party signs up. Then he made the comment that Obama was being advised by communists. Beck is a liar. There is your evidence.

6:46 PM  

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