Opinionated @ CFE

On Civility


There’s been a lot of talk about civility, but most of it is so much well-intentioned non-specific background noise. Civility is one of those things like mom, apple pie, and America that you can profess belief in and yet know nothing about. I think only a few steps are needed to truly achieve those lofty and nebulous goals.

First off, you should generally be operating under the assumption that your political opponent on an issue has as much of a deep desire to do what’s best for the country/state/county/city as you do. This isn’t to say that those who seek to use power either for their personal gain or for its own sake do not exist, but they are very much a minority. Most of the people I’ve dealt with on the opposite side of the table truly believe that their way is best; insulting them by ascribing some kind of deep, Machiavellian malice to them is likely to get you nowhere but a screaming match.

Second, name-calling, while sometimes fun, doesn’t help matters at all. Calling someone a “pinko commie bedwetter” or a “fascist goose-stepping thug” might seem like a good idea and be personally satisfying, but it’s the “adult” equivalent of calling someone a doody-head. That might score you points with your own crowd, but you will alienate both those on the other side and many who haven’t made up their mind on the issue with your blatant and obvious childishness.

Third, there is rarely any consensus among coalitions, so don’t assume that someone on the “other” side isn’t willing to work with you. All political parties, even the smaller ones, consist of coalitions and factions. They often have some kind of nebulous agreement on some broader topics, but rarely will they actually concur on specific details. The Republicans often fight between the libertarians, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, moderates, and a host of other groups who all want their seat at the table. The Democrats fare no better with progressives, liberals, socialists, Blue Dogs, libertarians, greens, and many others who similarly want to steer the fate of the party. Even small parties like the Constitution Party have warring factions that fight over specific policy positions.

Which brings me to point four. Assuming that any individual has adopted all tenants of their chosen political label is overly simplistic. Any Republican or Democrat can likely cite at least a half-dozen things their party does that boils their blood. Most libertarians and minarchists have their limits as to how little government they are actually willing to accept. Also don’t forget that many independents are that way because both parties likely do things they’d rather not be associated with. It’s really easy to say “you call yourself a libertarian, so you must believe X” or “you believe X, so you’re obviously a Republican”, but it is rarely accurate and often just leads to off-topic shouting matches where people have to try and label themselves.

The fifth and final point is that we often all want the same goals, just with different means to attain it. I don’t know anyone who likes dirty air, unemployment, or people dying in the streets. Grandstanding by saying that your opponent likes and wants those things is flat-out lying any way you slice it. Sure, criticize a policy approach to your heart’s content and point out any flaws you see in it, but don’t forget Hanlon’s Razor while doing it. Also don’t be afraid to point out ideas you like; that small gesture doesn’t cede any ground, but rather gets your opponent to drop their defenses just a small bit and consider your solution.

Is all of this easy to do? Sure, in theory. The practice can sometimes be very, very difficult, especially if you’re the only one doing it. In the long term, I think it’s worth it.

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