Diary

CIVILITY IN THE AGE OF SELECTIVE OUTRAGE

In the wake of the seemingly interminable debate on health care we have been subject to intense rhetorical flourishes about the motives and very nature of those who hold differing perspectives on the matter.

I have always, at least in general found myself capable of passionate, but certainly civil discourse. In recent years, it has been difficult to express my opinions freely, because I wish to avoid being labeled hateful because I dissent from the prevailing view within the company I keep.

Civility is preached, but is rarely practiced when confidently challenged. The confidence in another’s opposing view is often perceived as arrogance and ignorance,and sadly in some quarters labeled as hatemongering. The harsh reality is that many people like myself, who have an eye towards polite, but enlivened dissent all too often are reduced to the same category as those whose expressed opinions are not as evenly tempered.

The origins of our mutual disrespect for each others views are grounded in a hard truth. The most vitriolic voices are often given a pass by individuals who share basic core political beliefs, while not approving their tone or conclusions.

Firstly, I believe it is correct to say that most people including myself all too often tolerate excessive commentary if we share a core sentiment on the issues with the commentator. We tolerate this of ourselves, because we find that those on the opposite side of the spectrum make outrageous accusations and are never held to account. It’s a vicious cycle. I choose to ignore one set of intemperant dissent because it is perceived to be held to a higher standard than the alternative equivalent.

Someone, who is generally conservative like myself finds it difficult to keep a level head and tone when so many would resort to degrading my views as rooted in hate,heartlessness and a lack of education. I remain intellectually engaged, but ambivalent in expression. I have come to sense that many are like me. We are frustrated, but cornered by our core beliefs. If we challenge the ramblings of someone like minded, you risk becoming a pet for those in the opposite corner.So no one takes the leap. We do not offer olive branches because we are convinced the other side hates olives.

Selective outrage has been quite the fashion. George Bush as the Joker? That’s artistic license and free expression. Barack Obama as the Joker? Well, you would have thought it was the first time a President was so portayed. Barack Obama has been labeled everything from Communist,Marxist and a Socialist. An Obama supporter might be outraged by these labels, just as Bush supporters would be offended at his being called a Fascist. Of course, depending on your point of view you might not find any of it offensive. Frankly, I don’t, but I’m a Free Speech, Free Expression absolutist. I would argue that the greater tragedy is that we have permitted our politics to disrespect the office if we dissent with the officeholder.

Humanity, being blessed with reason and the complexity it inspires is balanced by creative and destructive impulses. It is the creative mind that seeks to avoid conflict by engaging others whose perspective might seem counterintuitive at a glance. At present, we are cowed to silently ruminate as we are driven by the most severe sophistry. We seek out the like minded because we are weary of warrantless accusations regarding our heart,our mind,our motives and our objectives.

Civility requires a willingness to engage and put aside the slights that are a natural, even if unintended consequence. It means swallowing our pride. It means a concerted effort across the political and ideological spectrum committed to reasoned,passionate and respectful dialogue without ridicule. I’m not offering, but it does not take an olive branch to bridge the divide. It just takes mutual respect, grounded with the knowledge that our opinions are driven by reason and life experience. Just a suggestion. I’ll wait and see in the meantime.