Wednesday, June 13, 2012

GETTING BACK TO CIVILITY: 10 Easy Steps



There's no question that the world is a less civil place than it used to be. Rudeness and name calling are the new black. In the genteel South people used to preface compliments with 'Bless their hearts' to let the listener know that the niceties to follow were less than sincere. Those days are gone. Now it's okay to cut a bitch and leave the bloody entrails at the scene. When supposed society luminaries pepper their speech with profanity like drunken sailors, what are drunken sailors to do when they need to add some passion to their conversations?

9 mm punctuation. getting your point across without the need for any bothersome fact checking


I was discussing the idea for this blog entry with my wife this morning while she was trying to watch the Real Housewives of New York. One of the housewives was wearing a hideous low-cut knit top throughout the scene, and my wife remarked that when she saw the episode aired, the housewife was bound to regret her fashion choice. “She really needs a push-up bra to make that work,” my wife said. My reply: “Push up bra? She needs a floor jack.”

This is when I realized that my own civility could use a little tune-up, although I lay a lot of the blame for my failings in this regard squarely on the Real Housewives shows. They have so desensitized us to verbal sniping, insults, sarcasm, name-calling, character assassination, yelling, and even hair pulling that there is a danger that we will all begin to accept this stuff as normal behavior.

My neighbors are a case in point. They like to fight with one another in their driveway. They yell at the top of their lungs for interminable amounts of time, drawing fearful crowds. F-Bombs are just a stepping off point for them to truly horrific mutual vilification. My guess is that they somehow think this is normal behavior, and that they came by this notion from watching too much reality television.

I'm not about to dissuade them. Life is too short already. I've heard it said that you shouldn't bring a knife to a gun fight, but I have to think that taking an assault rifle to an argument with either of these two would leave you hopelessly outmatched.

Real Housewives' behaviors have infected politics, news analysis, scientific dialog, public policy discussions, religion, and sports. When I think of all the places where bad behavior seems to be the new norm, it occurs to me that all this may have actually started with sports. The rioting of soccer fans in assorted foreign venues is legend, but I'm actually thinking of something closer to home.

I'm think specifically of Vince McMahon's WWE professional wrestling franchise, where poor sportsmanship coupled with blatant vulgarity was pyramided into a viable ratings generator long before anyone thought of turning multiple cameras onto regular, albeit mostly immature, people in their native environs. I confess that I myself used to think of pro wrestling as just entertainment, but, in retrospect, I may have been seduced by the up-front and ubiquitous presence of pneumatic young blonds in skimpy costumes.


Fisticuffs: now a required skill for the debate team.
Can the chess club be far behind?


It's long past time to change course. These are my proposals for a return to civility:
  1. Eliminate reality TV and talk radio. These seem to be the source of almost every wrong-headed opinion that infects our national consciousness and consicience.

  2. Eliminate the internet...or unvetted commentary...or require all comments to include the real name, address, and phone number of the commenter. The anonymity afforded by the Internet has undone any requirement to be correct and replaced it with a requirement to be loud and repetitive. Eventually this will spell the end of civilization as we know it.

  3. Eliminate caffeinated energy drinks. These just exacerbate an already dangerous situation. When people leap to conclusions without benefit of any forethought, the last thing we need to do is speed up the process.

  4. Eliminate mobile communications devices. Where caffeine accelerates the germination of bad ideas, modern wireless communications speed their dissemination.

  5. Move the national speed limit back to 55mph. Haste breeds anxiety, and anxiety breeds intolerance.

  6. Limit in-car stereo systems to 10 watts per channel. It's not possible to listen thoughtfully to the opinions of others when your ears are bleeding.

  7. Criminalize the habit TV news commentators have developed of talking over one another during panel discussions and talking over their guests when they disagree with them. Some of us actually want to hear both sides of an issue.

  8. Eliminate super PACs and their political attack ads. Somewhere along the line campaign managers as a group got the idea that you can't win an election by being a nice guy. Now everybody running for office has to sponsor drivel meant to demonize the opposition rather than explain to us why their own solutions have merit. Seems to me all that campaign money would be better spent lifting us all out of the mire instead of trying to hold the opposition's collective head under it.

  9. Campaign finance reform...NOW! Too much money in politics has made it possible for a handful of really wealthy charlatans to subvert the democratic process. They have turned our electoral system into gladiatorial combat that has us all trooping down to the Colosseum for bread and circus while they help themselves to the spoils of the realm.

  10. Resolve all major divisive issues with single unarmed combat. A little pugilistic blood-letting couldn't be any worse than what we have now. Two champions get in a ring, and the matter is settled in 12 rounds. The loser's supporters have to sit down and shut the hell up. Right or wrong, fact or fabrication, none of the intellectual arguments would carry any weight whatsoever. If you think about it, this is not significantly different from the situation we have right now. It would just be over a lot sooner, and we could all go back to blessing each other's hearts.