April 12, 2012
As I try to write this column, a couple of my neighbors are waving their arms and cursing one another as loud as they can. Meanwhile, I’m trying to write about—would you believe it?—civility.
Let’s see… What other input have I received this morning? A tape of someone from the New Black Panther Party calling for “a sea of blood” to inundate the country. Various emails on politics, lauding the writers’ favored candidates as saints and messiahs while inventing derogatory names for all the other candidates and imputing swinishness to anyone who plans to vote for them. And some guy on the radio shouting, “Your marketing sucks!”
I could always re-read and write a review of the book by that person from NASA—I guess NASA isn’t into moon shots anymore—who says Christianity is false and poisonous, and if we don’t give it up and do everything he tells us to, we’re all gonna die. If I had television in my home, I might tune in to MSNBC in time to hear some commentator calling anyone who doesn’t take his word as the last word “Neanderthals” and “flat-earthers.”
It’s hard to be polite when people who have power, even a little bit of power, not only announce their plans to shut you up, outlaw your belief system, and redistribute your wealth to people they think deserve it more than you, but then turn around and call you names on top of it. Less threatening, but sometimes even more annoying, are those who have no power at all but abuse you from the safe anonymity of the Internet, saying things they would never dare to say to anyone’s face.
And then—because our public discourse is practically indistinguishable from a 1980s pro wrestling match—the biggest offenders are the first to cry “Foul!” if you snap back at them.
Don’t get me wrong. We have to deal with hot and thorny issues which don’t exactly lend themselves to compromise, nor inspire those who debate them to come on like a bedtime story. When somebody says, “Let’s radically transform the country,” you can’t really answer, “OK, but only slightly.” Issues like Man-Made Global Warming, for one, don’t boil down to “Less filling!” vs. “Tastes great!” Here it’s more like, “If you don’t give up huge pieces of your liberty and property, and submit to coercive management by experts and politicians, that’s it—game over, everybody’s gonna die. There’s no time left for luxuries like debate, due process, and democracy.”
How do you compromise with that? Especially when you know that if you do submit to this regime, and then nothing much happens with the climate, you’re going to hear this: “See? It worked! We saved the planet!” And you will never, ever, get back what you have allowed to be taken from you.
That might inspire a little bit of incivility, don’t you think?
Consider how we look at such things. Suppose you, with all your heart, believe that only draconian government action can save us all from being killed by Man-Made Global Warming. Suppose you are convinced, beyond all doubt, that disbelief in this appalling scenario, and criticism of its promoters, can only be due to intractable stupidity or sheer dishonesty (all the critics are on the payroll of Big Oil, etc.). If you believe we’re all doomed unless we do it your way, how are you going to compromise? And if you’re absolutely sure that any and all criticism is totally without merit, why should you ever listen to any? How could anyone possibly get you to think you might be wrong?
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I would separate the ever-rising temperature of our politics from the ordinary coarsening and vulgarization of our culture. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the monster, Caliban, says, “You taught me your language, and this is my profit on it—I know how to curse.” Somehow we’ve wound up with a Caliban culture in which everyone knows how to curse, and does so at every opportunity. So to all of you who said you wanted to live in a world free from the influence of Christianity—bon appetit.
As for our overheated political discourse, it is rooted in the same Caliban culture as the neighbors hurling f-bombs at each other, and suffers from an overburden of contentious issues for which no compromise seems possible.
“I come not to send peace, but a sword,” Our Lord warned us. “For I am come to set a man at variance with his father… and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
Well, He warned us.
� 2012 Lee Duigon - All Rights Reserved
Lee Duigon, a contributing editor with the Chalcedon Foundation, is a former newspaper reporter and editor, small businessman, teacher, and horror novelist. He has been married to his wife, Patricia, for 34 years. See his new fantasy/adventure novels, Bell Mountain and The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, available on www.amazon.com