We recognize it. All of us acknowledge it. We see the disintegration of civility on both sides of the debate and we condemn it, universally. But it’s always the other side that’s most shrill, most virulent, most fanatic. Never our side. Never, indeed.
We represent the epitome of decency, the model of humanity to which all our opponents should aspire. Our justification—for it is never simply an excuse—for our near-hysterical denunciation and damnation of our enemies (for that is how we label them, isn’t it?) relies on attributing motives that do not…cannot…would not…would never…apply to us. For we are pure, you see?
Our vitriolic howls are simply protective shields against the savage attacks by beasts with no compunction about tearing into our flesh and eating greedily of our entrails. Unlike them, we civilized, sensitive, quiet souls seek only serenity and peace; unlike them, we do not debase ourselves through name-calling, mockery, baiting, inflammatory rhetoric, and provocation. For we are pure, you see?
Civility is an attribute whose time has come and gone. Like the treasonous opposition—the insane monsters who would imprison our children and force them to reproduce simply for the pleasure of watching their progeny starve—we have witnessed the utter impotence of comity, the inadequacy of cordiality, and the insufficiency of goodwill. We curse the ignorance of people who fail to even try to understand our positions, who eschew the validity of our points of view, yet we see no need to sully ourselves by attempting to put ourselves in their shoes. For we are pure, you see?
Their opinions and beliefs cannot possibly have any validity because, you know, we have dismissed them. And we would never dismiss them out of hand because, you know, we are vastly more intelligent and more discerning than they could ever hope to be. So we justify our abandonment of any attempts to give them credit for intelligent thought. For we are pure, you see?
It is impossible to engage in civil conversation when we respond to baiting with baiting, when our reply to name-calling consists of insults, when our rebuttal to mockery is to mock. It is so easy to allow simple wounds to turn into festering, bacteria-ridden lacerations that threaten to infect our souls with hatred and bitterness. It’s so damn hard to behave like the models we claim to adore: Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others who taught the intrinsic goodness of civility. The arguments that “it’s pointless to try to engage them in conversation” are weak-kneed excuses, but they’re the only excuses we have, really. For we are not really pure, you see? We are the reverse side of the ugly mask, the underbelly of the darkest reptile, the snake poised in the grass, ready to strike at the slightest disturbance of the leaves.
We congratulate ourselves for our humanity and then behave as if we wrote the book on, or served as the model for, savagery in its most hideous form. I have no patience for us. And, yet, if I don’t have patience, don’t I find myself falling into the same abyss and meeting the same fate as those who have no patience with me?
This is a fine essay, John. Love your stuff!