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Civility is Overrated

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This post, which will focus on what might be going wrong with communication in this country (and, on a smaller scale, individually) developed from a discussion with Ohad Fedida, a student, who then co-wrote the post with me.

We are taught to be civil. For many, the thought of being anything but civil would be considered rude and out of line. When asked, people claim to be ready to engage in dialogue and see the other side. Yet, the country is repeatedly described as being extremely divided and near civil war. Both social empathy (Seppälä, 2019) and trust (Vallier, 2020) is on decline. Bumper stickers, banners, and tee shirts abound which insult the other side. Social media “friends” are discarded for holding opposing beliefs. One side seems to feel the other is communist, while the other accuse their opponents of being fascist. In relation to this, with both sides in fear of the other and preparing for attack (Glass, 2020. 45:43), gun sales are reported to be at a record high (Glass, 2020. 23:55), with shops reporting to be running low or totally out of bullets (Glass, 2020. 26:16-26:36), In a recent podcast (Vedantam, 2020), experiments were heralded as demonstrating the divide in this country: people of a particular political affiliation would not want their offspring marrying someone of the opposing party. In a modified version of the experiment, the researchers came to the conclusion that most think it would be fine if their offspring married someone of the opposing party, as long as politics weren’t discussed. Perhaps herein lies the problem: we are divided, and if we can’t discuss it civilly, we won’t discuss it at all. Is there anything we can do to improve this predicament?

We are Taught to be Civil

In order to suggest alternate paths forward, it would be useful and necessary to identify what conceptions are clearly failing us. From childhood through much of one’s development people are taught to be nice or polite; in short, taught to always be civil. Civility involves seeing how we are similar and sticking to those things which are shared. People claim to desire peace, and are taught that the solution to societal breakdown involves talking calmly with each other.This view ultimately manifests in a large campfire where........

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