Civility and Its Discontents
On Wednesday, Dan Fincke of Camels with Hammers posted his proposed civility pledge. I signed on almost immediately, despite some inner quibbling over points 9 and 12. Later that day, Russell Blackford affirmed many of the fundamental principles within the pledge without committing himself thereto, while providing a constructive and nuanced critique thereof.
On Thursday, Chris Hallquist (Patheos) and Chris Clarke (Freethought Blogs) and Ed Clint (Skeptic Ink) came out with their own critiques of Dan’s idea, which were pretty much non-overlapping. Of these, Ed brings the best points to the table, though none of them seem to me unanswerable.
If there is indeed a need for interpersonal incivility, it should not be difficult to point to specific cases in which it proved necessary, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Can anyone come up with just two or three actual examples of online interactions wherein the following conditions held true:
- The proposed pledge was substantively violated at some point (please be specific),
- In the course of “public discussions about ideas” within the freethought or skeptical movement,
- The specific transgression was necessary to move the discussion forward in a constructive manner,
- So as to fulfill the stated goals of humanism, skepticism, or secularism.
Considering the sheer volume of incivility which has poured forth from our keyboards over the last year or two, it really shouldn’t be too hard to come up with bucketfuls of examples to demonstrate that incivility may prove indispensable, or at least ineluctable, in the pursuit of worthy goals. Until someone can do this, however, I’m not going to be convinced by any amount of hyperbolic hypothesizing. For example, the “cries of the wounded on a battleground may be very unpleasant and uncivil indeed” but they aren’t remotely relevant to our online interactions.