Civility Linkblogging: Iran, Kentucky, and George Washington

Civility Linkblogging

A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week takes on some hot-button issues in the current landscape of political news. Here we have perspective on the Iran nuclear deal, and an example of a civil way forward among Americans who disagree. We have a take on Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis and the line between disagreeing with her ideologies and actions, and abusing her online. And we have some discussion of the current presidential race, and some lessons the candidates could take from a young George Washington.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Kim Davis Might Be Wrong, But So Is Demonizing Her For Her Convictions
Posted by Qasim Rashid at The Daily Caller, September 7, 2015

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who has stated that she is willing to go to jail for the sake of her religious beliefs, became the punchline of jokes for things that had nothing to do with her stance on gay marriage.

“How could someone this ugly be married three times?” read one meme. “Who gave her a license to eat that much?” read another.

What is it about the social media age that makes us behave so cruelly towards one another?

I Cannot Tell a Lie: I Miss Political Civility
Posted by Sean Coletti at The Idaho Statesman, September 8, 2015

Over 200 years have come and gone since Washington wrote these maxims. It is incredible that a giant as great as Washington was the epitome of these qualities — even his enemies recognized it.

And it is deplorable that the level of public discourse of some of our presidential candidates and other leaders has fallen so far off of this course.

Modesty. Reason. Humility. Kindness. Politeness. Respect. These qualities do not go out of style — nor should we let them — regardless of how some in positions of status may talk or act publicly.

Booker’s Visit to Livingston Temple Brings Needed Civility to the Iran Debate
Posted by Tom Moran at, September 8, 2015

What really struck me was that both sides spoke with respect, and even affection, despite the strong emotions this deal has roused.

Booker noted that he and his Democratic partner, Sen. Robert Menendez, came to different conclusions, and both have been vilified.

“It’s unacceptable to me on both sides,” Booker said. “Bob Menendez is brilliant. We disagree on this issue, but to see him demeaned, to be called a warmonger? He voted against the war in Iraq….It makes me so mad. He stays awake at night worrying about these issues.”

Finding Ways to Maintain Civility With Your Competitors
Posted by Dena Lefkowitz at The Legal Intelligencer, September 17, 2015

Lack of civility is not only unpleasant, it can also make cases harder to resolve, because people take greater risks when they are angry and that can be bad for business. Jennifer Smith wrote about this in a Wall Street Journal article titled “Lawyers Behaving Badly Get a Dressing Down From Civility Cops,” about the New York Inn of Court, a legal group that promotes collegiality and ethical behavior. She quoted an attorney who said, “‘When I’m upset, I can feel the testosterone rising, and I can literally feel my judgment declining.'” He was a co-chair of the American Board of Trial Advocates’ committee on professionalism, ethics and civility.

Lawyers who successfully compartmentalize the client, the case and the counsel on the other side will have richer, more satisfying careers. Every person we meet represents an opportunity, and if you automatically disqualify those who oppose you in litigation or negotiation, you miss out.

Take a Course in Civility
Posted by Bill Black and Tom Tozer at The Daily News Journal, September 18, 2015

We’re not sure that any school in the nation will ever require students to take a course in civility. Not civics. Civility.

But we think it would be a good idea. We are not a civil society these days. We have replaced conversation with confrontation. In many cases, violence is the first resort. And it’s not a question of teaching morals. It goes more deeply than that. It’s a matter of values.

Our values define us.

A value is an intangible ideal that we personify by the way we live and conduct ourselves in society. If we hold sacred the value that every human being deserves respect, then we wouldn’t think of hurting another person by our words or actions.

Civility and the Filter Bubble

Last week, writing about Bernie Sanders’s speech at Liberty University, I mentioned in passing the perils of living in a bubbled media environment. I defined the term, offhandedly, as a situation in which individuals on the left or the right… see only news that supports their ideologies. It occurred to me only after I published the post that I had never talked about bubbling here before, and that it is a concept that is essential to the contemporary landscape of civility – or the lack thereof.

Civility and the Filter Bubble

The term bubbling – or filter bubbling – comes from online activist Eli Pariser and gained notoriety in his 2010 book, titled somewhat dramatically The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. Filter bubbling, Pariser says, is the situation in which websites are personalizing themselves to suit our interests:

For example, on Google, most people assume that if you search for BP, you’ll get one set of results that are the consensus set of results in Google. Actually, that isn’t true anymore. Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past.

Now, five years after the publication of Pariser’s book, this is old news (relatively speaking). Not only does Google filter results, but so does Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and a host of other popular sites. In part, the idea behind it is to return results that users will find relevant. And in part it’s a business decision. All of these services are essentially platforms for serving advertisements, and the more content of which users approve, the more likely it is that they will approve of the ads, too.

In any case, the problem with bubbling is that, at its worst, it works as a kind of extension of our preexisting tendency toward confirmation bias. As Jacob Weisberg, writing at Slate, says, it’s now possible to imagine a world in which every person creates his own mental fortress and apprehends the outside world through digital arrow-slits. Or to paraphrase Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web: it is a method by which we create a closed silo of content that excludes the kinds of information that call into question what we already think.

If you are not Web savvy but this sounds familiar, it may be because the filter bubble extends well beyond services like search engines. The editorial process of newspaper and television newsrooms has always shown the ideological biases of its decision-makers. Choices about which items are newsworthy and in what priority they are shown can by definition never be objective.

But what is new since the turn of the millennium is that with the proliferation of cable news channels and online news-analysis outlets like The Daily Kos and The Drudge Report, we can now self-select for progressive or conservative takes on news stories, and for other kinds of ideological preferences from attitudes toward technology, to religion, to whatever else.

In effect, in other words, we increasingly tend to bubble ourselves.

Returning to civility, the problem with the filter bubble should be abundantly clear. If we see only the viewpoints that confirm that our ideological positions are correct, we are apt to assume that they are in fact correct. And even if we know intellectually that other positions exist and that we are not seeing them only because of an invisible algorithm, we are apt to feel that those positions are somehow lesser, or secondary, or exist on the fringe.

This leads to a kind of polarization of opinion where we are less apt to listen to those who disagree with us for two reasons. First, we simply don’t hear from those people as much. And second, when we do hear from those people, we are not in practice at listening past our preconceived notions and taking other points of view seriously. It is not necessarily malicious. But if we don’t exercise those muscles, they are apt to atrophy.

There is a another, perhaps more serious, implication of this for civility, too. The choice not to see those people who disturb our preexisting ideologies – whether we make that choice or whether Google makes that choice for us – represents a kind of devaluation. If all we see, for example, of the culture of rural Louisiana are the most snide, least sympathetic news stories about television’s Duck Dynasty, that will inevitably color our perceptions of rural Louisianans for the worse. And if we don’t see thoughtful information about what people in that region want – if we don’t see them represented as they want to be represented – there is no opportunity at all for the rest of us to change our minds.

The trouble with bubbling, in the end, is in the preliminary work that needs to be done to get to a notion of civility as claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. How can we find ways to not degrade others’ identity, needs and beliefs if our media filters prevent us from having a real sense of what those things are? And how can we find ways to value other people’s opinions if the media we consume tells us not to take them seriously?

That said, there are some things that we can do to thwart bubbling. In terms of search engines: Google searches have, for several years now, offered a ‘verbatim’ option which presents results without the filter; and other search engines, notably DuckDuckGo, explicitly market themselves as non-bubbling.

Civility and the Filter Bubble

But even simpler than that is the choice to read multiple news sources. Sources that agree with our ideologies are great and in many cases valuable, but so are sources that disagree; and so are sources like foreign newspapers that provide an outsider’s perspective. If you read The Washington Post, read The Washington Times, too. If you read The Wall Street Journal, try The New York Times.  And we should all, perhaps, be reading Der Spiegel, or Corriere della Sera, or Al Jazeera.

Since Eli Pariser’s book in 2010, we’ve seen a lot of writing about ways to improve technology to combat bubbling. And yes, that is important. But for the sake of civility, the simple act of diversity in what we read is pretty important, too.

Bernie Sanders in the Belly of the Beast

Just to be clear: the Institute for Civility in Government does not endorse any specific policy positions or candidates for office. And we are not endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders for any kind of office now. That said, this week Bernie Sanders had a moment that is exemplary of many of the faces of civility that we explore here on this blog. And we do feel that it is important to give credit where credit is due.

Sanders, a left-wing, politically independent, self-proclaimed socialist from the small northern state of Vermont, running for President as a Democrat, chose to travel to Lynchburg, Virginia this week to speak at Liberty University, a conservative Evangelical Christian institution founded by the late famed televangelist Jerry Falwell, and run today by his son.

His speech, as Jennifer Harper of The Washington Times writes, covered some familiar Sanders ground: he talked about poverty, health care and insurance challenges, youth unemployment, and unequal wealth distribution… equating them with injustice and a lack of ethics and morality. But in framing those positions – and in explaining why he came to Liberty University at all – this is what he had to say:

Let me start off by acknowledging what I think all of you already know. And that is the views that many here at Liberty University have and I, on a number of important issues, are very, very different. I believe in a woman’s rights and the right of a woman to control her own body. I believe gay rights and gay marriage.

Those are my views, and it is no secret. But I came here today because I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.

Too often in our country — and I think both sides bear responsibility for us — there is too much shouting at each other. There is too much making fun of each other.

Now, in my view, and I say this as somebody whose voice is hoarse, because I have given dozens of speeches in the last few months, it is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you…. That’s not hard to do. That’s what politicians by and large do.

We go out and we talk to people who agree with us.

But it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.

And it is important to see where if possible, and I do believe it is possible, we can find common ground.

It is not insignificant, here, that Senator Sanders talks about civility by name. That in itself is valuable in what may well be an uncivil Presidential campaign season.

But what is so important about this statement – what makes it exemplary – is that Sanders insists that we talk, not shout, across the aisle. If the point of the governing process – as we here at the Institute believe – involves listening past one’s preconceptions and disagreeing without disrespect in order to achieve policy outcomes that are acceptable and beneficial to as many people as possible, then the simple act of speaking to the (so-called) other side is an important first step.

And in our bubbled media environment, where it is entirely possible for individuals on the left or the right to see only news that supports their ideologies, going in person to a venue that The Washington Times‘ Cal Thomas jokingly calls the belly of the beast is perhaps the most effective way to bridge that divide.

Sanders’s message, as Laura Turner of the Religion News Service puts it, is that if we could all get on the same page about the idea that we ought to treat other people the way we want to be treated, the world would be a better place to live than it is right now. Sanders says this when he tells Liberty University’s students that if nothing else, progressives and conservative Christians should be on the same page about Matthew 7:12: so in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you. And he says it, too, as he ponders civility: that there is too much shouting at each other. There is too much making fun of each other. And every low blow is an instance where we fail to recognize that disagreement isn’t the end of a conversation, but the beginning.

Sanders, in this speech, is engaging in what Martin Marty calls convicted civility. It is the notion, as John Backman put it here on The Civility Blog last year, that people of strong conviction should seek to have their views heard and respected; but in doing so, they should seek with equal earnestness to hear and respect the convictions of others, even – or perhaps especially – when they disagree.

And in doing so, Sanders is offering a good lesson to all the prospective candidates for every office going into the 2016 election season – and to all the rest of us, too. If more candidates were willing to engage, rather than shun, their version of the belly of the beast, they might have more success listening and being listened to. And in the process, they might find the kind of consensus that leads to good governing and productive policy, and not just a spirited campaign.

Civility Linkblogging: Politics, Religion, and Golf

Civility Linkblogging

A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week takes on three of the most touchy issues in our collective social landscape — religion, politics, and golf — and turns them all toward the purpose of civility. From all quarters, we have calls for moderation in our discourse, and calls to turn away from strategies like ad hominem attacks that do little but create bad blood. And we have a positive example in a round of golf played by Jordan Spieth and Jason Day at the recent PGA Championship where, by one account at least, the two athletes were competitive and focused on victory while still remaining genial.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

American Politics Needs More Civility, Not Less
Posted by Jeff Jacoby at The Boston Globe, August 16, 2015

We have reached a point where politicians fear to commit themselves to even the mildest standard of civility. In 2009, two prominent political activists, Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis, launched a campaign to try and soften the nation’s harsh public tone. They wrote to all 535 members of Congress and the 50 governors, asking each to sign a simple Civility Pledge: “I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it.” For months the bipartisan duo promoted their civility campaign. But in the end, of the 585 elected officials to whom they sent the pledge, only three — three — were willing to sign.

We aren’t the first Americans to live in polarized, passionate times, nor the first in which political rhetoric has grown so malignant….

America today may not be on the verge of a civil war. But our ability to find common ground is diminishing by the day, and even those who should know better are calling not for more civility, but less. We are heading in the wrong direction, and it will not end well.

The Case for Competitive Civility
Posted by Scott Eblin at Excellence in Government, August 17, 2015

The executive that signed professional golfer Jordan Spieth to a long-term endorsement deal with Under Armour should get a raise. In the year, since he signed on, the 21-year-old Texan has won two major golf championships, missed winning the other two by a total of four strokes and, with his second place finish in the PGA Championship yesterday, captured the No. 1 ranking in the world.

He did all of this while remaining calm, steady and friendly. In short, he’s an absolutely killer competitor who is, by the standards of any era, remarkably civil.

Civility in the Midst of Election Season?
Posted by Joe LaGuardia at Baptist News, August 19, 2015

For Christians who long to follow in Christ’s footsteps, words indeed matter….

We can bless or curse others depending on how we say something or express our opinions; but those who use tact and mercy not only bless others but receive a blessing of kindness in return. Words can be as nourishing as fruit that is shared within community.

When we engage in politics in the public square, we speak as ambassadors of Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of God. Let us not try to keep one foot in God’s Kingdom and another foot in the world or we, as one theologian put it, will only stumble as a result.

Civility No More: Where Are the Better Angels of Politics?
Posted by Dan Glickman at The Hufington Post, August 28, 2015

Today, things are different. We have witnessed a substantial erosion of civility in political discourse in contemporary politics. In my view, the end of civility in our political system is a true loss for every American, Republican and Democrat alike.

President Bill Clinton once said that, “when people feel uncertain, they’d rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right.” It looks like that is happening in America right now.

The state of contemporary politics is one in which bombast is met with approval. Extreme viewpoints are greeted with appreciative nods by a disturbingly large segment of the American electorate, and so the incentive for political leaders to make such comments is significant. Of course, there have always been and will always be people in a free and democratic country such as this who hold views that are extreme or unpopular, and it is their right to do so. But in this country politicians weren’t always so easily able to accrue benefit from being egomaniacal, indecent, uncivil and frankly just plain rude.

Faith Focus: A Call for More Civility
Posted by Al Humbrecht at, August 29, 2015

The language of civility would suggest that each side look for the good (another forgotten concept) in what the other is saying and be respectful of the differences. I wonder what this would do to the ratings of these types of programs.

The virtue of civility implies a respect (maybe another forgotten concept) for the other as being created in the image and likeness of God. If we believe this then we cannot give pejorative labels to people just because they are different in some aspects from us. Most religions of the world contain in one form or another the injunction “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” In the book “The Little Monk” by Madeline Delbrel, a collection of sayings about life, one struck me as I was preparing to write this column: “When certain people question your character, don’t respond by doubting theirs.”

Putting Our Uncivil Presidential Race in Historical Perspective

There’s a sub-genre out there of news articles about civility that focus on its decline and impending demise. The most recent, perhaps, is an August column in the Jewish Journal that begins with the austere pronouncement that the last quarter of a century has witnessed the decline of civility in U.S. politics. But it is hardly the only article of its type. Olympia Snowe made news in 2014 when she called the decline of civility in political discourse one of the big issues with Congress. The 2012 Presidential election was rife with similar sentiments. And New York Times columnist David Brooks, in 2011, proclaimed that the problem of polarization and the loss of civility in our time may be attributed to the fact that civility’s roots in modesty have been carved away.

It’s hard, looking at the current crop of presidential hopefuls, to disagree with these assessments. More than a year out from the 2016 election, contenders in this vast field of candidates are lobbing ad hominem attacks at each other and the media, and competing, it seems – from certain perspectives at least – to state their policy positions in the most crass manner possible. The column in the Jewish Journal calls the current flashpoint … the media firestorm over The Donald’s misogyny and xenophobia. But Mr. Trump is not alone. And his party is not the only culprit.

The fact, however, that a devolution into epidemic incivility is an easy narrative for many of us to like does not make it accurate. And the fact that our current culture may reward politicians for boorish behavior does not mean that that was any less true twenty-five, or fifty, or one hundred fifty years ago.

Case in point: the 1884 presidential race.

In 1884, the Democrats put up former New York Governor Grover Cleveland against the Republicans’ James G. Blaine, who had been Secretary of State to Benjamin Harrison and James Garfield. The famous icon of incivility from that race is a certain political cartoon, promoted by Republicans, that dramatized the narrative that Cleveland had abandoned an illegitimate child in order to make his run for the White House. Republicans charged that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo, and chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” at rallies and campaign stops.

But that was hardly the only uncivil trope that year. Charging that James G. Blaine was too deep in the pockets of lobbyists and that he had corruptly influenced legislation in favor of railroads, later profiting on the sale of bonds, Democrats and competing Republicans alike labeled him a liar and a crook. Political cartoons appeared that vivified the indelible nature of Blaine’s prior misdeeds by depicting him covered in tattoos. And at Democratic political events, the rallying cries included the chanted slogan: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.

Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa

James G. Blaine Marked With the Indellible Ink of Corruption

1884 saw a schism in the Republican party in which one prominent faction – the so-called Mugwumps – sided with the Cleveland campaign out of outrage at Blaine’s nomination. And it saw members of the remaining Republicans engage in personal attacks against that faction, including intimations that its members were homosexual.

We tend to think of incivility in politics, and especially during campaigns, as a modern innovation because it is so amplified by television news, and especially by the 24-hour news cycle. But even at the unamplified volume of 1884 – before radio, much less television – it was no less present.

If anything, we in the twenty-first century have good cause for hope on civility in some respects. Our politicians may pepper their discourse with terms like anchor babies, and our media may make derisive comments about the state of one leading candidate’s hair. But no matter how harrowing it becomes, our political culture is not that of the 1855-56 34th Congress. And no matter how uncivil our words, none of our current crop of politicians is like U.S. Representative Preston Brooks who, on May 22, 1856, beat Senator Charles Sumner with a walking cane on the Senate floor, causing him a severe head trauma from which it took three years of convalescence to recover.

Contemporary columnists are correct in their assessment that we need more civility in our politics. It is obviously to all our advantages to talk through our differences instead of slinging mud (or wielding blunt weapons). And it is certainly to all our advantages to be in a position where we have partners on the other side of the political aisle rather than rivals or enemies.

But to overstate the case – to suggest that Washington D.C. is a sinking ship and that among its denizens, it’s every rat for himself – does no one any good. And aside from its inaccuracy, it seems demoralizing rather than motivating to suggest that the uncivil present is any worse than our uncivil past.

Pomegranates for Sale (A Work of Fiction)

sarah-tuttle-singer-guest-blogSarah Tuttle-Singer is an LA expat growing roots in Israel where she lives with her two kids in a small village with a breathtaking view of rolling fields and endless sky. Sarah is a Contributing Editor at, the New Media Editor at The Times of Israel, and has written for several sites including The Times of Israel, Scary Mommy, Hevria,, Jezebel, and Ladies Home Journal.

“You’re so lucky I am here to guide you, to protect you in this part of the city,” her friend had told her ten seasons past, while they walked through a wind-rubbed Muslim Quarter deep into December.

He said this when she pointed to words in Arabic written in blood-red paint, the letters drip-dried over old stone. “In this part of town, you never know,” he continued, “if Hamas or Islamic Jihad or even a salafi, perhaps, is close by and writing on walls.”

“What does it say?” she asked, as she glanced over each shoulder, right and left, afraid.

“It says Death to the Jews,” he replied. “But don’t be afraid. You’re with me and I will tell you everything you need to know to be safe.”

And small in the shadow of the stone and of the man who knew so much about this place, she believed, and would never pass that way again.

“We can’t go this way,” she would then say to others as the months passed into two years. “There’s a sign that says Death to the Jews. So it surely isn’t safe along this road.”

But then she learned the letters for herself, the dips and bends of the Arabic script carved in buildings and written on signs. She learned the names aren’t so different, its elementary, really : Alif Ba, (like Alef Bet).

Through rockets falling and a war, she traced her fingers line by line.

And she learned to say hello in this language, too, and how to get beyond the price of pita, or black coffee, until she forgot to be afraid and ended up again in that same bend of alley space beside that writing, and startled, she looked up:

The words in red had not faded in the least.

Still sanguine stark on stone, as when she had passed them on that winter day ten seasons before.

But all alone and unafraid, she read them for herself this time:

“Five shekels a kilogram. Pomegranates for sale.”

And she laughed until the tears came, at the sweetness she had missed.

This story is a work of fiction – it didn’t happen, but it could. So much of the history and the politics of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is shaped by fear — some real, yes… But some imagined. And until both sides learn the language of the other, we cannot hope to be on the same page.

For more on language as dividers in conflict, please read:

Posts by guest authors reflect their own views and opinions, and not necessarily the views and opinions of the Institute for Civility in Government.

Civility Linkblogging: Reddit, West Virginia, California, and NYC Subways

Civility Linkblogging

A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week brings two very interesting developments. The first is a pair of articles — one from The New York Times and one from The Chicago Tribune, about the aftermath of Ellen Pao’s resignation as CEO of Reddit, and what it portends for the state of civility on the popular website and around the Internet more broadly.

The second is a photo essay by Luis Tsukayama Cisneros, sociologist at The New School for Social Research, about the formation of community and civility on New York City subways.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Mingo Woman Starts Campaign Encouraging Civility
Posted by Marcus Constantino at The Charleston Gazette-Mail, July 15, 2015

Teresa McCune said the Campaign for Civility is aimed at fostering behaviors “founded upon the fundamental dignity and worth of all our community members and to creating a climate that is characterized by respect for each other.”

She said she wants to give people the opportunity to express their opinions and work toward solutions in a civil, respectful way, and she wants to encourage small acts of kindness that can make a difference in people’s lives.

Online Trolls Winning Battles, but War of Civility Left to Wage
Posted by Mary Schmich at The Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2015

Some people say Ellen Pao wasn’t a good CEO at Reddit, and that’s not just the trolls talking. True or not, her job performance doesn’t matter in this regard.

What matters is her message: Online harassment, wherever and however it occurs, is wrong.

What matters is that people at the top of the Internet power structure see that and say it.

If every top manager at every media and Internet company had the experience Pao just had, of being widely vilified online, they’d work harder at figuring out how to keep the trolls from winning.

Who Would Take Issue with Request for Civility? COLAB, For One
Posted by Tom Fulks at, July 19, 2015

Supervisors recently voted unanimously to adopt a symbolic resolution doing nothing more than asking people to be nice and stay on topic when addressing elected bodies. Who could object to that?

The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, of course. COLAB — a front group for developers masquerading as farmers — seemed particularly affronted by the LWV’s suggestion that relevance and civility are worthy ideals….

My old pal Dewd MacDougal likens them to recidivist gas passers. It’s usually the offender who first raises the odious alarm, attempting to deflect blame, he says.

“The smeller’s almost always the feller,” Dewd often says.

I can’t disagree.

When the Internet’s ‘Moderators’ Are Anything But
Posted by Adrian Chen at The New York Times, July 21, 2015

The moderator class has become so detached from its mediating role at Reddit that it no longer functions as a means of creating a harmonious community, let alone a profitable business. It has become an end in itself — a sort of moderatocracy in which the underlying logic of moderation has been turned on its head. Under the watch of its moderators, Reddit has become a haven for extremists: The Southern Poverty Law Center recently called it the new “home on the Internet” for white supremacists, and it also functions as the central organizing point for the dubious “men’s rights” movement….

Any attempt to enforce real-world norms is rejected by the moderatocracy as impinging on their absolute authority over their miniature domains. Even before the revolt, Ellen Pao sparked much consternation by instituting an anti-harassment policy and banning a handful of subreddits with particularly vile content — Redditors nicknamed her Chairman Pao. Ohanian has excused Reddit’s underbelly as an inevitable result of human nature. But Reddit has made a strategic choice to abdicate responsibility to the moderatocracy in exchange for the promise of meteoric growth, even if its new chief executive, Steve Huffman, recently vowed to crack down on the worst subreddits.

Between Personal Stories and the City: Civility in New York City Subways
Posted by Luis Tsukayama Cisneros at Culture: The Unintended Consequences of Looking Sideways

Co-presence (being at the same time in the same space) of people is important for civility to exist because culture and meanings are never static, they are created in interaction between individuals (Goffmann 1966, Mead 1934, Berger and Luckmann 1966). But even when there are no direct interactions between individuals there can be a consciousness, a realization, that there are people one sees everyday in the subway who are going through same situations as us and similar lives to ours. People create the social world together, but this creation is based on how we understand it in our consciousness (Schutz 1967). Civility is based not only in the actions of people, but also in how people perceive and understand themselves phenomenologically within a society. Likewise, civility is not necessarily dependent on interaction between individuals, but rather, contact (Delaney 1999) and acknowledgment.

Finding Civility amid Tragedy and Polarization in Israel

Town of Duma, in The West Bank

By NordNordWest, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed CC-BY-SA.

This past summer – and especially the last few weeks – have seen several pieces of news come out of Israel that are disturbing, and that deserve further consideration as we think about civility. And in a recent blog post for The Times of Israel titled Condemnation is Not Enough. We Need Change, author Sarah Tuttle-Singer does just that.

On July 31st, in the West Bank town of Duma, a Palestinian toddler was killed and three members of his family were injured in a deadly arson attack perpetrated by Israeli settlers in the disputed territory. According to The New York Times, the child killed was eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents are Saad, 32 and Riham, 27 (who was was still on fire when neighbors came on the scene). Hebrew graffiti was sprayed nearby reading Revenge, and accompanied by a Star of David.

Meanwhile, not two months earlier, The Times of Israel ran a story about a poll of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers conducted by the Rafi Smith Institute that found that:

Forty-five percent of Jewish teens said they were not prepared to sit in the same classroom with Arab classmates, while 39% of Arab students said the same of their Jewish peers.

The poll also found that only 28% of Jewish respondents said they condemned so-called price tag attacks associated with religious, far-right Jewish groups. Price tag attacks, writes The Times of Israel, are incidents of violence or vandalism like the arson in Duma that target Palestinians or Israeli security forces as payback for actions against the settlement enterprise.

This all points toward what seems to be an increased tolerance for violence as a problem-solving tool among Israeli youth. And it points toward a cause that seems particularly relevant to the question of civility: increased polarization brought about by a breakdown in communication.

Responses to the Duma attack have been sincere condemnation across the board. As The Jerusalem Post reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act, and called it an act of terrorism in every respect.

But as Sarah Tuttle-Singer tells us so passionately, it is no longer enough to condemn these attacks. It is not even enough to seek the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

In her Times of Israel blog post, Tuttle-Singer looks at the incident in Duma, and looks at the type of polarization indicated by the Rafi Smith Institute poll, and calls for a kind of radical civility that starts from below. She says – rightly – that hate is a learned behavior. And she says that the best solution to hate is for us – and especially our children – never to learn it at all.

The good news, she says, is that Israeli schools don’t teach hate. But leaving it at that is inadequate: Our kids grow up separated from Arabs, and all they learn is what they’ll see on TV when there’s a war. It’s disheartening, and dehumanizing, and it needs to be remedied.

Overcoming hate, Tuttle-Singer writes, means building bridges of communication and finding sameness amid difference. It means Israeli children having:

a real opportunity to meet Arab kids — kids who may pray differently, but who probably enjoy the same snacks. Kids whose first words were in a different language, but probably love swimming in the same big blue sea. Kids who may be shy at first — as my kids will be, too — but who will find common ground because kids always do when given that chance.

Specifically, what Tuttle-Singer calls for is action, not reaction – mandatory programs that require Israelis and Palestinians to get to know one another in a safe environment, where trust begins.

But what she is calling for in a more abstract sense is a kind of civility that privileges dialog across difference, and the ability to acknowledge cultural diversity while embracing, too, the idea that beneath it all, there is more about us that is the same than is alien.

Children, Tuttle-Singer implies, understand the polarizing consequences of longterm political disputes even before they understand the causes. And by inoculating children with a sense that the other side is alive, and human, and just trying to make their way in the world, we prepare them to tackle those disputes without embracing the hatred that has become their baggage and their legacy.

This simple idea of finding common humanity through dialog is good not just for children but for adults, too. And no less than in Israel, it can teach us here in the United States a thing or two about how to do civility right.

Institute’s Civility Definition in The Grand Forks Herald

Using the Institute’s language of civility, an opinion piece this week at The Grand Forks Herald takes on the ongoing mascot controversy at the University of North Dakota.

In 2012, the North Dakota Board of Higher Education ordered the university to replace its former nickname and mascot – The Fighting Sioux – with an alternative that conforms to NCAA rules prohibiting the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery in their intercollegiate athletic programs.

As per the Board of Higher Education’s directive, the university has been without a mascot for three years. And now in 2015, as the university endeavors to choose a new mascot, the process has been fraught.


The furor, writes Korrie Wenzel, author of the article in question, recently reached its zenith, flamed by news that the nickname committee had decided to move forward with several nickname choices. It has suggested the Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders and Sundogs. In the wake of a backlash, the committee reversed those recommendations. And both the recommendations and the reversal, Wenzel writes, make us realize this issue may become more venomous in the coming weeks and months.

Facebook comments on one recent article about the debate had to be removed due to profanity or general name-calling. Several comments resorted to insulting the writer. And according to Wenzel, one reader canceled his Herald subscription, even though an opinion column representing the other point of view appeared on the same page.

The solution, writes Korrie Wenzel, lies in civility. In his article, he includes the Institute’s definition of the concept. That:

Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.

And then he quotes the Institute’s explanation of the definition at length:

Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard and nobody’s is ignored.

Wenzel writes that civility in this sense is a sound concept in the context of the mascot controversy, and that it’s particularly important to to remember this as we hear the nasty comments that arise.

He laments the idea that North Dakotans are airing their dirty laundry in public, and tarnishing their reputation for being North Dakota Nice.

And he says that while vigorous debate is important – while it is key to coming to a sound conclusion on the mascot issue – it must be done respectfully. We urge civility and respect, writes Korrie Wenzel. We urge some sense of decorum. We can be so much better than this.

Civility and Privileged Distress

Civility and Privileged DistressKnow thyself, reads the ancient Greek aphorism. And in light of our recent post about the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, that aphorism seems particularly relevant. Part of civility – undoubtedly – is about listening to and taking seriously the positions of people with whom we disagree. If the purpose of a discussion is to solve problems rather than score points, we all win. But part of civility, too, is about self-examination. It’s about understanding our motivations and our position in society. If we don’t know where we are coming from and why it is we want what we want, even the most civil negotiation will be of limited use.

So with that in mind, I’d like to point you all to a 2012 blog post by Doug Muder of The Weekly Sift. The post is a little old, and it definitely comes from one particular position along the ideological spectrum of American politics. But it introduces an important concept, privileged distress, that is key for folks who are interested in civility to understand.

To explain privileged distress, Muder points us at the film Pleasantville. In the film, he writes, George Parker is a TV father and the patriarch of a perfect fifties family. He returns from work at night to a smiling wife, adorable children, and dinner on the table. And when one day that doesn’t happen, he is confused, and sad, and feels that the universe has gone awry. Muder writes:

I’m not bringing this up just to discuss old movies. As the culture evolves, people who benefited from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.

This is the essence of privileged distress. George Parker is the biggest player in his patriarchal universe. Whether he knows it or not, he benefits from immense privilege. And on the day that patriarchy – at least as he understands it – goes away, he feels that loss acutely. The world changes around him. His position relative to his family changes. And it’s a change that is legitimately scary – one about which he is right to be concerned.

The thing is, though, that the reason it’s all so scary is that what has come before the change – the patriarchy – doesn’t read to George Parker as privilege. It just reads as normal, as the thing he’s known his whole life. So when dinner isn’t on the table when he returns home from work, and when he isn’t greeted by his wife and children at the door, he perceives this as injustice. Injustice is being done to George Parker in that he had been at the top of the social food chain, and now he must contend with being merely an equal.

As Doug Muder says, the distress of the George Parkers of the world is real. It’s painful, and we need to listen to it and acknowledge it.

But even as we accept the reality of George’s privileged-white-male distress, we need to hold on to the understanding that the less privileged citizens of Pleasantville are distressed in an entirely different way…. George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

This is where we return to the idea of self-knowledge as a key component of civility. As we interact with the people around us, we need to understand the power gradients in which we exist. We need to figure out to what degree, when we feel slighted, we are like George Parker who just wants his dinner. And we need to figure out to what degree we are like Betty who has been living in some sense as a servant for most of her adult life.

Both positions are legitimate. In both cases, we have something real for which to negotiate. But both positions don’t necessarily have equal import. And knowing how much ground we have to give as we advocate for our identity needs and beliefs – knowing the point at which our needs start to degrade someone else’s – depends on understanding our own privilege. If we’re already George Parker in a given situation, we may have a great deal more leeway to make concessions than if we’re Betty.

Returning to what I wrote the other week about the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, this is key to the idea of negotiating by listening. I wrote in that post that it’s time for uncivil progressives to take a break from sneering at religious freedom arguments; and that it’s time for uncivil social conservatives to stop dismissing claims from same sex couples that what they want is only what everybody else already has. Self knowledge and an understanding of this concept of privileged distress is a good way to do that. All sides at the negotiating table need to understand where their privilege lies, and how the gradients of social power run.

Confronting those hard truths means asking ourselves whether my religious freedom is more important than your marriage. It means asking ourselves whether your pain at a changing social landscape can be legitimate, and not just a selfish affront to my impending happiness. And it means asking ourselves whether – if we can give up on the idea of our own privilege – our needs and beliefs are really in conflict at all.

There’s no definite answer to any of these things. But this is one means by which we can approach a discussion of the marriage equality ruling that has the potential to yield more than just hurt feelings. Being honest with ourselves is how we can be honest about our needs as we interact with others. And doing that gives us the best chance to come away from a discussion with a sense that we’ve accomplished something worthwhile.