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The Little City Weed


A few words about the importance of political incivility, please.


A few words about the importance of political incivility, please.

Incivility is the engine of democracy. The grating, grinding, whining, bickering sounds are supposed to be there. It is what makes the whole system go. Shut off the noise and the heat and we go nowhere. Break the engine of political incivility and a parade of terribles begins to happen rather quickly.

People who declare political consensus are trying to end debate. Political leaders who clamor against political incivility are hunting for pliable citizenry to lead about or hide amongst. The miserable souls who would impose civility on public matters are covering ideological weaknesses, conniving to win an election, selling a trendy management book and/or are frustrated by an inability to tolerate people whom they do not like … ironically, furthering personal incivility in the wrongheaded effort to improve public civility.

Therein lays the issue. We officially suck at the rules of incivility. Our civilization, our country, our community, has lost the ability to discern the difference between political incivility and personal incivility. As a result, democracy itself is in peril.

A simple test, gentle readers: “Dear council member, irrespective of the obvious needs of your ugly bucktoothed child, you should refrain from your endomorphic oedipal-soaked effort to outsource our public schools to Arlington.”

Um … the above test was not taken from an actual letter by the way.

So, when you read the above remark, what is your reaction? Disgusted? Amused? Suddenly saddened by the memory of your own unmet childhood orthodontia needs?

This was a trick question, people, because it was an example of a compound incivility. The characterization of the child was personally uncivil, but the characterization of the public figure was fair. See the difference? The true art of incivility is, then, in the details of the composure. Can personal and political incivility ever be combined? Does factual accuracy add or detract from the message? What if the medium of the conveyance is email, or an anonymous post, how does that make a difference? If the intended target needs to look up “endomorphic” or “oedipal” does it highlight or shade the intended incivility?

Political incivility is a form of public art. Like public art, if it is eliminated or becomes institutional, our democratic society is diminished. Maybe subtly at first, but inevitably, over time, we lose the ability to operate a democratic form of government. We become reflexively compliant to those we like and intolerant of those we hate … easily manipulated by well intentioned citizens calling for “more civility” without any distinction between personal and political incivility, and by less well intentioned political forces.

So the next time you read a post from a blogger who antagonizes school parents who do not bother to vote in local elections, or who points out repeated absences of a local politician, go ahead and give them a hug. Thank them for saving democracy, for sharing the gift of political incivility with the entire community … and for refraining from posting about your ugly bucktoothed children.


Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.