About my Blog

I am writing this blog from a radical political point of view. To be a political radical is to examine everything critically. It is about taking today's news, today's unmentioned news, history, or even just the way we think about ideas, and adding a totally new perspective to them. If you are a radical, and a socialist, like me, you will agree with a lot of what I have to say. If not, I hope I at least make you think about things that you previously took for granted. Most of all, I hope everyone enjoys this blog.

About Me

I have just graduated from college, where I wrote opinion pieces for my school newspaper. Though I started out a liberal, I have moved far to the left since then. Despite my politics being different from most people, many people found a lot of what I had to say interesting and insightful. I hope to continue challenging people to think here on my blog.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Civility is the New Silence

We've been hearing an awful lot about civility lately. For example, the huffington post reveals that Nancy Pelosi called for more civility. "We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance," she said.

The media has picked up where she left off. Joe Wilson shouting "liar," in the middle of Obama's speech, Serena Williams arguing with the referee and Kanye West dismissing Taylor Swift are the two examples that have been used of "incivility." No question, Kanye West behaved inappropriately. And no, its not good to curse at the referees, but its worth noting that Roger Federer did the same, and that baseball players argue with the umpire all the time, but that's another story for another post.

I'm not going to claim that we should all scream at each other, curse at each other, and start beating each other up. We should be nice to people. At face value, this is what the media is telling us. But we shouldn't assume that what the media tells us should be taken at face value.

At this point you may ask: What are you suggesting they really mean? The context Nancy Pelosi used it in is instructive. She doesn't want people complaining about Obama's health care plan.

But, aren't the Republicans behaving like a bunch of two year olds? Maybe. Certainly, shouting out that Obama is a "liar" right in the middle of his speech is ridiculous. And of course, even though Obama does say one thing and then do another, his particular objection about illegal immigrants receiving care had no basis in reality (even though they should, like every other human being, have a right to health care.

However, "stop being so uncivil" is a narrative that has been brought out before. Where do you draw the line? The media draws the line at anything that challenges the status quo.

Drew Bogner, president of Malloy College, wrote an op ed in Newsday today, talking about civility. In this piece, he combines looking at both sides of an issue, with being polite about sharing opinions. Like Nancy Pelosi, he also suggests that this "incivility" threatens to turn into violence.

In order to analyze something, we must determine what belongs together and what doesn't. Simply put, disagreement, impoliteness, (even if it is extreme and unreasonable) and violence are three very different things. People can politely agree to disagree, and people can be rude without being violent. And people can challenge the status quo without being nasty about it.

The reason the debate is framed this way is to silence dissent. If opposing the status quo is equal to being mean, which is in turn equal to violence, then we will all agree that we should put up with the status quo. But it isn't. When the status quo is unjust (the number of hungry people has passed 1 billion, according to the World Socialist Web Site, for example) we are right to oppose it. When this is caused by an oppressive elite, we have the right to oppose them. This opposition isn't polite. As a Marxist, I might argue for the overthrow of the capitalist class. There is nothing nice about it.

However, this doesn't have to be violent either. I would argue that the many simply need to see their power in numbers, and use it. The failure of the elite to control the vast majority is sufficient to cause a revolution. For example, anarcho-syndycalists have argued that a general strike could be used to cause the collapse of the system, simply because they decided to refuse to work for capitalists.

You do not have to agree with either the goals or the means in which that goal would be achieved to see the point. It's simple word association, and its not an intellectual exercise. The media is telling us that change= impoliteness= opposition= violence. Of course, there are many examples of this. Obama= socialism (I wish) is one of them. Free market= freedom. Anarchy= disorder= violence.

The important point is that there is no debate. You can make the case that Anarchy=disorder=violence. However, an anarchist would not agree with that statement. Anarchy itself is the absence of the state, not the absence of order. In other words, first, you ask yourself whether it is possible to have order without the state. Then, you ask whether disorder inherently means violence. If you have thought about it, and answered yes, than you can agree with that statement. But simply putting words together does not create a true statement.

In terms of "civility," it should be clear that being rude is not the same as being violent. And disagreeing with people is not the same as being rude. So lets speak loud and clear that we will not be silenced, no matter what our views are. If that makes us "uncivil" than so be it.