When people advocate ‘civility’ in public discourse, is it more on principle? On sentimental grounds of ‘respect?’
Or is it more on pragmatic grounds? So, certain ways of speaking may be ‘justified,’ yet nonetheless, they are deeply inexpedient from a strategic point of view?
I don’t believe it is a moral absolute; there are a number of moral universals in this world, but this isn’t one.
Hell, I’m even skeptical of it as a general principle, let alone a moral universal.
It seems to smack of high-minded bourgeois decency and decorum to me.
Civility does have its place in life; there is a time and a season for everything under the sun.
However, ‘Civility-with-a-capital-C’ does appear to come as a whole package alongside the whole predictable slurryload of pious boozhee cant circulating around ‘honest mistakes,’ ‘good intentions,’ ‘our common humanity,’ ‘tolerance,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘celebrating diversity,’ ‘all God’s children,’ and myriad other one-sided notions which fail to honor and acknowledge the darker, shadowy, lunar side of human nature and belonging.
Thus, it is that the discussion of whether civility is a false virtue, or at least a virtue whose generalizability is rather exaggerated, leads into a deeper problem.
The problem is the decay of liberalism, and the decomposition of modernism into a curious postmodern farrago of nihilism and dogmatism, moral absolutism, exclusionary intolerance and sentimental assimilationism, hatred of difference and uncritical fetishization of ‘the Other.’
The notion of ‘all God’s children’ may be OK as a figurative notion, that is limited in its scope and relevance. But it is very dangerous when absolutized.
Similarly, tolerance is a moral absolutist deviation away from classical liberal toleration, which is a virtue requiring close attention to context.
One does not simply tolerate for the sake of toleration.
One tolerates some things, and does not tolerate others.
Tolerance is absolutist; toleration is more contextual, hence the excellent essay by John Gray in ‘Enlightenment’s Wake.’
Diversity, likewise, is a corruption of pluralism. It is the mirror image of the far right’s intolerant and antagonistic attitude towards difference.
Thus, if the far right err in attributing an over-generalized value judgment to difference, so also do the social justice left of postmodern nihilism and cultural relativism apply a value judgment also.
Of course, the fact that the two value judgments in question are mere ‘opposites’ is hardly to the point. Left-SJWs and Right-SJWs are ‘both worse,’ to borrow Slavoj Zizek’s jest on Lenin. That is to say: despite their superficial differences, the same errors underlie both ideological deviations.
Humanitarianism (in the strictly philosophical sense, cf. Max Scheler’s ‘Ressentiment,’) mistakes a healthy regard for individual human beings with the false God of a collective Human (Master) Race.
This is actually a problem closely related to the liberalism of an early era; but then of course there is, upon occasion, a bizarre convergence between the belligerent and backward-looking liberalism of ‘liberal interventionists,’ and the more innovative, flashy and sexy ideological developments of more recent times.
In light of such a barbaric and degenerate revaluation of values as I have briefly outlined here, it is difficult to have the patience to practice civility at all times, rather than in accordance with the context.
Nor are those who stubbornly collaborate with the self-cannibalization of liberalism from within, to be considered as particularly worthy of deference.
However, there is a difference between saying civility is not a moral absolute, and saying it has no place at all.
For my part, I believe I need to be less thin-skinned. I myself must take the opportunity to grow, and to put things in perspective, and to carry the grim, gallows-humorous, Swiftian reality of things a little more lightly.
Yet all that having now been said:
The postmodern sub-Nietzschean Great Leap Forward, the Utopian/Dystopian revaluation of all values has been an abject failure.
It is easy to ask “why not try to reform postmodernism?” Or “why not try to make social justice more inclusive?”
I will not lecture people on what is viable and what isn’t. As a non-Jew, I am wary of being didactic and pedagogical, and telling Jews they ought not to spend time trying to improve the various ideological stances and activist movements in question.
My concern here, rather, is to make a descriptive or factual argument, rather than a prescriptive one (i.e. a commandment of some kind or another):
The revaluation of liberal values has been a colossal failure.