Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Learning to be Civil

Brian Micklethwaite — who, by the way, keeps an interesting blog — thinks the blogosphere is teaching members of the Conservative Party in Britain to be more polite to each other. He calls it the “Jane Austenification of Society, by the blogosphere”.

The raving lunatics… find that they are ignored, while the politer people, who phrase their complaints and criticisms more moderately, get attended to and responded to. And since tone of voice has been one of the basic Conservative problems over recent years, this is no small influence.

It’s happening here in the USA, too. I’m not sure if the same thing goes on in the blogospheric Left, since I prefer to take my preaching in the choir, and avoid most of the left-leaning sites. But it’s definitely true on the Right.
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When I’m reading a blog or forum, I find that as soon as the conversation devolves to insults involving bodily functions and orifices, my interest rapidly dissipates. Been there, done that. Oh, it can be amusing for thirty seconds or so, as I mentally cheer on one side or the other. But then I want to move on to a discussion with substance.

One of the attractions of Instapundit is the calm and measured tone he employs. He says, “I disagree” or “That argument doesn’t convince me” — no steaming piles of excrement. Wretchard can eviscerate an opposing argument without ever departing from gracious civility; it makes his blog an educational experience instead of a fist-shaking polemic.

Writing regularly in cyberspace tends to impose discipline. In addition to civility, there are a few things I’ve learned in the past two years that make a blog work well:

  • Don’t assert something unless you’re pretty darned sure you’ve got your facts right.
  • Correct any mistakes promptly and with good grace.
  • Politely concede an opponent’s point when it is made reasonably and effectively.
  • Cite a source for any idea not your own (assuming you can remember it — hah!).

I like it when our commenters remain civil and temperate. When they don’t, when the conversation devolves into a flame war, it kills the thread, which is always a shame.

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Being a Conservative — i.e. a Tory — in Britain does not necessarily mean the same thing as being a conservative here in the USA. Both groups are intent on preservation, but they are not out to preserve the same things.

Preserving Our Ancient Liberties for 231 Years and CountingAmerican conservatives want to preserve our ancient liberties, a position that would be called “liberal” if the meaning of the word — like that of “gay” or “propaganda” — hadn’t been corrupted past all redemption. We’re traditionalists, but our tradition is one of liberty.

The Tories also want to preserve a tradition, but one of the monarchy and the British Constitution. These are important and worth preserving, but their ideals are not so mindful of liberty.

The choice in Britain is between Aristocracy and Socialism, with no real liberal alternative. When I lived in England in the 1960s, the Liberal Party had declined to the point where it had become a joke, with two or three MPs and no significant program. Nowadays it has morphed into something I don’t even recognize.

What American conservatives and their British counterparts can agree on is fiscal policy, the bedrock of the success of both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Both groups are mindful of the Law of Unintended Consequences, and are prone to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

As opposed to Socialists, who want to break things really thoroughly so that they can then “fix” them.

American conservatism is unique in its effort to preserve a revolutionary liberty, a model that — despite its flaws — can still inspire people all over the world who live under the grinding heel of tyranny. During the East Bloc revolutions of 1989, the crowds in the public squares of Budapest or Sofia carried samizdat copies of the Declaration of Independence.

American conservatives seek the preservation of traditional freedom. I think it was Friedrich Hayek who first pointed this out. If I’m wrong, I invite correction in the comments.

But with civility, please.

14 comments:

Titus Petronius said...

What would you say is the most defining point(s), which the Brittish Socialist seeks to break and fix? And does the preservation of the Monarchy threaten the socialists agenda in Britain?

Baron Bodissey said...

Titus --

Unfortunately, my detailed knowledge of British political affairs ended when I moved back here in the early '70s. I'm not sure how Socialism behaves now in Britain; it de-radicalized itself back in the '80s, I believe.

When I lived there the Communists were still quite active in Labour, and the radicals wanted even more socialization of industry, etc. They also wanted to be rid of the monarchy.

The main thing they wanted to break (and I assume they still do) was the free market, because of its perceived inequality. Put a spanner into every part of the works, and turn everything into a British version of the USSR.

But it's probably not as bad as that anymore. Maybe Archonix or one of our other British readers can answer your questions better than I can.

William Woody said...

Excellent points, especially regarding conservatism in the United States as being the desire to preserve traditional liberal freedoms. I would only add that much of the debate within conservative circles, and much of the evolution of conservative thinking, come from both an evolving understanding of what those freedoms are and where they come from, and how they should be promulgated.

As one who believes that our freedoms are universal and were first recognized in classical (pre-Christian) Greek times I certainly disagree with people such as Buchanan, who believes the source of our freedoms comes from the Christian faith of our founding fathers. However, I can appreciate his position.

Archonix said...

I'm not really sure you can claim that our freedoms were first recognised by the greeks. After all, which greeks? The spartans? These were the people who demanded all men serve in the military and who were unique in Hellenian society in that they allowed, because of necessity, their women to own property and take decisions; however they didn't allow iondividual freedoms or free expression. The Athenians? They who had democracy, as long as you weren't slave, female or foreign, and who tended to be a little, shall we say, unforgiving of anyone who challenged the consensus. Look at Socrates... the rest were various shades and stripes of those two extremes, but the common thread was that, while they had lots of good ideas, the Greeks weren't the free thinkers we paint them as these days. Our modern thinking is definitely influenced by Hellenian thought, but our thinking is also influenced by scandanavian ideas, that placed the rights individual above all else. Both these modes of thought were focused through the Christian message that all men are equal before god and the law. Without that focus our freedoms would be blown away by anyone who thought they were better than others.

Jordan said...

I have to disagree with you regarding the nature of blogs to promote polite behavior. I personally find that blog comments sections turn normaly rational and kind individuals into rabid demonizers (oh crap, I just did the same thing, didn't I)

I truly believe the internet is the lowest form of human communication, while at the same time the most enjoyable.

I think the problems lies is the lack of accountibility. If blogger had us include our social security cards, full names, and pictures, we would probably be more careful.

linearthinker said...

I'm revealing my own ignorance here, but that's never stopped me before, so here goes.

I appreciate Archonix's perspective, but it seems the discussion has fast-forwarded past the contributions of the Jews and the Old Testament.

linearthinker said...

Jordan,

As in "...an armed society is a polite society"?

I can't agree with your "...the internet is the lowest form of human communication." We bring to the medium our own weaknesses, ie, don't blame the messenger.

In my better moments I've found the internet to be a profound source of enlightenment. As here at the Gates.

XY said...

I think the problems lies is the lack of accountibility. If blogger had us include our social security cards, full names, and pictures, we would probably be more careful.

Yes, out of fear. But that doesn't really count. If someone would like to, let us say, run around and stab people with a knife, if that's their true inclination so to speak, but refrains from doing so because they are afraid of getting caught, they are still pretty lousy people (even if noone knows).

When people are being polite in blog comments despite being anonymous, you can be more certain it is genuine, as against when they are polite in a real life meeting of some sort (which may be out of fear.)

It is easier for people to "be themselves" on the net, and that can be a pretty good thing when assessing them.

Baron Bodissey said...

Jordan --

You could be right. It must be that I just stay out of the bad neighborhoods. The internet is a self-selecting medium, after all.

We're fortunate here; we have few flame wars or trolls. Most of our commenters stay civil, most of the time...

If you are a "rabid demonizer", I didn't notice. ;)

Archonix said...

Linearthinker, it's quite right for you to mention that. I have in fact skipped several thousand years of isralite history and philosophical thought by jumping in at christianity. The idea of the rule of law was developed by the hebrews and is evident from the Exodus period onward. Part of christianity's message was for a return to this concept by abandoning the increasingly petty laws and regulations of the religious leadership of the day, but that's another topic.

Interesting to note, the israelites were engaging in philosophical discourse when the greeks were still bopping each other over the head with rocks. Eclesiastes is a good example.

I just realised this has gone completely off topic. :)

Anyway, on the topic of the tories I'd like to point out that the conservatives in this country weren't all just aristocratic types. They were genuinely interested in the preservation of liberty but also in the preservation of systems that worked, as you noted. Since preservation of that system meant giving people more rights, that's what they did, often in the face of great opposition from the nascent left, who saw their chances to create class unrest stripped away with each Tory reform.

Hm. Actually I'm saying the same thing as Baron...

One thing I do disagree with, though, is the idea that the tories need to be more polite. That's rubbish. We've tried polite and it isn't working. Look at how polite the current tory leader is, but ol Dave Cameron isn't really amounting to much. Our most impolite leader in living was Lady Thatcher, and she was the most successful.

I think the term we need to look for is honourable, not polite. Honour creates trust. It was the dishonourable backstabbers headed by Heseltine and Clarke that cast down Thatcher and destroyed the Tory party, and it was politicians of similarly dishonourable intent that took us in to the EU in the first place. The tories need to get back that idea of honour if we're to trust it again and there's little chance of that whilst the wets, Clarke, Heseltine et al, dominate the party.

Archonix said...

Uh, the "you" in my tory rant (after I note I'm ff topic) is Baron, or anyone else, rather than linearthinker. Sorry for the confusion.

Janos Hunyadi said...

I must politely disagree with the topic as stated. If you look at the threads in a very popular blog, 'little gteen footballs', you will see that the discourse is mostly me-too piling on of certqain dsignated 'bad guys' which include not only jihadis and dhimmis, but most Europeans ( easpecially the French ); thse post include calls for Paris to be bombed with a nuke and Europeans to be killed ( by Muslims in order to warn others of the extent of the danger )

Threads there and elsewhere typically consist of 'one-up' remarks with very little intellectual content

There is valuable metal out there, but lots and lots of dross
with very little

cold pizza said...

Ah, but what wonderous beasties and marvelous fishies get dredged up from the depths with this new ‘net. Cast ye the ‘net wide and far, and while for the most part the bulk of the haul is mere common cod, yet behold the occasional gem of insight and pearl of wisdom.

Here is the forum, here is the marketplace of ideas. The shrill shrieking hawkers, the carny criers, the masses of the “me-too” men, piling on to seek validation.

Where are the churches and bowling leagues of yesteryear? Where is the social network that allowed, nay, prospered on the current of civility? Why, merely moved to the ether and ‘net. It is here in the cloak of anonymity that anyone can cry “follow, follow me,” demanding oblation and sacrifice. There are MANY false prophets—usually the ones shrieking loudest surrounded by the chaotic krowds, engorged on a self-imposed feeding frenzy of hate and vilification—gotta keep the mob fed, doncha know. People will find the vindication they need in like minded groups—usually joined against the identified “other.” Oops, sorry to slip down into the slime of rabid generalizations and fingerpointing.

People are social animals—we flock, herd, pod, and murder. We seek validation from the group. We want to be loved and ADMIRED because we lead mediocre lives and yet still dare to dream of brilliance and success. Unfortunately, most of us are where we’re at because the Peter principle does work and we’ve reached the pinnacles of our incompetence.

Civil debate starts with understanding. Understanding requires effort—both to think through your own position and the position of your opponent. It requires real work, real thought and empathy. Real ideas don’t need to be desperately shouted out in the marketplace. It’s like friendly ping-pong, let’s bounce ideas off each other for as long as we can. The object is not competition, but cooperation, until we can arrive at a common destination together.

The question remains, what destination? -cp

Yorkshireminer said...

Dear Baron

Socialism is such a slippery word, and seems to me to used as a word of derision synonymous with communism, especially in America, it is an umbrella word covering the left wing of the political spectrum .

The British Labour party has evolved in many different ways since it was established just over 100 years ago. The syndicalist Inter nationalistic ways attitude changed after the rise of Unionism during the first World War and the rapid growth of the unskilled labour Unions. The labour party was never revolutionary no matter what anybody tells you, most socialists wanted a bigger slice of the cake which was so unfairly divided in Britain between the two wars. They were also very patriotic. When they joined the coalition government in the second world war. Bevan took over the portfolio of minister of labour under Churchill, he brought in draconian labour laws that Stalin would have approved. Anybody who was not in the forces could be directed to work anywhere, and if you refused you could be put in prison. During the later part of the war and the army didn't need all the new yearly draft, many 18 year olds were sent to work in the mines and many aristocrats son had to go and work dig coal for a couple of years. Bevan's foreign policy when he was foreign minister after the war in the first post war labour government was as right wing as any American right wing Republican could wish, but they were aghast at his attitude to the nationalisation of heavy industries such a coal, Iron and Steel and the Railways. America should not forget that it was the post war labour government that entered the Korean war along side of America in the fight against communism. This old left labour tradition is the tradition I was brought up with. When I was 21 I was vote in as President of a union branch of the National Mine Workers Union of a large mine in Yorkshire and on the committee we had two paid up communist party members and all the other members were paid up party members of the Labour party. I am 100 % sure that not one of them would have betrayed his country, they loved it too much. The only members of a Union that betrayed their country, were the members of the Cambridge Union, Burgess, Maclaen, and Blunt, traitors and spy everyone of them, the intellectual socialists.

What has happened in England has been the decline of the old left with the destruction of the heavy industries under the Tories the swing to the right of center of the labour party by Tony Blair and his minions and there airy fairy ideas of multiculturalism so to gather as many votes in the center of the political spectrum, while offending no one. The other great problem of course is the vocal loon left the Trotsky and the socialist peoples party having no victim to support after the demise of the Soviet Union , decided that the poor muslim is now the official new underdog.

What we now have is the old left, the working class becoming more and more anti-immigrant, because they live in the areas where the muslims settle, and they are the ones having to take the brunt of the problem. Then we have the Blair type socialist left, who are nothing more than unprincipled opportunist, who either don't understand the problem, and don't care, and are closely related, genetically speaking, to the jelly fish. The loony left speaks for itself.