James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, February 05, 2011

There are limits to "civility"

We hear a great deal about the need for “civility” in public discourse these days, but have you noticed that although the most abusive rhetoric unquestionably comes from the political right, the admonitions tend to be couched in such a way as to pretend equal guilt on right and left?

The major effect of the “civility” campaign so far has been to discourage liberals and progressives from making any sharp criticism of the right, no matter how deserved or how nasty the sounds coming from that direction.

Sorry, I'm not playing.

The madmen and cynical power-seekers of Fox “News” and their followers, in or out of Congress, deserve no respect. There is nothing to gain by behaving toward them as though their crazy utterances are worthy of serious consideration. On the contrary, to accept foolishness as rationality makes one look foolish.

I think the best way to address them is with disbelief and the mockery they have so assiduously earned.

To be clear: I am not advocating shouting them down or behaving in any way that might be taken as threatening. That's how the right behaves.

If someone tells you they “know” something that is on the face of it untrue and irrational, ask them where they got that idea. If they say Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly or even John Boehner, look at them in disbelief and say something like: “You have to be kidding,” and turn your back on them.

If one of the Foxnuts tries to argue, or to insert himself/herself into a conversation on public affairs, tell them that input consisting of Fox fiction is not acceptable because it can add nothing to rational discourse.

And, yes, it may cause you some trouble.

I told a guy who was sort of a friend – more a friend of friends – that I didn't want to hear from him any more because his Fox-derived attitudes and opinions are unacceptable to rational human beings. That was after he forwarded to me a couple of right-wing fictions about the evils of Islam and how all Muslims are out to destroy the United States and all of Christendom. The conclusion of the diatribes was that we must deny citizenship and even residency to Muslims, even those whose families have been citizens for generations.

He also ranted to me about how this country is in immediate danger of falling under sharia law. And he was outraged that I dismissed that fear by pointing out that Muslims make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population and that, in fact, the vast majority of that tiny minority are demonstrably loyal U.S. citizens, many of whom have served in our armed services.

In truth, it's not much of a loss. And I know that others have since felt freer to reject the foolishness of that particular Foxnut.

Mockery and rejection are our best defenses.