Sunday, April 22, 2012

No More "Shaddup You Face"

Joe Dolce may not be a name familiar to most of you, but back in the 1980s, he had a hit song which parodied the kind of civility he learned from his Italian mother. Having had some experience with that variety of civility myself, I have named it "Shaddup You Face" civility. It is, of course, based on the premise that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Some from our community have begun a public lament over declining civility. However Beatitude-like their sermons, bear in mind that when "they" are pleading for a return to civility, they really just want us to be quiet and conform. They want a return to "Shaddup You Face" civility:  the bogus civility that has existed around here for a long time.

There is nothing more uncivil than silence while our community is being taken away from us.

Civil discourse must be organized around the central principle of fair, open, and honest debate. Since debates are discussions between opposing views, they necessarily involve advocating for one's own view while critiquing an opponent's. For me, the ideal is British parliament, which outshines American political discourse in nearly every respect. Whatever failings the British political system might have, their civil discourse is raucous and brutally honest. We need more of that. Civil discourse shouldn't be a synonym for being vacuously "nice", "kind", "sweet", or "agreeable". It should be substantive and must often involve a requisite amount of uncomfortable bluntness. Civil discourse is speaking one's mind without resorting to ad hominem attacks.

Far from a decline in civility, I feel our community is having a re-birth of civil discourse. From my perspective, these islands have languished somewhere between a one-party political state and suspended animation for several years. A much larger cross-section of the island populace is now engaged and participating in political discussion. Unfortunately, the new voices are receiving push back from those who thought they knew and controlled this community. It turns out they probably didn't.

I hope the emerging civil discourse continues to blossom. Honestly, I do not think there is any way to put the genie back in the bottle anyway.

As for those advocating for a return to civility, I think they need to examine the civility of the system that brought us to this state of affairs. When I hear laments about our County's supposed loss of civility; when I hear County officials claim they've been personally attacked when they've simply been disagreed with; when I hear sentimental pubic appeals for "community" while many of those same people privately work to divide, punish, control, and abuse; then like some Italian mothers I know, all I can think of is, "Che cavolo stai dicendo?"

1 comment:

  1. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth famously said, "If you can't say something nice about someone, come sit here next to me." Give me civilized candor in conflict rather than treacly phoniness anytime. I agree that our tolerance for criticism is far too sensitive, particularly of late among County employees who must certainly know that if the regulatory apparatus recommended by some of them becomes policy, many San Juan County residents are going to suffer significantly and, in my opinion, for no good reason. We can stand conflict, in fact, we are better for it. Disagreement of the variety I have seen locally is nothing to get hysterical about. The Trojan Heron raises a worthy point of view on this issue.