Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Civility and Respect

(a restatement, might offend some of you)

Those of you who've seen me discuss the topic know that I draw sharp lines on various kinds of activism; that I find cultural shaping generally acceptable in theory, but a tool to be used sparingly; When things that are not actually harmful are marked as "the enemy" by a kind of activism (or an activist), it taints the faction or activist very significantly; to be acceptable, activism should err on the side of accepting/refraining from criticism if it must err. If a recognisable harm can't be found in a subjective (but value-guided) matter, generally the matter should be left diverse (or only light guidance should be offered).

I am protective of the terms "racism", "sexism" and the like; I want them to be reserved for condemnable actions or words; words that are normative or actions that stem from actual racist/sexist/etc norms. I think it's okay to theorise about the norms behind someone else's actions at times, but if one doesn't actually believe that there are racist/sexist norms at play, I think it's inappropriate to use these terms. (In the past I've generally described this using language of intentionality, but my notion of intention was broader than general use so I'm trying not to explain it that way anymore).

I also don't consider the fact that something may be offensive or touch on issues that are sensitive for some people to be any cause for condemning (or even frowning on) general speech, but I do praise civility. This may seem to be a contradiction. Instead, here's where I'm coming from on that issue:

  • There is public speech, broadcast to whomever is listening
  • There is public discourse speech, intended to be part of a political discussion
  • There is small-discussion speech
  • In public speech, I feel we should not protect anyone from offense, nor should we be bothered by the offense of others. We should avoid being normative for bad things, but that's not really about things we should not say so much as things we should not be. Racist jokes, stories that offend those of certain faiths, blackface in theatre, all potentially fine.
  • In public discourse speech, conducted over the billboards and airwaves where various groups chime in on topics and possibly get replies (but usually not), perhaps like blogs, things are much like public speech, although I believe we should probably feel a higher obligation to be fair (willing to cede points that arn't solid), strategic (focus on language that might convince), charitable (recognise the perspectives/values of people one's "conversing" with even if one doesn't agree with them), enriching (aim for a high level of discourse), and nuanced (avoid slogans). The desirability of these things goes up the more high-profile the discussion is
  • In small-discussion speech, where people directly address each other in a forum where replies are regular (possibly expected), I would expect stronger versions of the "shoulds" from public discourse speech combined with a further expectation: civility. Civility doesn't require respect for one's conversation partner's perspective, but it does require respect (scaling down to politeness if necessary) for one's conversation partner. Insults, rudeness, and the like are not acceptable. However, rudeness may not be construed to disagreement over the topic; in a small discussion, ideally any topic may be discussed, with whatever level of disagreement, without tempers rising. I believe that civil people will eject noncivil people from the conversation (regardless of whether they agree with them or not).
In small discussion, the point is to share perspectives, mutually explore foundational differences, and potentially instill enough of one's perspectives into the other (mutually) that each participant is left with temptations and ideas to consider later. Being able to manage that is something to be proud of; to fail and lose one's cool is something to be ashamed of.

I also draw a distinction between things worth protecting and things that are not, as well as things we should approve of and things we need to protect even if we don't approve of them. All the racial variation in humanity is fine, and struggle against racial discrimination is worthwhile. The variation in gender attraction is also fine, and struggle against discrimination on that basis is also worthwhile. However, while faiths are generally ok-for-now, there is no reason they merit the same kinds of concern that races and sexual preferences do; they are fundamentally choices (even as those choices are often part of community identity). Likewise, cultural practices don't merit strong protection. It would not be acceptable to hope for those of a gender-attraction to disappear (even through social shaping, were that possible), but it would be acceptable to hope that cultural content or faiths disappear (although morals would not generally permit stronger forms of action towards that end).

I fundamentally approve of the Jyllands cartoons, of Piss Christ, of Satanic Verses, and of racial/about-sex humour. Salman Rushdie and Frankie Boyle are examples of merit, not those who oppose them. I am very comfortable with adverts like this, and condemn wholeheartedly the activists who confuse injustice with offense. This is the error of political correctness, and it marks any faction of an otherwise just movement as needing to be marginalised. Whether in the spirit of worthwhile criticism, pursuit of other values, expression of one's aesthetics/views/values, or even just a laugh or to make a point that this conflation cannot be accepted, these works should be accepted and generally celebrated, so long as they are not born of bad norms.

As a side-comment on a post on someone else's blog (where I'm not keen to post because a persona-non-grata is participating in the discussion there),I hold that one's sexual/romantic preferences in a partner of whatever sort, unless they indicate a desire to be predatory or harmful to another, are acceptable. This is true whether they're based on aesthetics, identity-preferences, or whatever. I believe it to be acceptable to have and express a preference towards or against dating those of particular races, faiths, sex/gender, weight, gender-role, relationship styles, economic or social classes, education levels, accents, languages, or whatever, and that these preferences should be given even more leeway (if there is a category for more leeway) than the preferences one has for one's friends.

I also hold that either sex or romance involve identity-preferences that should generally be respected, and that it would be responsible to disclose anything that one reasonably believes might impact the meaning of sex or a relationship prior to things getting too far, including "transsexuality", racial/religious preferences (some people really care if their partner is religious, jewish, or the like), or anything else relevant. I don't consider this something worth coding as a legal requirement though; there have been lawsuits in Israel about "rape by deceipt" where Palestinian men have claimed to be Jewish, had sex with a Jewish woman, and later it came out that they wern't jewish; that charge strikes me as fallacious, but I believe it is well held as a strong cultural norm. This flows from the ideas:

  • Everyone will have their own frameworks that they use to understand the world
  • Sexual or romantic intimacy should be paired with some sensitivity to the frameworks of one's partner
I think our ability to build the story of our lives, rich in meaning, requires we be willing to be choosy with our partners; the greatest leeway should be granted there. There are some things one sees on dating sites that occcasionally frustrate (one example for me is the number of women who have had enjoyable same-sex experiences but don't want to date a guy who has had enjoyable same-sex experiences), but attraction and preferences are not always fair.

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