The Politics of Civility

Just popping in to my old home quickly to alert Troppo readers to a post on the Politics of Civility over at my new digs at LP. It’s not a comment on recent controversies on these pages, but rather some reflection on how civility works politically in blogosphere debates, and in political discourse more broadly. I’d hoped to cross-post it here and asked Ken about that possibility, but I don’t think Ken’s been online this weekend as he hasn’t got back to me. Nevertheless, I thought it worth drawing Troppo readers’ attention to, as civility has been something of a watchword at Troppo for some time.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Mark

My modem got burnt out in a storm last week. I’ve just bught a new one. I also don’t have email at home at the moment, because I’ve been relying on CDU webmail, but installing Java on my PC seems to have crippled the webmail interface for reasons I don’t understand. So I’m not in a position to respond to emails on weekends, unless I go in to my office at CDU (which I didn’t do this weekend being otherwise occupied).

You would have been welcome to post here, but a linking article like the above is just as good.

Mark
2021 years ago

Cheers, Ken.

You seem to have had some horrible computer dramas of late. I’m getting Telstra broadband installed this arvo – it’ll be interesting to see if the service is worthwhile.

I should also note that my post also discusses an earlier one by you from last year on civility, values and ethics.

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

Your fan club has diverted discussion about your post to the virtues of drunk-blogging. I think, on the whole, your post, in the most polite way, lacks something.

I’ll address some of the points you raised later on this afternoon.

Mark
2021 years ago

I’ll look forward to reading your comment, Scott.

Just quickly on your remarks about “fan clubs” etc – surely being appreciated by readers is a good thing? Nor do I think a bit of levity and humour goes astray on a comments thread.

Contrary to predictions, I don’t think LP has turned into an echo chamber – there have been some challenging debates – with many of the same participants as over here, and some new ones.

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

“Just quickly on your remarks about “fan clubs” etc – surely being appreciated by readers is a good thing?”

That depends on what you want your blog to achieve.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Scott

Personally I think you’re being a little harsh. I certainly said quite strongly to Mark, when he was thinking of leaving, that I thought it was better to be challenged by readers holding a wide variety of views (as at Troppo). And Mark certainly has some “fan club” members who regularly fail to exhibit his personal standards of unfailing polite thoughtfulness (and who can be very trying at times).

But I don’t think one can fairly say his new blog has become an “echo chamber”. As Mark said, he has already hosted some very worthwhile discussions, and I’m sure that will continue.

I can understand Mark’s finding some of the debate at Troppo tiresome in the extent to which discussions seem so often to degenerate into stereotyped replays of the same simplistic “left versus right” slagfest. I often feel the same; I just don’t think a solo blog is the answer (especially for someone like me, who has neither the time nor inspiration to blog every single day).

Mark
2021 years ago

Thanks, Ken.

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

I might have been a ‘lil’ harsh; it really is up to Mark to work out what he wants his blog to be, though.

But when he’s writing that:

“Neo-conservatives, worried as well about the increased heterogeneity of both peoples and values as well as of styles of life, try to unify society politically through rallying to those conservative perennials, the nation and the flag (and increasingly in the last few years, God as well.) Discussion is shut down rhetorically through invocation of these sacred symbols – if you are against the War in Iraq, you are in favour of terror: “Those who are not with us are against us”

Mark
2021 years ago

Scott, if you read my post carefully, I’m not talking about the blogosphere here but the media and pollies. And I think that accusations of non-patriotism and so forth are made in the blogosphere as well to disable debate. But I would distinguish between thoughtful right wing bloggers and commenters and RWDBs. A lot of the media and the pollies’ spin machines act in a similar fashion to RWDBs in effect.

It’s certainly not part of my intention to give offence to anyone and I think it’s reasonably clear from the context what I was aiming at.

Mark
2021 years ago

As an addendum, the end of my post specifically includes liberals and libertarians as people sharing a common interest in civility and rational dialogue with the Left – a theme that runs through the whole post.

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

To be brutally frank, I’d question even that premise. What publication in Australia is “worried as well about the increased heterogeneity of both peoples and values as well as of styles of life, try to unify society politically through rallying to those conservative perennials, the nation and the flag (and increasingly in the last few years, God as well.)”?

I do not know what they publish in the Courier Mail, but you could hardly say that was the editorial policy of the Adelaide Advertiser.

Mark
2021 years ago

Scott, I’m not talking about publications in Australia but the motives and practices of the Neo-cons and Republican spindoctors in America. That should be clear enough from the excerpt from my post that you’ve reproduced.

The last paragraph of my post starts by drawing implications for the blogosphere. The first states that I’ll be discussing issues of politics generally – as I said again in the post to this thread.

It may be that you’re reading in some assumptions from “recent controversies on these pages” which I specifically said I wouldn’t talk about. The fact that I also referred back to Ken’s earlier post (and praised it) which also talks about democratic societies generally should also add to the context of what I’m trying to get at.

I really have nothing further to add except to assure you again that you’ve mistaken my intention. You can either accept that or not, but it’s fairly clear I think from my post what I was saying and if you think I was saying something else, well, there’s nothing I can do about that.

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

*Shakes head in mutual incomprehension*

Yep. I think it’s best to leave it be. I knew I was doing the right thing not commenting on your blog.

Mark
2021 years ago

One last go. The point of my post was to talk about how rational debate historically had come to be seen as important to politics, and why it’s now under attack in political discussion. As an example I gave the claims that evolution is “just a theory”. Another example might be the dismissal by Bushies of any suggestion that American foreign policy might be one reason why “they hate America” or the assertions that Saddam had WMDs even when rational arguments could be made to counter these claims. In these cases, truth is not sought – but rather loyalty and those who dissent are branded terrorists, traitors etc.

I then went on to argue that to some degree this phenomenon is also reflected in the blogosphere – by RWDB commenters who endlessly nitpick or post wildly provocative comments but have no intention ever of defending their own positions and shift their ground when challenged.

I suggested that thoughtful centrists, Liberals, libertarians and lefties can find common ground by agreeing on the importance of rationality and civility in debate.

I also suggested that lefties would do well not to claim that they and they alone are always rational (spelled out further in a comment in response to Brian) and accept that their positions are grounded in values and emotions, and be prepared to defend those values and emotions.

I hope that makes sense!

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

Okay that makes sense. I must say that you err made a bit of a dogs breakfast of making it clear in your original post; this is an unavoidable hazard of blogging.

I would actually just say that the problem is a lot more widespread then just US Republican circles, by the way. (But then I would say that, wouldn’t I!)

Mark
2021 years ago

Well, I’d probably agree with you, Scott. Mr Latham was probably a good example of uncivil discourse.

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

Actually to be honest I wasn’t thinking of Mark Latham at all.

Politics with its zero-sum game nature probably doesn’t lend itself to civility or intellectual honesty in any event. “Whatever it takes” and all that. Bloggers, though, should aspire to higher standards.

Mark
2021 years ago

Scott, I think that the end of the thread at LP has clearly demonstrated that LP is Kimberella’s fan club not mine!

harry
harry
2021 years ago

Hey Mark,

Maybe tossing in extremist lefty positions would be a good idea too eg an anti-nuclear environmentalist that cannot be budged?
Match each righty with a lefty, thereby hopefully avoiding another left/right shindig.
Oh, and it would encourage the Scotts of the world to have a bash at LP.

Musing: Is there such a beast as a rightwing extremist environmentalist?

Mark
2021 years ago

Yep, the anti-immigration environmentalist crowd, Harry.

Mark
2021 years ago

Just a further quick response – while on occasion I write so as to provoke debate, I don’t write anything I don’t believe in and I write what I can defend, Harry.

Just clarifying once again – I have zero problem with classic liberals like Scott.

I don’t even have a problem with funny RWDBs like EP.

It’s all good except when people argue from authority rather than from justifiable and defensible premisses, and a bit of fun along the way adds to the experience of blogging/commenting IMO.