In These Divided Times, Is Civility Under Siege?

Good discussion of civility, both its strengths and weaknesses, and how historically calls for greater civility have been used to reinforce the status quo (right to vote for women, civil rights movement).

But more respectful civil discussion and debate, with less name calling, labelling, insults etc, along with social media restraint, is needed more than ever.

And like an earlier posted article on the limits of good faith (The Utility and Futility of Good Faith in Campus Speech Controversies), there are some persons or groups whose positions and attitudes are anything but civil:

It’s a time of deepening political divisions in the United States, with people on opposite ends of the political spectrum not only disagreeing but many really disliking the other side. That dislike has been growing for decades.

In the midst of all that division and dislike, there are growing calls for civility. One poll shows that a majority of Americans say incivility is a major problem. And anNPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll says that the country’s civility crisis is deepening and that a majority of Americans fear it will lead to violence.

But what does civility actually mean? It’s sometimes defined as simply being polite. It comes from the Latin root civilis, meaning “befitting a citizen.” It’s a term that’s a comfort to some and repressive to others. And while, yes, it can refer to politeness, it’s much more than that.

“Civility is the baseline of respect that we owe one another in public life,” says Keith Bybee, the author of How Civility Works. “And when people talk about a crisis in civility, they usually are reporting their sense that there is not a shared understanding of what that baseline of respect ought to be.”

Right now that social contract — a common agreement on what appropriate public behavior looks like and who deserves respect — feels broken. No one can agree on the facts, let alone on how to argue or what to argue about. With a president who uses terms like “loser,” “dumb as a rock” and “fat pig” to describe his critics and “animals” to describe undocumented immigrants, it feels like the tone for nasty behavior that’s seeping into everyday life is being set in Washington.

Some blame the Democrats, others the media — and many blame President Trump.

For some, this deep sense of division and dislike spells out danger. What’s at stake?

“The success of the country,” says Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “When we don’t trust each other, that means it’s very difficult for politicians to compromise. It’s very difficult to find win-win solutions or positive-sum games. And so there are so many problems that we could solve,” but we don’t.

“We become credulous, we become easily manipulated by our foreign enemies and our democracy becomes what? A beacon to the world as to what not to do,” he says.

The arrival of social media didn’t help, Haidt says. He sees it as an accelerant to spew outrage and anger faster and further into the world. It’s a tool that has empowered the powerless to topple dictators, but it’s also one that is used to manipulate, deceive and, well, be horrible to people online anonymously.

But the United States has survived even more divided times in the past — from the country’s founding to the Civil War, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

Not only did the country endure, but sometimes the outcome of all the so-called incivility was a rewriting of that social contract to make it more inclusive of people who were discounted and dismissed in the past.

At the time, those sit-ins were dismissed, he says, as an “affront to racial etiquette.” In the late 1800s and early 1900s, women seeking the right to vote were uncivil. Rosa Parks? Uncivil. AIDS activists with ACT UP protesting in dramatic and disruptive ways? Uncivil. Black Lives Matter? Uncivil.

“Civility has been about making sure that the status quo, the hierarchy of the status quo at the moment, which means racial inequality, gender inequality, class inequality, stays permanent,” says Lynn Itagaki, an associate professor at the University of Missouri who writes on what she calls civil racism. She defines it as maintaining civility at the expense of racial equality.

It’s a fraught term, she says. It carries the echoes of that historical and bigoted definition of the civilized versus the savage.

Maybe this moment feels like a crisis, Itagaki says, but when people call for a restoration of civility, who gets to define it? Who gets to rewrite the social contract?

Right now hate crimes and hate groups are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center blames the president for stirring fears about a country that is becoming less white and for sparking an immigration debate with racial overtones.

The calls for civility can feel like an effort to stifle people’s outrage over injustice or hate, because civility can be a tool to build or a weapon to silence.

“To what purpose is civility going to be used? Is it going to be more inclusive?” Itagaki asks. “Is it going to mean that you’re bringing more people’s voices into the political debates, or are you using civility as a way to go back to the old hierarchies and the status quo since the founding of the American republic, where you only had white male propertied free landowners who were able to vote?”

So for some, now is a time to take a step back and be civil to each other. For others, it’s imperative to be uncivil in a way that has led to social justice in the past.

Source: In These Divided Times, Is Civility Under Siege?

Muslims In The U.S. Face Increased Discrimination, PEW Report Says : NPR

Interesting interview regarding some of the latest findings on American Muslims:

A newly-released poll from the Pew Research Center finds Muslims in the U.S. are facing increased discrimination but are optimistic about being both Muslim and American.


There are an estimated 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and that number is growing. Today the Pew Research Center released a wide-ranging poll on Muslims in America. And while almost half the Muslims surveyed reported incidents of verbal or physical abuse in the past 12 months, many still say they are optimistic about their future and about this country. To talk about this, we’re joined now by NPR’s Leila Fadel. You might remember her from her time as NPR’s Cairo correspondent. Now she has taken on a new job covering culture, race and diversity here in the U.S. She is with us from her new base in Las Vegas. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So what were the most striking findings in this poll of Muslim-Americans?

FADEL: Well, this is the third Pew poll on Muslims in America in 10 years. And I think the first thing that’s so noticeable is the incredible diversity of Muslim communities in this country. Often Muslims are spoken about as a monolith when, in fact, this is a population that’s really a diverse mosaic. There’s no one ethnic group that dominates the population. It’s African-American. It’s white. It’s Asian. It’s Arab. It’s Latino. And list goes on. And it’s really young. The majority of Muslims in America are under 40.

MCEVERS: And what about that finding that I mentioned in the introduction that Muslims are feeling optimistic?

FADEL: Yeah, it’s interesting. Despite this feeling that they’re not accepted as part of the mainstream, that the president is unfriendly toward Muslims and that discrimination is going up, 7 in 10 respondents really believe in the American dream still, that if you work hard, you can get ahead. And the overwhelming majority are proud to be both American and Muslim. This is what Besheer Mohamed, lead author of the report, had to say.

BESHEER MOHAMED: There’s a thread throughout the survey of this tension that our Muslim respondents tell us about where on the one hand, they’re uncertain about their acceptance by the larger society. But on the other hand, they’re committed to an American identity. And I think this finding that 9 in 10 say they’re proud to be American is sort of a perfect example of that commitment.

MCEVERS: Who did the poll survey?

FADEL: So the poll was conducted on a sample size of about a thousand Muslim adults living in the U.S. And really there’s not that much data out there on Muslims in the U.S. Muslims are a group of people in America that are often spoken about and scrutinized, but there’s very little data, including how many there are because being Muslim is not something you check on the census form.

MCEVERS: You’ve been traveling and visiting a lot of different Muslim communities across the U.S. Does this poll reflect what you’ve been seeing?

FADEL: Well, yeah. I visited communities in Texas and California as well as cities like Chicago and New York and spoke to Muslims in all parts of the country. And it’s funny because in the poll, it seems that women are more worried about discrimination. They’re more worried about their place in society. And I really felt that same way in doing interviews across the country. And I think that’s really because when a woman decides to put a scarf on her head and cover her hair, she suddenly becomes unmistakably Muslim and de facto ambassador of the faith and a de facto target for the faith.

So, you know, I met people like a young girl in California who’s being bullied at school. And she decided to put on the scarf because her mom does, and she loves her mom and admires her mom. And she found at school that suddenly kids were whispering behind her back allahu akbar, pinning things to her backpack. And the teacher was handing out articles about stonings in Afghanistan as an example of her faith. And this is what she was having to deal with and answer for in her faith at just 14 years old while her sister, who doesn’t cover her hair, didn’t have to deal with any of that.

Source: Muslims In The U.S. Face Increased Discrimination, PEW Report Says : NPR