The Pros and Cons of the Civility Pledge

Much has been said and written over the last week or so about Dan Fincke’s proposed civility pledge. Some may be wondering what I think about it. So here it is: No, I won’t be taking the pledge (as I’ve told Dan directly), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some merit to it and a lot of good ideas in his post about it.

Dan is a good guy. A really good guy. And an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful guy. I not only like him personally, but I think very highly of him (which isn’t necessarily the same thing). And I take him seriously on this matter and understand where he’s coming from and why he thinks it’s important. I even think his position is correct in many situations and contexts. But I’m still not willing to be civil to all people at all times. I simply don’t think some people deserve civility.

I don’t think that bigots deserve my civility. That doesn’t mean that one should forego making rational arguments against their positions, of course. But if someone spends their time actively seeking to foment discrimination and hatred against people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation and so forth, they deserve my scorn and my ridicule and that is what they will get. At the same time, I think we need to recognize that disagreement is not necessarily a sign of the kind of bigotry I’m talking about.

There are hard bigots and soft bigots. Ten years ago when the first court ruling on same-sex marriage came down in Massachusetts, 70-80% of Americans were opposed to marriage equality. Now it’s about 55-45 in support, and a much higher percentage support equal rights and protections for gay couples as long as you call it a civil union rather than a marriage. And in another ten years, I have no doubt that the numbers will reverse themselves completely and it will be about 70-30 in favor of equality. Why? Because most of the people who were initially opposed to it weren’t really bigots, they were just ignorant. They didn’t hate gay people, they just didn’t really know any and they were scared of such a big change so quickly. Once they started seeing that same-sex marriage didn’t really change anything and that gay couples were no different from them in any meaningful way, they changed their minds. So I think that soft bigots need to be talked to in a reasonable and civil manner.

But Tony Perkins? Joseph Farah? Eugene Delgaudio? These are hard bigots, people who are absolutely committed to hatred and discrimination and will do whatever it takes to maintain their hegemony. A civil discussion with them or about them will achieve nothing. For them I reserve nothing but ridicule. And while I do take the time to break down their arguments and show why they’re irrational, I also reserve the right to call them what they are: bigoted, authoritarian assholes.

Having said that, I think Dan makes a lot of good points in the long essay laying out his pledge. I hope you read the whole thing. And I hope you don’t have a kneejerk reaction to it. I especially think his call to hold our allies to the same standards we hold our opposition to is very important and I try to do that at all times (though I certainly fail at it on occasion).

For myself, I will pledge only to lob bombs at those who really deserve it, while at the same time offering rational reasons to reject their positions. That’s really the best I can offer. And I think it’s enough.

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