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Civil Discourse Leads to Positive Change; Insults Do Not


Civil Discourse Leads to Positive Change; Insults Do Not

Zoe Weil

In the past week I’ve seen a grotesque image of Donald Trump as a pig centaur trending on Facebook, and an open letter inviting FB friends to de-friend them if they support Trump. I’ve seen Hillary called every name in the book (newest: Killary), while Bernie is regularly called a communist. No one escapes the insults.


As this is an election year in the country that really knows how to go about having elections, you might consider writing a part 2, part 3, part 4, etc. You can invite Paul Shapiro to contribute. We can have some friendly wagers within the commentary section as how long it will take Mr. Shapiro to start sounding like Lewis Black. If he makes it to August that should qualify for sainthood. But thank you for the article. It's nice to know somebody will pass Judgement Day.


I would assume that Zoe is a Bernie supporter if she is concerned with environmental degradation. Hillary's ties to Monsanto and big agriculture would most likely minimize needed changes in that realm.


Maybe some people on CD might also give everybody a break and try being civil when someone disagrees with them?


" Bernie is regularly called a communist."

That is so old school that it is a joke. Hell, even Obama is going to a communist country, Cuba. If that is the best they can come up with to demonize Bernie, it seems to me, Bernie has little to worry about! Because the people that make that statement must be politically, sophomoric and completely out of touch.


Good point. I'm quite impressed by Ms. Weil's wise-beyond-her-years equanimity, and took her article as a gentle lesson in "catching more flies with honey."


I vote that you get full points for that effort. I've taken to using #WhichHillary for the same reasons. It may be a touch more "uncivil," but the humor of it justifies it for me. (That and the fact that it was coined by that really articulate young BLM activist.)


I agree.

Also that like attracts like. If a forum becomes dominated by abusive name calling and other such excesses like schoolyard emotionalism tactics then it soon loses the more reasoned and intellectual commentator. When people get upset because you disagree with them or when you criticize someone they are a big fan of and then insult with abandon, they discourage not only criticism of that person but also criticism in general. Who needs some anonymous stranger acting like a kid hurling insults?

Those who can't debate will often try to discourage those who do... Dumbed down they want to keep things that way probably because they have been taught to not respect learning and that like we see with the republican candidates, insults and crass rudeness is a substitute for debate and makes it look like you won ... At least it does to a certain dumbed down segment of the population who weren't really listening to the details anyway.


I was about to say the same thing but you beat me to it.


I took this to heart, and recognize that it is indeed a challenge, but ultimately the author is correct. I'm guilty guilty guilty as I've stated many times.

Now go grab that mirror would you, if it's not too much trouble otherwise "some people" might assume you are above the pertinent advice given by this author.

"some people" lol



Your wisdom and high example to the multitudes drips like holy honey into these threads. Never change please.


There's a lot of value to this article, but I cannot say that I altogether agree. Certainly there are times and places when the soft answer that turneth away wrath is needed and lacking.

But it is an error to make a universal of the this. Just to grab the closest available example, a pig-centaur Donald Trump is wonderfully informative. If well done, this must be in the best tradition of ridicule. A pig is far better than were he a duck or an elephant or a peacock, and I doubt that I need to explain why or why any of the others might also be relevant, but less valuable.

Ridicule is in some ways less valuable when the target is a clown, like Trump. [I don't just mean _clown_ as an insult here: Trump's rhetoric is built on a media career of farce and buffoonery going back to the 1980s. It is far more valuable with someone like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or even Mitt Romney, who may pass for someone engaged in civil discourse at some level, yet who is not.

There tends to be in all of this some pretense that the engagement is on a rational level, and yet some publicity expert has consulted with respect to wardrobe, makeup, lighting, and loaded phrases, all to deceive. The explicit lies are framed and supported in a thatchwork matrix of implicit untruths, repressed data, and malicious intent.

And so it is that one may smile and smile and be a villain. It takes a little craft and practice, though I suppose nothing too terribly unusual.

There is a particular flavor of all this that comes out of academic discussion, and it is one of many examples of making language errors related to the social context of one's words. When I work as a professor in a classroom, my expressing a clear and relevant opinion, particularly a critical one, can be extremely damaging to the function of the class. The main reason is that in a class, as the professor, I will grade people. However one might wish to convey that students opinions are equal to those of the professor, they get judged and rewarded or penalized by a less-than-objective actor. So very often the creation of an apparently safe social space for students has a greater value than what might be gained by a more candid analysis of a given topic.

There is a problem in this, however. It seems to have resulted in a culture of propaganda in which most of us assume, at least for purposes of discourse, that public actors are well intentioned. Consider the matter of torture. Is it really rational to assume without evidence that a primary motive for politically ordained torture is not personal sadism? Given the frequency of the condition and the relative lack of other arguments for it, it seems preposterous that it should not be regarded as a factor. Yet does anyone professionally and publicly ask the likes of Ben Carson, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton such things, even just to watch the looks on their faces as they deny it? Is there not a tremendous and revealing denial in avoiding something so obvious? Is it possible that the denial of something so radical and oppressive and ultimately common is not a major flaw in discourse?

It is because of all this outwardly reasonable twaddle that so many mistake Trump's broad farce for some sort of relative honesty. Even while he invents and perverts policies and ideas as he goes along, he has dropped most of the pretense of reason, legitimacy, and goodness. People appreciate the honesty in that enough to overlook the dishonesty in--well, just about everything else. I don't commend that, but there's no use denying that some point in it exists.

Nope. Let's do a pig-centaur Trump, and recycle the old Opus and Bill the Cat lampoons of Trump from the 80s. And please, for the sake of all that is good and reasonable and right between us, let us fail to respect Hillary Clinton. We are not going to get anywhere until we can at least manage the small things.


Nice article. Thank you, Zoe. We need more like this one.


Sometimes I'm so shocked by what's been presented to me that my brain just doesn't function. Whether shocked by how poorly informed the person is, how completely wrong their conclusions are, it doesn't matter. I'm often left stunned and at a lose of words because its like "where should I begin?"