Letter To The Editor: About ‘Civility’ In Public Discourse

By RICHARD NEBEL
Los Alamos

This is in response to two columns by Father Glenn (link, link), two letters to the editor by Khalil Spencer (link, link), a column by Pastor Granillo (link), along with contributions from the prophet Isaiah, St. Luke, St. Paul, and everybody else who has recently written in to the Los Alamos Daily Post discussing “civility” in public discourse. 

Now, who could possibly be opposed to “civility” in public discourse? Well, it depends on how it is defined, who defines it, and most importantly, how it is implemented.

The simple fact of the matter is this: “civility” has become a codeword for “political correctness”. I first heard the “civility” argument invoked several years ago when a group of Los Alamos people tried to get the KRSN broadcasting license revoked because they (the previous owners of KRSN) were running Sean Hannity’s talk radio show. Apparently, Mr. Hannity didn’t have the same sensibilities as the New York Times. That struck me as being censorship. What do you think about that, Mr. Spencer? Where does that fall on your “civility rules” index?

Of course, “Political Correctness” has evolved to the point on college campuses where you can’t say anything that might offend somebody. If you are a professor, it could cost you your job. I’m sure there are a lot of people on college campuses who find the “Right to Life” groups offensive. Do you think they should be squelched, Father Glenn?

Father Glenn also goes on to lament that “Sadly, we’ve lost a lot of that (civility) in our day”. While that’s a nice sentiment, we haven’t lost civility. We never had it. If you don’t believe that, go back and look at my favorite, the Lincoln Douglas debates. They were personal. They
were nasty. They were “snarky”. They were full of insults. And they brought Abraham Lincoln to national prominence and were essential for him getting elected President of the United States. Apparently, Mr. Lincoln hadn’t read St. Paul or Proverbs.

Personally, I think what is far more dangerous are the attempts to censor discourse in the name of “civility”. This also has a long history in American politics, dating at least as far back as the Sedition Act of 1798.

This act made it a criminal offense to “tell lies” about the Federal Government. Its real purpose was to get Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican party to quit criticizing John Adams’s undeclared war against France. It was part of the Alien and Sedition Acts package which was authored by a noted anti-immigrant monarchist (Alexander Hamilton) who so mistrusted the American public that he thought Senators and Congressmen should be elected for life. These acts were so anti-immigrant that the only part of the acts that survived into modern times was invoked by Franklin Roosevelt to incarcerate Japanese citizens during WW II.

So, if you folks want to censor inaccurate and uncivil speech, you might want to start with Broadway musicals and leave political discourse alone.

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