Believe what you want to, the thinking goes, but be polite about how you express it in public; advocate separating children from parents at the border or argue for the virtues of the Confederacy with all your might, but mind your manners as you do so and you will have satisfied the all-too-frequently heard plea for civil behavior, no matter how ugly the message.
One can have heart and mind full of venom and still be civil; decency need not enter the picture.
Given the war on the social contract and the supremacy of the zero-sum game, of course, we should be grateful to take what we can get, but there’s a world to win—with the utmost courtesy, of course.
Lauren Simkin Berke is a Brooklyn-based artist and illustrator who occasionally publishes art books and zines under the name Captain Sears Press.
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For example, when you search for a film, we use your search information and location to show the most relevant cinemas near you.Then I was editing with the Mennonite theologian, Joseph Kotva, an ecumenical collection of essays on virtues that could be used for the churches.We called it, Among the contributors, Vigen Guroian submitted an essay to us on civility, that made me first think, couldn’t you give us something more?When Joseph Nye Welch beseeched Joseph Mc Carthy, in a famous moment in American political history, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency? If you’re looking for no one to be offended, then civility is a desideratum, to be sure.” he was asking the Wisconsin senator for more than showing a little decorum. But, observes the philosopher Avishai Margalit, decency is really what we should be after: “A decent society,” he writes, “is one whose institutions do not humiliate people.” A decent society is fair and constructive, a civil one merely polite.A civil person may be a scoundrel, a decent person never so; a civil person may be a racist, a decent person not; and so forth.Decency gauges the inherent rightness or wrongness of a thought or action, while civility is largely agnostic on such matters.A patron who hasn’t been turned away from a restaurant leaves a note for the server, who bears an Arabic name, saying, “We don’t tip terrorist .” We live in bitter, angry times, with a hall-of-funhouse-mirrors quality to them: Call a racist a racist, and that person will be hurt because you have used an injurious term.Call someone you disagree with a derogatory term, on the other hand, and you might earn a few likes on Facebook.Instead, he presented a Christological “debate” in the Armenian church that desperately needed civility.The overall tone of the debate lacked a great deal of proportionality.