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The Argument in Favor of Civility in Discourse has become a Requirement

I am a flip flopper; self-admitted. One great example is the Fort Island Trail bike path where I was initially for it because I didn't know much about it, but I trusted those who were more involved than me. I still trust them to make good decisions for the community, but on this particular issue they are wrong, as I have been often in my life.

One thing that I have been consistent about since the first month of the Concurrent has been that calls for unity, particularly those that emphasize civility, are unhelpful to the conversation and in some cases work against the desired intent.

It's not that I encourage people to be mean to each other. For example, you'll never hear me use the phrase let's go Brandon because euphemisms for strong language against the Office of the President violates my personal code of civility. I don't actively try to keep people from using it, though, nor would I take action against people who do.

I understand why people do say it, especially when I'm at the meat section of the grocery store, or looking at volatile stock market fluctuations, or reading the news or doing anything ordinary in everyday life over the last year.

Even so, I consider the phrase childish and disrespectful, but far more disrespectful would be to impose consequence on people who say it.

Now substitute let's go Brandon for Ron Kitchen is a weenie. This too is childish and disrespectful but is it punishable? According to Just Wright Citrus it is.

In a blog post yesterday, Mike Wright laid down the law of what will be acceptable speech and what will get you banned on his page. The initial reaction you may be having is that Just Write Citrus is a private business and the Facebook page, while available publicly, is at his discretion to manage just as a store owner has the right to refuse service to anyone.

That's a fair argument to make, but it's an incomplete one without a better understanding of the industry.

I could go into reporter best practices because while Mike Wright got his training at the Chronicle, I got mine in professional journalism.

That is a joke, and one that if you immediately took offense to, then the rest of this column is of the utmost importance for you.

The truth is that it’s more my work in academia that makes me sensitive to free speech issues, although most trained journalists are as well which makes Mr. Wright’s gleeful willingness to quickly ban commenters all the more bizarre.

In the 1960s, an academic named Herbert Marcuse proposed an ideology of competing approaches to creating a public sphere called indiscriminate and liberating tolerances. Indiscriminate tolerance was a deregulated marketplace of ideas where anything goes, but like the business marketplace, the ideas that provide the most value presumably rise to the forefront. This is the purest interpretation of what people who favor the first amendment believe.

Marcuse didn’t however. He advocated for liberating tolerance. Liberating tolerance viewed the world in a Marxist framework of power. Marcuse thought that weak populations needed defense against the traditionally strong institutions. He pointed specifically to the military industrial complex and corporate interests and broadened it to include all opinions that had an origin in right of center political ideologies.

Marcuse said that the preservation of democracy might require denying basic rights, including the freedom of speech, to certain individuals - particularly those advocating for conservative policies that he determined to be aggressive toward the weak.

It’s not just myself and fellow conservatives who find this concerning. Most old school liberals, including my colleagues in academia and media, reject this philosophy as antithetical to the mission of their industries. That’s what makes this argument from a former reporter so strange.

Long time readers of the Concurrent will know, but it's worth repeating, the solution to a more productive political discourse is not civility but rather understanding.

The correct response to someone who proposes that Chairman Kitchen is a weenie is not to remove them from the conversation, but rather to urge them to justify their juvenile stance, accept their argument with an open mind and create counterpoints that attempt to change their mind if that is your desired goal.

If this sounds like it is asking a lot of someone to do, that's the point. That's why it happens so infrequently. More on this topic in columns to come.


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