April 17, 2015

"But what exactly is civility—and is it a prerequisite for a vibrant intellectual climate?"

Asks Joan W. Scott in "The New Thought Police/Why are campus administrators invoking civility to silence critical speech?"
As with all polemic, tweets can be satirical, ironic, blasphemous, outrageous. To read them literally is often to misread them, as was the case with one of the tweets most often invoked to indict [Steven] Salaita as an anti-Semite...

The medium of Twitter is complicated because it provides a public space for private, personal expression. In one sense, it is no different from a speaker’s rostrum at an antiwar rally or any other highly charged political event....

Twitter disrupts this careful separation of the hidden and the acceptable, blurring the boundaries by offering a public forum for venting private feelings. In so doing, it makes the hidden visible and seems to reveal the “true” nature of the tweeter—the reality ordinarily concealed by the rules of decorum and politesse. They may not realize it, but those... who take tweets to be indicators of the “real” nature of the tweeter (and so the ultimate proof of his or her unfitness as a teacher and colleague) are also acknowledging the limits, if not the inauthenticity, of civility as a form not only of political but also of intellectual exchange. For some members of the UIUC faculty, as for the chancellor, the tweets exposed the underlying premises of Salaita’s scholarly work, the hidden transcript of his articles and books. The tweets became not an easily compartmentalized instance of extramural speech (and so of the First Amendment right of the scholar as citizen), but the key to the entire body of his work and to the unacceptability of the politics that informed it....
Much more at the link (which goes to The Nation).

26 comments:

MadisonMan said...

Just a specific comment on the reaction to tweets that lead to the job offer withdrawal. I think University Administrators (usually somewhat ossified) don't quite get the tweet phenomena, and they are easily swayed by monetary concerns. It's all too easy to take a tweet out of context.

The proper response to speech is more speech, and saying civility!! is a time-honored way of shutting people up. It's worked in the past, it'll work in the future.

Freedom of speech is most most most important when the speech is something you disagree with most strenuously.

rhhardin said...

and so the ultimate proof of his or her unfitness as a teacher and colleague

"His or her" is bumper-cars prose.

Newly named by somebody.

Jason said...

Screw civility. After looking at that article, I'd trade ten measures of civility for just one measure of brevity.

rhhardin said...

The shorter a zinger, the more civil it is.

Bob Ellison said...

Twitter forces a "get to the point!" behavior. That's a good thing, overall, especially because so many people get to a bad point so quickly that they beclown themselves.

I wonder whether the rise of Twitter has something to do with Andrew Sullivan's retirement from blogging.

MikeR said...

Civility - not much to do with it. What kind of person do they want to have for their professor? Nasty, profane, anti-semitic? If they want that, they can have it; if they don't, I don't see why they should have to ratify the hire of someone they don't want.
'Course, there are lots of nasty, profane, anti-semitic professors; but some of us think that's a bad thing.

mccullough said...

It's a serious question with no easy answer. I'd prefer more good faith than civility. The lies, half-truths, and omissions are more the problem.

Educated people should be able to see things from all sides. It doesn't mean agreeing with others, but you should be able to fairly sum up their views and concerns and then show why you disagree.

Civility would usually follow.

Drago said...

"Civility" is simply the latest arrow to be loosed from the leftist quiver in the never ending attempt to cease all debate regarding the efficacy of leftist policies.

Sebastian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sebastian said...

"Why are campus administrators invoking civility to silence critical speech?"

UI didn't "silence critical speech." They just declined to give a job to a fool.

In actual speech situations, administrators have been invoking civility mostly to enforce Prog orthodoxy.

Scott would be a little more persuasive if she didn't equate "critical" with lefty.

Fen said...

Salaita wrote shortly after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists, “I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”

He's a jackass. That's why (as Jason laments) the article complaining about civility has to be so tedious. Lots of bs to spin.

In short, his tweets let the mask fall to reveal just another 3rd tier libtard that we don't need indoctrinating our students.

Maybe the local neo-Nazi clan will hire him to buff their boots.

Levi Starks said...

Civility is when those on the left get to say and do anything they want, which includes censoring those on the right with which they disagree.

traditionalguy said...

What hath Guttenberg wrought? Printed Pamphlets were bad enough said kings and clerics, and then along came telegraph and telephones, and then Moving Pictures, and then Television. But those could be gathered up and burned or choked off by FCC rules.

But cyberspace freedom has been impossible to censor...until now.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I don't get this "Twitter is a special medium" business. Tweets aren't any different from blog comments, which often fall under the 140-character line. Something like "Zionism: Transforming anti-semitism from something horrible to something honorable since 1948" certainly, um, suggests a point of view, doesn't it? But it's a point of view utterly separate from its medium of expression.

IOW, I'm getting really, really tired of "Hey, it was only Twitter."

Saint Croix said...

""But what exactly is civility—and is it a prerequisite for a vibrant intellectual climate?""

One of the big issues in argument is avoiding the ad hominem. You attack the argument, not the person making the argument. This is a hard but important rule to follow.

"You're stupid." = bad
"That's a stupid thing to say" = good

Sometimes, particularly when you're anonymous on the internet, it's really easy (and fun!) to start with the insults. But it's really bad, particularly when you're trying to have a dialog with people.

"You're stupid."
"No, I"m not. You're stupid."

You can see where that conversation is going. It's D.O.A. And not helpful to other people.

"That's a stupid thing to say."
"Why is it stupid? What's the stupid part?"

That's an interesting dialog that can go forward. If you want dialog, if you want to learn, the ad hominem rule is a very important rule. One taught to lawyers, who have to argue all the time.

When you're aggravated and upset and want to shut down conversation, that's when people rely on insults. And so, yes, I would say the ad hominem rule is very important if you want to argue gracefully, and so people will listen and can learn.

I am not always civil, in fact I can be quite rude, but it's important in fighting to fight gracefully and with higher purpose. Otherwise it just seems like two assholes slugging it out.

Saint Croix said...

"Civility bullshit" is Althouse's term for political correctness. This is an attempt to use faux "civility" to shut down conversation and silence dissent.

"What you say hurts my feelings. I am going to cry."

Again, there is no dialog that can go forward from that.

Emotion is not bad. Emotion is very important. But it's always a good idea, when you are calm and everything is cool, to think about your emotions.

Crying for other people = good
Crying for yourself = bad

Angry on behalf of the murder of an innocent = good

Angry because somebody insulted you = bad

Emotion can be a powerful way to communicate. But if you're just crying or angry in a selfish way, there's no real difference between the two. Are you using "sensitivity" to shut down conversation? That's like using anger to shut down conversation.

Men are more likely to use insults and pick fights (although some women love to do that). Women are more likely to opt for civility bullshit. One's aggressive, one's passive-aggresive, but both are forms of silencing other people and avoiding (or ending) debate.

SGT Ted said...

"Why are campus administrators invoking civility to silence critical speech?"

Because Progressives leftists and Social Justice Warrior goons are totalitarians when it comes to speech.

Ann Althouse said...

Civility and political correctness are 2 different topics for me. Civility is about a polite form of expression, and I have bullshit as part of the tag to express my opinion that the call for civility is bullshit, a trick to soften the other side's edge. Political correctness takes sides. There's more substance. It makes people feel the need to take the right position.

William Chadwick said...

Always amused when "liberals" (and by "liberals" I mean of course "tax-happy, coercion-addicted, power-tripping State-fellators" talk about "civility." Nothing particularly civil about coercion. (Of course, we all know that when "liberals" call for "civility" they're basically saying, "Be good little serfs and shut up.")

Jason said...

Exactly. They want to defang the expression of the other side. But when you look at how the left behaves, there's no "civility" to be had anywhere. Their Alinskyite doctrine is anti-civility. On purpose. They'll call for civility while their drumming up death threats on an innocent restaurant owner. They'll paint any of us as bigoty racist unpersons at the drop of a hat, on national media, over the most trivial of episodes. Liberals call for civility for the same reasons rapists call for gun control.

Saint Croix said...

Political correctness takes sides. There's more substance. It makes people feel the need to take the right position.

I see what you are saying. Civility bullshit is shut up. PC is "say it this way."

But implicit in PC, in "say it this way," is "don't you dare say it another way, or say anything else." So PC would actually be even more controlling than civility bullshit.

Civility bullshit is demanding that you don't say X. PC is also demanding that you don't say X, and you better say Y.

Or are you suggesting that PC is an improvement over civility bullshit?

Saint Croix said...

Civility bullshit = "Let's not talk about race."

PC = "Talk about race in exactly the way we have instructed you to say, to think, and to act."

richard mcenroe said...

"Civility" is what proglodytes call for when you talk back to their arrogance and abuse.

Fen said...

Althouse: Civility is about a polite form of expression, and I have bullshit as part of the tag to express my opinion that the call for civility is bullshit, a trick to soften the other side's edge. Political correctness takes sides. There's more substance. It makes people feel the need to take the right position.

Exactly. In my experience, the Left only calls for civility when you have them on their heels. As soon as they get their breath back, they'll revert to calling you a racist sexist homophobe denier bitter clinger toothless redneck who fucks his sister.

When the Left calls for civility, its like a dazed MMA fighter calling for a break before you can land a knockout punch.

richard mcenroe said...

Proglodyte invoked "civility" even as they tried to blame Sarah Palin for the Gabrielle Giffords shooting by one of their own.

That sort of hypocrisy is their default state.

That's why I had "Civility" engraved on the barrel of the .44 at the time.

(I'm having another pistol engraved "Comity" and if I ever get anything with a long enough barrel I will name it "Collegiality.")

Unknown said...

Richard, if you've got a set of iron popup targets, could you engrave them with quote unquote vibrant? I'm so tired of hearing that word.