I frequently encounter rudeness on the Internet. When I do, I want to say, “Didn't anyone teach you any manners?” And then I realize that the rules of engagement are all different on the Internet. In fact, we’re kind of making them up as we go along. So, I asked a few friends for advice.
I don't get that excited about the perennial calls for civility in politics. Treating others with respect is important, and I certainly have no problem with political discourse that's even friendly and good-humored. But it's not clear that the latter serves any purpose beyond itself—that it builds understanding or encourages useful moderation or enables compromise. Chatting may be generally preferable to yelling, but it's not really a solution to division and gridlock. I do, however, appreciate timely reminders that our neighbors include those we disagree with.
After Sen. Rand Paul made an offensive (and unfunny) joke involving the word "gay," Tony Perkins (of the Family Research Council) criticized him: I don’t think it's something we should joke about. We are talking about individuals who feel very strongly one way or the other, and I think we should be civil, respectful, allowing all sides to have the debate. Whaaa? That doesn't sound very hate groupy!
North Carolina voters go to the polls today, and the race that will make all the headlines doesn’t have a candidate. On the ballot is a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal domestic union recognized by the state. I’m against the amendment--a popular view here in Greensboro. The city council passed a resolution opposing it. Light blue “Vote Against” yard signs dot the neighborhood around our church. Across the state, opinions are more varied.
On Sunday night I went to hear Dan Savage speak about the It Gets Better Project. The last time I saw him was 2003, if memory serves, in front of a crowd of perhaps a hundred. At one point Savage took a break from promoting his new book Skipping Toward Gomorrah to refer his audience to the now-famous New Republic cover story "The Liberal Case for War" (against Iraq). It was a good talk, funny and engaging, and it made a striking contrast with his Sunday appearance.