One of the things TTAG prides itself on is civil discourse. TTAG has a policy of deleting ad hominem attacks and vulgarities in the comments section. While some may complain that this restricts their right to express their opinion on certain issues, the administrators maintain that it keeps us from looking uncivilized. I couldn’t agree more. The purpose of this article is to touch on civil discourse and how to get your point of view across without sounding… uncivilized . . .
Some time in the last 15 years, public speaking devolved from being an art form into giving any untrained person a microphone. “Being you” or “being real/authentic” became prized over being professional. Language better suited for the bar became acceptable in public. And ever since, public discourse has taken a nose dive. I personally believe that the anonymity the internet purports to provide is another reason for this. People say things on the internet that they would not otherwise say to a stranger’s face for fear of being rebuked, attacked, or possibly even killed.
During my undergraduate years at Notre Dame, I was a member of the Notre Dame Glee Club. It is considered by some to be one the country’s best all-male classical singing ensembles. While a member of the group, I participated in many white tie events. I had the pleasure of mingling with foreign dignitaries, politicians, and even got to eat dinner with the Secret Service on a couple of occasions. It was quite the experience.
Throughout all of this, our director maintained that we were to always act as ambassadors of the university and our art. We were all part of a large group and if one of us looked bad, it made all of us look bad by association. It was excellent advice and I apply the same line of thinking to anything I care about, my top two priorities being classical music and firearms. Civility is key.
One way to maintain civility is to avoid discussion of the controversial topics of sex, politics, and religion in polite conversion. In some cases, you may have to address a subset of those topics. When you do, stay to the topic at hand. For instance, if you are talking about the Democratic Party’s stance on gun control, don’t veer off into an attack on gay marriage.
There’s an old saying, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Well, it’s true. Recently, Shannon Watts posted a picture on Facebook of a pro-gun individual who snapped a picture with her. She claimed it was disingenuous of him to do so. Immediately, pro-gun people began to respond. As for the civil discourse… there was none. People began attacking Shannon personally. There were numerous sexual comments made regarding her, chiefly, that she was frigid and if some stud were to just lay with her, that she would be magically cured.
I do not like Shannon’s group. I disagree with everything they stand for. That said, Shannon Watts is someone’s mother, daughter, grandmother, wife, etc…. How would you feel if someone on her side made a sexually-related insinuation about someone close to you? Misogyny has no place in civil discourse. Neither does misandry or homophobia. Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are sexually frigid, insignificantly endowed, sexually confused, or need correction by intimate means. Bringing sexual language and insinuations to a discussion unrelated to sex is not conducive to the discussion at hand. It lowers the bar of discourse to the base.
The same goes for religion. On Thursday of last week, an article was posted about Boston area Catholic bishops who lent their support to a gun control proposal. Those Catholic bishops were in the wrong. I say this as an ardent and practicing Catholic. Nothing they said was religiously binding in the Church. They do not speak for the Church as a whole or for its individual members. It was an off-hand opinion by high-ranking clergymen.
What followed in the comments section was a wholesale attack on the entire Catholic church. With the exception of a couple people who were actually knowledgeable about the Catholic faith and had the wherewithal to explain how the bishops’ opinions were just that — non-theologically binding — the remainder of the comments were about pedophile priests. Lovely. These comments had NOTHING to do with either explaining or refuting misconceptions on which the Church’s stance on guns was based. They were attacks on religion. That’s all.
Let me put this into practical terms. Catholics make up a large majority of the US population. They make up a very large portion of the Northeast population. If I was a Catholic who sat on the gun-control fence and saw those comments, what do you think my opinion of the pro-gun crowd might be? If I was on the fence and a priest, how might I reword my homily concerning gun-related issues? Your personal opinion on purgatory, transubstantiation, and your time spent in the principal’s office at Holy Name of Jesus Elementary School, have no bearing on the gun control discussion. Insulting someone’s religion will drive them away really quickly. Either address the matter directly, or don’t address it at all.
We have covered sex and religion, now for politics. Specifically, politics unrelated to gun control. You know what would be great? Talking about Caracal pistols without having to read Arab-bashing remarks in the comments section. I forget where exactly it was, but there was an “Ask-me-Anything” with a rep from Caracal concerning their pistols. A couple comments in, people began hammering the guy with questions like, “What do you think of the state of Israel?” and other huge bomb throwing political questions. It happens almost any time there is an article about Caracal pistols.
There are a couple of new firearms upstarts in Pakistan that are beginning to export pistols. The guns look pretty good. I have a feeling that comments sections on gun boards are going to hammer these guys for the simple fact that they are from Pakistan. Asking a complete stranger their opinion on politics is considered rude. Even someone who voted for the same candidate as you might not have the same opinions regarding other political matters. Again, the quickest way to move from a conversation into a confrontation: start talking sex, politics, or religion.
One other thing to bear in mind:
Keep your swears minimal to non-existent. Nothing brings the conversation down to base level like the f-word. I was at a developer conference once where a new product was being demonstrated and the lady doing the demonstration thought she’d be edgy by dropping a couple f-bombs in her presentation. It wasn’t edgy, it was uncomfortable. The older investors in the room rolled their eyes. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t doing anything to help bring capital to her cause.
I realize this may seem long-winded. I’m sure a number of you will disagree with me. That’s fine. Just make sure you address the topic at hand in a civil manner when you post in the comments section. And please, no ad hominem attacks.