Civility is about more than just politeness. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Indeed, “civility represents a long tradition of moral virtues essential to democracy. Virtues like empathy, humility, integrity, honesty, and respect for others are ideals of democratic engagement.” Without civility a society can morph into verbal, accusatory, offensive verbal attacks on one another which is the way things are headed in the U.S.
Jack contrasts this with a recent take on civility by Ann Althouse:
Calls for civility are always bullshit, because the real motivation is political advantage. Usually, the civility-demander is trying to get opponents tone it down and not take advantage of whatever hot passion and energy they’ve got on their side.
Sometimes though, the civility-demander wants a faction of his own side to rein it in, because it might scare the moderates and interfere with the message that we are the sane, reasonable, smart people. When that happens, you can get some in fighting, with the supposedly uncivil people insisting that now is not the time to be civil. These people are calling bullshit.
For the record, I can certainly see the value of civility in communicating values and ideas, and when calls for civility arise from within a faction, as Althouse describes in her second quoted paragraph above, I think they are worth listening to. But when the call for you to be civil comes from an opponent, it’s almost always a self-serving tactic. It’s almost always bullshit.
Calls for civility are a cousin of calls for “unity,” and they are bullshit for the same reasons. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say something like, “In these troubled times, we need to be unified…and therefore I am withdrawing my position and will be supporting the opposition’s plan.”
That never happens. Whenever someone calls for “unity,” they are almost always trying to consolidate their power by calling for their opponents to surrender. Calls for civility directed against one’s opponents are just a variation on that theme. They are a cheap trick to gain advantage in an argument.
In a piece responding to Chuck Todd’s claim that popular distrust of the press is due to conservative attacks, Jack responds as if Todd had completely denied the existence of media bias. It’s a subtle difference, but one that serves Jack’s purposes in making the media look stupid and drawing attention away from his own attacks on he media. But the real fun part is this Trump-like declaration of superiority:
What? My business and training include detecting bias, and there is no reasonable, factual argument that the news media isn’t biased.
On Wednesday, and not for the first time, Jack expressed his distrust of Google. That’s because Senator Chuck Schumer suggested renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after John McCain, and shortly thereafter it started showing up as the McCain Senate Office Building on Google Maps.
But it’s not Google’s role to lobby for the change, or worse, to make it unilaterally, as it did today on Google Maps. This was especially bad—but helpful!– timing for the giant tech company, as it is under fire for political bias by the President, who tweeted that the search engine was “rigged,” and Congress, and Google’s CEO just refused to be questioned on the Hill. These companies, like Facebook, Amazon and Twitter, are arrogant beyond all measure, drunk with their growing power, and ethically inert. You can regard this episode as just a funny glitch if you like.
I think it’s an inadvertent warning.
Google explained what happened in a piece that Jack actually links to:
By early afternoon, the error was fixed, and all queries for “McCain Senate Office Building” in Google maps were redirected to Russell. A Google spokesperson suggested the change was prompted by user suggestions.
“We empower people to contribute their local knowledge to the map, but we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies or premature changes suggested by users. When this happens, we work to address as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.
Someone pointed this out in the comments, but Jack wasn’t having any of it:
Sounds like lame excuse to me.
That’s not an excuse. That’s literally how Google works. A big part of Google’s business model is sifting through information provided by other people to find useful information. When you do a Google search, just about everything in the non-sponsored results was written by people all over the internet and selected by Google’s algorithms, based on other content from people all over the internet. It’s automated crowd-sourcing of information. Yes, it can and has been gamed, but most of the time it does a pretty good job at teasing information out of the cacophony of the web.
So I can “suggest” that the Capitol be called “Das Kapital and the White House Be renamed The Fright House” and it will just fly right through? I doubt that.
Probably not. But if you pick a less famous building and get a few hundred other people to go along, then yeah, probably.
With great power comes great responsibility. The people who own and operate the big tech companies are not responsible enough, diligent enough, smart enough or ethical enough to control the power they have. This shows that we are foolish to trust them to the degree we do.
Speak for yourself, Jack. Some of us take the time to learn about the tools we use. Besides, what’s the alternative that is actually better?
By Friday, Jack was also mad at Wikipedia because he felt the entry on Bruce Ohr was tainted by liberal anti-Trump bias, since it did not comport with Jack’s deep suspicion of the FBI and the Mueller investigation. That post has been edited hundreds of times by dozens of people, with more of the same in the commentary on the Talk tab, and somehow Jack thinks there is something called “Wikipedia” that made it partisan.
Jack also writes about Stanford’s policy of forcing students with mental health issues to take a leave of absence:
Stanford’s website says that a leave may be encouraged or required for a student whose psychiatric, psychological or medical condition “jeopardizes the life or safety of self or others, or whose actions significantly disrupt the activities of the university community.” I don’t see how anyone can argue with that.
The part about jeopardizing others or being disruptive to others seems entirely reasonable. But that’s not what the suit is about, as Jack himself explains:
A lawsuit is challenging the practice of universities of sending students who admit suicidal tendencies home rather than trying to help them on campus. The class action suit accuses Stanford of accusing the university of discriminating against students with mental health issues by coercing them into taking leaves of absence, rather than trying to meet their needs on campus.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jack disagrees with the lawsuit:
Bad law suit, and bad theory. If there is one thing the past several years have made clear, colleges and universities perform horribly one they start trying to do anything other than teaching—and they don’t even do that so well, in too many cases. Students with serious emotional and mental problems should be put into the hands of professionals, and such decisions should be the responsibility of the family, not educators.
This is so wrong, on so many levels.
First of all, when somebody in your community comes to you for help, you should try to help them if you can. That’s just the compassionate thing to do. And even if you can’t help them, what you don’t do is kick them out of the community.
(There are exceptional situations, of course, such as when somebody’s mental health problems could harm the community. These situations are rare, but they do happen. There are also “communities” that are not substantial enough or too special-purpose be able to offer the right kind of help.)
Second, some of these students are depressed and anxious and reporting suicidal thoughts. Now I’m not a mental health professional, but I’m pretty sure that what you don’t do when a suicidal person asks for help is stress the living fuck out of them by unnecessarily thwarting one of their major life goals.
Third, it’s possible that the student’s family situation is the cause of their problems, and forcing them back into that situation would exacerbate the problem.
Fourth, Jack says students with mental and emotional problems should be put into the hands of professionals. Well, Stanford’s department of Counseling and Psychological Services has a staff of three dozen people, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Stanford has professionals.
Fifth, given that Stanford offers these services to students, they are obligated to provide them when students meet the requirements for receiving them.
Sixth, Jack takes the position that colleges and universities are too incompetent to do anything that’s not teaching. But the course of action he defends, kicking the students out, is an example of exactly that kind of incompetence.
- Jack: Colleges and universities are too incompetent to help a student with mental health problems.
- Also Jack: Colleges and universities are totally competent to decide that a student’s mental health problems would improve if they were forced to leave.
Seventh, Jack’s position is disrespectful of the students’ abilities to make their own choices. The students in question are not so mentally ill as to be incompetent. If they want to quit school and go home, they can. If the school’s mental health counseling service really believes the students’ mental health would benefit from a leave of absence, they can counsel the students to take one.
Finally, on Sunday, Jack takes one of his commenters to task for accusing him of writing more about politics than ethics. Jack refutes this with numerical statistics. I’m inclined to agree with Jack here, especially since I’ve begun writing these round-up pieces. I’m responding to a lot fewer of his posts than I thought I would, because most of his posts are about sports or showbiz, and many of the rest are not about heavily politicized issues.
Ross’s comment also reminded me that I need to add the “so called ethicist” and “self-anointed ethicist” to the magic phrases that can get a commenter banned.
I’m probably guilty of that. I am generally suspicious of people who call themselves ethicists because it comes across as an attempt to put lipstick on busybodyism. (I’m a busybody on this blog, but I don’t pretend otherwise.) Also, some ethicists have truly stupid and sometimes horrifying views.
In addition, I don’t think it’s entirely fair for Jack to complain about being called a “self-anointed” ethicist, when his bio page on his professional website lists no specific training in ethics, no certifications in ethics, and no membership in professional ethics organizations (although he is a member to two bar organizations which presumably have ethics codes). Although perhaps Jack is just objecting the the connotations of “self-annointed” and would be okay with alternatives such as “self-described.”
That’s not to say that Jack is a fraud. People ask for his opinions on ethical issues, and they ask him to teach ethical issues to others, and they pay him enough to make a living, so he’s definitely a professional ethicist.