Pleas for civility meet with... incivility, but that's okay
When I was growing up, the mayor of my hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, had "Be nice to people" inscribed prominently on all the city's police cars. This was the 1960s, and the Dearborn police had a reputation for being not nice at all on some occasions -- particularly when interacting with African-Americans.
Even as a pre-teen at the time, the irony did not escape me. Mayor Orville Hubbard was an unapologetic racist who ordered the police to "shoot looters on sight" during the Detroit riots of July 1967. (As far as I can recall, no looting or other incidents occurred in Dearborn or any other Detroit suburb during the six days of upheaval that summer.)
The realities of human nature aside, I can't help but wonder what the world would be like if everyone just tried to be a little nicer -- especially toward people who don't talk, think, or look like them. Maybe we should start a niceness campaign.
Oops! Looks like some folks have already begun to do so, only to meet with serious resistance.
For example, it wasn't particularly civil of Karen Handel, the Republican candidate (and apparent winner) in the Georgia 6th Congressional District special election, to blame the current lack of civility in political discourse on the press, as the Guardian's Ben Jacobs reports in a June 20, 2017, article. Specifically, Handel said, " there is a lack of civility in society as a whole, social media has been fueling it, journalism has been fueling it.”
Handel forgot to add that politicians have been fueling it as well. But in the spirit of conciliation, let's all put our pointing fingers away and ask what we as individuals can do about incivility. In fact, giving up trying to place blame might be a good start. As Mark Knopfler wrote, "When you point your finger because your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointing back at you."
Preachers of incivility have a receptive audience
Drew Magary, a podcaster for Deadspin, argues that treating rude, obnoxious, discourteous people civilly enables their incivility. This strikes me (figuratively) as the exact wrong approach. The more untoward a person's behavior, the more important it is to demonstrate the need to maintain a civil demeanor in the presence of boors. This often requires checking your irony and ridiculousness meters at the door, however.
For example, Herman Wong's article in the June 18, 2017, Washington Post quotes Ted Nugent saying, "I encourage even my friends, slash, enemies on the left, in the Democrat and liberal world, that we have got to be civil to each other.” Yes, the man who said then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama should "suck my machine gun" is now espousing a kinder, gentler political discourse.
Likewise, recently sworn Congressman Greg Gianforte of Montana is quoted by the Associated Press's Matt Volz in a June 16, 2017, article as saying, “It’s important to make sure we reach out to all parties and hear their voice." It wasn't that long ago that Gianforte was reaching out to a reporter for the Guardian so he could body-slam him in response to a question about health care. Irony meters aside, it must be noted that Gianforte's comment was made only four days after he was convicted of assault as a result of the incident.
The attack on civility extends to the very definition of the word. Merriam-Webster gives "courtesy" and "politeness" as synonyms. It does not mention that it applies only when the other party extends the same civility to you. However, the Conservative Review has its own definition of the term:
Pointing out when someone is lying, as in an intentional attempt to deceive, is needed to maintain civility. As is exposing hackery, hypocrisy, and partisan idolatry.
The publication includes "vehement disagreement" in its definition of "civility," as it does "bombastic" arguing, "biting" satire and parody, and "[m]ocking the credibility of a reporter." At this point, I'd like to circle back to Merriam-Webster's "courtesy" and "politeness" to ask where vehemence, bombast, biting parody, and mocking fit in. Among the synonyms of "vehemence," for example, are "aggressiveness," "fierceness," and "violence."
At the risk of causing offense, I feel compelled to point out, in the words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
So how about we start our civility campaign by agreeing on the word's definition? I propose -- humbly, politely, and courteously -- the eminently simple, "Be nice to people."
All the private data Facebook collects displayed in a single graphic: Yes, I am hammering on the social-media behemoth, but I'm doing so as politely as possible. I believe it's important for people to understand the price they pay for surrendering their personal data in exchange for access to their social network. WordStream founder Larry Kim combined all of Facebook's ad-targeting options in a single monster infographic.
Advertisers can choose to target any of 12 "relationship status" options, nine "household composition" options (including "Young & Hip"), 11 "mom" types, 13 "digital activities," 15 "purchasing behaviors" (including "Subscription Services"), and 11 categories of "charitable donations" (including "Political" and "Religious").
Facebook claims to anonymize this data before providing it to advertisers, but this claim rings hollow. Researchers at MIT Media Lab found that they needed only four pieces of information about a shopper's movements on a particular day to "uniquely re-identify 90 percent of individuals" based on anonymized credit-card receipts. The information is "often easily deducible" from people's social networks, according to the MIT researchers. Help Net Security's Zeljka Zorz reports on the study in a January 30, 2015, article.
This is just one example of how easy it is for a third party to combine "anonymized" online data with other public sources of information to tie those private attributes to an individual. In a post from back in May 2011, O'Reilly Media's Pete Warden explains "Why you can't really anonymize your data."
Keylogging comes to web forms: A company called NaviStone promotes its ability to identify anonymous visitors to websites, as Gizmodo's Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu report in a June 20, 2017, article. One site taking advantage of NaviStone's service is Quicken Loans, whose online mortgage calculator collects sensitive information about your finances before you click the Submit button or agree to the service's privacy terms.
From such information as your email address and phone number, NaviStone can report your name and home address. And the company grabs this information the moment you enter it into a web form. Also using NaviStone's service is a company called Acurian Health, which finds people after they have searched for some medical term. If you have auto-fill enabled in your browser, the auto-filled information is scooped up automatically -- no manual input required.
A report by University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo on Acurian Health's practices found that collecting information before a person chooses to submit it "clearly violates a user's expectation," according to the Gizmodo authors, and may violate 15 U.S. Code § 45, which punishes "unfair and deceptive practices." (California and Massachusetts also have state laws against the practice.)
About that lack of civility....: The March 22, 2017, Weekly mentioned Pro Publica's hate crime scorecard, which began following the November 2016 Presidential election in response to the government's failure to track hate-motivated attacks. In a June 20, 2017, article in the Miami New Times, Jessica Lipscomb reports on the surge in discrimination against and abuse of "immigrants, people of color, members of the LGBTQI community, and other marginalized groups" in Florida.
An analysis of the 169 reported hate crimes in the state shows that more than one-third of the victims were targeted due to their race or ethnicity, nearly the same number of attacks were the result of religious discrimination, 13 percent of victims were immigrants, and 10 percent were targeted due to their sexual orientation. In one-quarter of the cases reviewed by New Times, the attacker either invoked the name of the President, or the victim believed the President was "indirectly to blame."
Lipscomb concludes that the number of reported hate crimes may be much lower than the actual number of such crimes because victims are often unable to articulate that the attack was motivated by hate, or the police categorize it as another type of crime. Convicting a perpetrator of a hate crime is particularly difficult because the state must prove motive, according to an official at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office quoted by Lipscomb.
The hate-crime count of the U.S. Department of Justice is about 260,000 such occurrences each year. However, this number may be far lower than the actual count because reporting hate crimes by state and local police is voluntary. We can help stem the rising tide of hate crimes by being watchful and reporting all such acts to the local police and to the Pro Publica hate crime scorecard.
Trump: 'A walking, talking opioid' for 'white people's anguish': In a June 19, 2017, article on AlterNet, Salon's Chauncey DeVega describes Tim Wise as one of our country's "leading antiracism activists." In an interview with DeVega, Wise says white people just want to be numbed, and Trump is the guy to do it. According to Wise, many white Americans refuse to face the fact that this is not a "white" country.
White males in particular believe their masculinity is imperiled by multiculturalism. For Wise, the rise of Trump and the rise of opiate addiction go hand-in-hand: Both promise to "take away your pain," according to Wise. Of course, the addicts of both the Trump and opiate variety soon learn that the "medication" causes more dire problems than their "condition."
A bigger mystery for Wise is the refusal of the media to "shine a light on the white supremacists in Trump's administration," according to DeVega. Wise attributes the rise of unapologetic white racists in the Republican Party to the failure of everyone else to "directly confront white nationalists." The failure to confront white racists is exacerbated by the growing disconnect young people in particular feel toward their community and toward "human empathy," Wise claims.
How do you respond to people who don't listen to facts and who repeatedly vote against their own interests and those of their neighbors? According to Wise, "we have to get better at crafting a narrative that essentially allows us to plow right through that kind of stupidity."
We're all falling victim to 'digital dementia': Thirty years ago, people knew at least a dozen telephone numbers and almost as many street addresses by heart. Nowadays, we may not be able to recite our own phone numbers, not to mention remembering birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and the route home from Grandma's house.
As Forbes' Tony Bradley writes in a June 19, 2017, article, our memory and cognitive skills may be impaired by our dependence on smart phones and other digital devices. Bradley quotes learning expert Jim Kwik as saying "digital dementia" is not a permanent, irreversible condition. Instead, it's the result of an untrained memory, according to Kwik. Just as with our physical condition, we can improve our mental abilities through regular exercise.
How do you begin a memory training program? Step one, Kwik claims, is to pay attention. I would very much like to finish this thought, but my phone just pinged to alert me to an incoming email.