Global Ethics Corner: Politics and Civility

Oct 15, 2010

Civility has fled the 24/7 news cycle. Public life need not be this way. Why do we tolerate, even gorge, on this lack of civility? How do you handle public debate? Do you paint opposing views as demonic?

Civility has fled the 24/7 news cycle.

John Boehner, the ranking Republican in the House, is portrayed as "lazy and retrograde," as speaking loudly and carrying a large cocktail.

President Obama is demonized as a foreign-born Muslim and Marxist.

In the "liar-liar' Senate campaign in Illinois, both candidates mud-sling. Brooks in The New York Times admires the moderate Republican, but laments that "the system will inflame your weaknesses;" that "few people try to weigh the good against the bad and reach some measured judgment."

Polarity and negativity, however, are not new. Recall Antony's eulogy by Shakespeare, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones;..."

George Washington's tenure was underscored by a brutal public struggle between factions.

In 1919 after WW I, Yeats captured the despair about civil discourse:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

Politics seems to elicit centrifugal forces pushing views to extremes, rewarding demagogues. Modern technology amplifies division and scorn.

Public life need not be this way. Why do we tolerate, even gorge, on this lack of civility? We don't tolerate incivility among co-workers or at home.

What about you? Do you insist upon painting opposing views as insipid, corrupt, or demonic? How do you handle public debate?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Jennifer Steinhauer and Carl Hulse, "A Small-Town Boy From Ohio, at Cusp of Power in Washington," The New York Times, October 15, 2010, p. A1.

David Brooks, "Would You Run?" The New York Times, October 15, 2010, p. A 33.

Glenn Beck, "Obama's Faith" FOX News, August 25, 2010.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Mike Mertz
Eric Molina
United States Congess
Alexi For Illinois
M.V. Jantzen
Gilbert Stuart
George Charles Beresford
Joseph Shemuel
The Q
Imagery Provided by Photodisc/Thinkstock (NO LINK)
Víctor Martín

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