We’re experiencing a decline in civility, certainly in the nation and even here in Vermont.
We’re not isolated from internet incivility. We’ve experienced uncivil attacks on our non-partisan Joint Fiscal Committee. And regardless of how you feel about guns, we’ve watched the Governor being shouted down during his speech on guns in front of the State House.
The loss of civil discourse is considerably worse nationally, leaving people like me to wonder why this is happening.
Perhaps it begins with the impersonal digital communication tools we use today. We don’t meet face to face any more. And it’s easy to throw invective and insults through tweets.
Another factor may be abandoning the time honored tradition of eating together as a family. Television has moved us toward more gratuitous violence. And children are less exposed to the lessons of history in school – with the result that many young people don’t know much about our two World Wars.
The rapid development of communications technology keeps it far ahead of the conceptual ability of most human beings to deal with it - much less understanding the implications of using it badly.
This means we’re applying less perspective and data to issues over time. We’re being thrown into the intense consuming force of the here and now – where decisions are increasingly made on the basis of empty and unsupported argument - with little or no reference to the past, and even less concern for possible future consequences.
This trend away from history and thoughtful perspective, in turn, undermines civility.
To return our society to more civil habits wont be easy, but perhaps new social media apps could connect history to events of today more concretely.
Schools might return to a deeper and more meaningful concentration on history. Media could promote more fact based discussion and reporting and depend less on speculation. We could turn off the violent side of television and turn less to blogs and social media for our news and information.
Moves like these might enable us to pull out of attack mode and return our troubled world to greater civility.
We need this to happen because civility is the essential glue that holds us together, while incivility can only lead us, slowly but surely, down the unfortunate path to more confrontational – and tribal - behavior.