On The High Cost Of Civility

While I have a great deal of sympathy and considerable agreement with libertarian economic ideas [1], I am frequently reminded in moments like these why I part ways with libertarians when it comes to cultural matters.  We happen to live in an age where we increasingly demand to be treated with respect and show ever less tolerance to those who transgress our demands for dignity, even as we simultaneously have little interest in treating other people with dignity where they are on different sides of disputes from ourselves.  I find a great fascination with this situation, especially since I find myself on entirely the opposite side of the dispute from libertarians.  There are many people who wish to make jokes of one kind or another or engage in insulting ways of shaming people who violate our expectations (the way that conservative blacks and women are regularly insulted by those who would deem themselves in general to be speakers on the rights of such people), while there are others who enjoy humor that is based on traditional derogatory humor that tends to insult people with a broad brush and remind us all of the bad old days of the past.

Where I find myself entirely opposite to libertarians is that they have an attitude of live and let live that encourages everyone to pick up the mud and toss it at everyone else, and says that in a savage world of universal unkindness and crudity that everyone needs a tough skin to deal with it.  While it may be an unkind world, that is not an ideal I support. Rather, I support a world where everyone is treated with dignity and honor because they are human beings created in the image and likeness of God just as I am.  Being a person who is rather prickly about my own sense of dignity and honor, I can well understand how other people are equally prickly about such matters themselves.  Those of us who demand to be treated with dignity and respect have a corresponding moral obligation to treat others with respect.  It can, of course, be difficult to know how to respect others, but to the extent that we are keen on communicating to others what sort of ways we feel disrespected, so too we ought to pay attention to the way that others communicate what makes them feel respected or disrespected.

It is easy for me to see where libertarians and I come at the same problem of the contemporary double standard concerning dignity from completely different angles, and those differences are instructive.  The question is, what do we prioritize?  Do we have a higher regard for the honor with which we seek to be treated, or the freedom that we have to treat others with dishonor and disrespect.  To the extent that we value our freedom to insult others more than our freedom from insults, we will seek a world where there are no limits to the sorts of insults that pollute the commons because we will (perhaps rightly) assume that we can take more of it than our opponents can.  On the other hand, if we value the honor and dignity that we are treated with, we will correspondingly seek to put in the time and effort to restrain and retrain ourselves to treat others with dignity and respect and cultivate civility to the greatest extent possible in order to avoid the indecency we hate as well as the hypocrisy that we strive to avoid falling into.  Again, while it is common to be hypocritical in this way, one can resolve this hypocrisy by both a high road (civility) and a low road (universal incivility).  Libertarians are classic inhabitants of the low road rather than the high road.

This same contrast is one that divides me from libertarians in nearly any social issue there is, largely because those who desire the high road seek to cultivate a moral self-restraint and elevation and nobility of character and conduct that libertarians have no interest in cultivating and see no value in.  Virtue means nothing to a social libertarian; liberty is all, and all too frequently that liberty turns into licentiousness and a refusal to tolerate any restraint, internal or external, to the gratification of any and all selfish desires whatsoever.  Here too, we frequently find that we pick and choose which wrongs we rage against in society at large based on our own conduct, but most of us find ourselves both against certain sins as well as people who have fallen into some of those same sins.  Again, hypocrisy is the normal state of humanity when it comes to all kinds of moral matters.  The only way to get out of hypocrisy is to seek either the high road of moral virtue or the low road of universal depravity and the destruction of all barriers to our lusts and wants and greed and desires.  It is the adoption of this second road that makes one a libertarian.

Ultimately in life, we have to figure out what we most want.  Most people do not spend the time and effort trying to figure out whether they want honor and dignity and respect and goodness most of all or whether they want to be free to do and say what they want with whom they want whenever they want without anyone else being able to hinder them in the least.  Most of us feel somewhat torn between the desire to be treated well and the desire to be free to do what we want ourselves.  Yet some of us are pushed to try to develop some sort of consistent standards, either pulled towards a desire for moral and personal elevation of character that we wish to see in others and therefore will work on in ourselves, or whether we wish to be free from that which restrains us from doing what we want, and therefore which pushes us to tolerate the same sort of lack of restraint from others.  Those who are offended by dishonor and disrespect more than they desire to dishonor and disrespect others will simply not find any appeal in libertarian social practice, no matter how much incivility fills our public communications space.

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On The High Cost Of Civility

  1. Pingback: On Why Hypocrisy Is Easy | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Words And Witnesses | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: 7 Events That Made America America | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s