26 August 2020

On InCivility

I'm just waiting for when some speaker — likely more than one — at, or perhaps at one remove from, the Rethuglican National Convention invokes "civility" as an objection to Black Lives Matter in general, or to protests against whatever the latest police shooting of a minority happens to be by the time of the speech. I can guarantee three things about that speaker:

  • He or she1 is relatively financially successful, and if he or she ever had a past period of less-than-middle-class existence it will be blamed on religion, foreigners, or addiction.
  • He or she1 will not have a close family member involved on either side of a use-of-force incident; and this is perhaps especially damning if the speaker is a law-enforcement official.2
  • He or she will vehemently reject any protest other than civil speech to the Powers That Be as inappropriate, and imply that such a protest is a personal insult to him/her and/or the entire law enforcement community. And unchristian. And unamerican.3

All of which relies upon a damned big assumption that the history of this nation rejects (and for all our faults, we've got a better history than damned near anyone else):

Civil presentation of grievances through peacable assembly by have-nots to the Powers That Be is not just necessary for change, but sufficient.

The First War of American Secession (c. 1774–83) rather refutes that assumption. So do Shay's Rebellion, Aaron Burr's various adventures, the Alamo, the Trail of Tears, the Second War of American Secession (1861–65)… and we haven't even gotten to "minor" things like DReconstruction yet. Or out of the nineteenth century. Or beyond white christian male landowners' concerns… or off the plantation.

In America, we're very good indeed at reifying the peaceful orator, and even the peaceful resister. (Europe, Asia, and especially Southwest Asia and Africa are actually much worse about this.) But there's a figure in the background that the Establishment figures, especially a generation or so later, who entrench the narrative, don't just neglect, but bury. We learn about Frederick Douglass, but not John Brown; about Susan B. Anthony and (maybe) Emmeline Pankhurst, but not Edith Ainge; about Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, but only as much about Malcolm X as is necessary to paint him as unamerican at best.4

We're even better at divorcing grand principles from the flawed, often dubious, people behind them. We learn nothing at all about Roy Olmstead (or Charles Katz), Ernesto Miranda, or Clarence Gideon. Even in the face of tragedy — what do you know about Eric Garner's life before he was placed under arrest for the heinous alleged crime of selling single cigarettes from allegedly untaxed packs… and died in an already-prohibited chokehold?

Civil presentation of grievances works when there's a clear — incivil — alternative smacking the Establishment in the face, leaving it little choice but to negotiate in good faith. That is what Jefferson was referring to when he opined that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing. It's been too long since 1968 (or 1970); hell, it's been too long since 1991. And that's just about police brutality; the incivil alternative just has not been clear here in the kingdom of the (wilfully) blind.

Civil discourse needs to result in civil change. When it doesn't, that lack of civil change is not just asking for, but demanding, less-civil discourse. And that leads to the last unfunny irony of this so-far civil argument: That the Establishment figures who are purportedly "listening" refuse to understand the urgency of change for those who are trying to engage in that conversation, let alone actually change anything that is beyond their own (un)enlightened self-interest (≡ greed).5 They want to move with all deliberate speed… which means somewhat slower than a heavily tranquilized snail (trail of slime included).

  1. Or "they" if more than one. I find it difficult to believe that any approved speaker supporting this group of white-sheet-wearing activists would use the singular "they" with all of the current gender-fluidity issues it drags in.
  2. This is disturbingly akin to a problem with the pilot community in the Air Force, which has a strong tendency to discount the problems of "supervision of significantly junior subordinates" and "command authority" because significant supervisory and actual command authority aren't granted in that community until (ordinarily) O-4 (Maj) or O–5 (Lt Col) — at least a dozen years after commissioning — notwithstanding the grandiose and deceptive title "aircraft commander" ordinarily bestowed on pilots of multimember-crew aircraft. They simply don't get it, because they have no real exposure to it until it's actually on their plate. The good ones seek out advice from those with more experience; the good and humble ones seek out that advice from officers in other parts of the service who've been dealing directly with those issues since commissioning.

    Sadly, there isn't enough of that humility in the Air Force (or the US Navy's pilot community). There sure as hell isn't in law enforcement; in this county and three surrounding, virtually all of the candidates for Sheriff included "never used deadly force" in their campaign literature. So, one must ask, what is their basis for supervising — let alone disciplining — those who do? Which is not to say that it's impossible to do so without having already done it; it is to say that it requires a lot of attention of the kind disdained, as a cultural imperative, by county sheriffs (and deputies).

  3. … without ever acknowledging the echoes of the Army-McCarthy hearings in that word that resonate so strongly to those of us who thought about, and swore, to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic — and meant it. And particularly to those of us who watched the coopting of significant parts of the officer corps by the mindless indoctrination (at times, brainwashing) practiced at the Cold War military academies — indoctrination that was a significant factor in Beirut, and Iran-Contra, and more other discreditable incidents than I care to remember.
  4. There's that word again. If one is a literal textualist, our first few Presidents and Vice Presidents (and Senators and Representatives and Justices of the Supreme Court) were "unamerican" because they weren't born as United States citizens — if you were born before 17 Sep 1787, there wasn't a United States of which to be a natural-born citizen.
  5. What this says about the so-called "prosperity gospel" movement is… unchristian. By its logic, if one does not have the full panoply of civil rights, one does not deserve them because one hasn't worked hard enough nor been faithful enough for them to be showered upon one. Nor ever come face to face with Maxwell's Demon — not even in a mirror. The extraordinary claim that "economics is unlike every other system known to us and can freely ignore the Second Law of Thermodynamics" requires extraordinary evidence, whether one accepts Carl Sagan or Pierre-Simon Laplace or David Hume or any of a dozen others as the source of that aphorism.