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Robert B. Talisse on “Civility”

Talisse argues that everyone is for “civility,” in part because we predictably ascribe civility – whatever we think that is – to ourselves, and not to our political opponents.

He suggests thinking about “civility” as something like (I paraphrase) being able to see the good reasons and values behind our political opponents’ positions, even if we don’t share those reasons, values, and positions. And taking others’ political views, and their right to have them, into account when forming our own.


The full article is here.

Image: Henry Gerbault, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

7 responses to “Robert B. Talisse on “Civility””

  1. Hmm. I want to agree with that article but I do not. I cannot quite put my finger on what bothers me, but right off the bat where are living in a culture that does not seem to believe that other people have the right to exist and to form contrary opinions. That’s a fundamental human right and without that foundation dominating the whole narrative, there can be no civility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You mean, “without that foundation [of the idea that other people have the right to exist and to form contrary opinions] dominating the whole narrative”? Indeed … but I think that’s what he’s saying, too: that “we” have taken up positions that amount to “democracy for me but not for thee,” because “we” seem to have the idea that if “the others” win on anything it will spell the Suicide of Everything Good and Decent. Because “they” really want nothing more than to annihilate “us.” Whoever “we” are. So, if we think that, then having someone ask us to consider what good and decent reasons our opponents might have for thinking and feeling and acting as they do sounds stupid, and also, I think, very threatening. Like, it’s basically asking me to (a) trust that “the others” do not, actually, just want to annihilate me, and then (b) be open to considering actually changing my mind a little, possibly, about something. And “we” have gotten to the point where even thinking about all that feels possibly stupidly self-destructive (the annihilation thing), as well as vaguely treasonous, I think.

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      • I agree and of course it varies somewhat across the country depending on the community. Here where I live however, there is no denying that many of us have been marked for annihilation. People have been unjustly thrown in jail, we’ve lost our jobs, mobs have been rioting and smashing windows, and we’ve been labeled as domestic terrorists for not supporting it all. To not acknowledge that the motivation really is our destruction, would be dishonest. That is especially true when we have politicians and leaders saying exactly that, we are the designated enemy and they will not rest until we are destroyed. Suddenly everyone wants amnesty for their criminal behavior, and there are sudden calls for civility. Nope, many of us are not interested in reconciliation anymore.

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      • There is legit a lot of targeting in this country. It comes from “both sides” – that’s as if there are two sides, really, rather than multiple ones – and aims at “both sides” – ditto. When people talk, for instance, about how “homo marriage” is destroying this country and needs to be put an end to … it’s hard not to take that personally, as a statement that I shouldn’t even be here. I try to listen anyway. But yes, it does seem rational to feel threatened. Or at least to feel the need for some caution. Like … the negotiated cease fires that need to be worked out may be tougher to bring about than Talisse thinks.

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  2. There’s a lot to like in the article you posted, but I can’t help but feel it was written for a different, more innocent time in this country, like say maybe 10 years ago, when both sides at least agreed on certain things, like the goodnesses of America’s founding principles, the badness of Socialism, only 2 sexes, etc…

    There’s always been nastiness in politics and as a long time conservative woman surrounded by very liberal people, I’ve become almost immune to people labeling a certain way because of my beliefs. I’ve always seen this done way more by the left , but yes the right definitely does this too. No matter what happens today. with the elections, the country is going to continue veering off a cliff for quite some time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do think he assumes that if we scratch the surface most people share at least a fundamental good will, and also have good reasons for their opinions. That may be what makes him seem innocent – those assumptions seem wrong to a lot of people these days. But then, I think that’s what he’s saying is our problem – that we are assuming the worst about others and don’t trust them. Unfortunately … restoring trust is really really hard, in the best of times. And these are not the best of times. It is especially hard to trust people who seem to despise us, or hold us in contempt, and talking about “them” (whoever they are) as despicable and contemptible seems to have become the default mode.

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