By Nathan Barton
As an anarchist, as a christian, I see many causes of this incivility, but I also see a few effective responses to it – responses which are illegal or impossible in many cases in 21st Century America.
First is a saying attributed to Robert A Heinlein. “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”
The truth of this is reflected in many places, such as stories of the Old West (condemned by many as the “Wild West,” when in reality the gunplay and other violence in many modern urban areas far exceeds that of the frontier era). It can be seen throughout history. People who need not fear retaliation for their rudeness, and for the more extreme ways they are rude, are always willing to push more. Someone who is rude on the phone or as part of a crowd seem less so when they are actually facing a person, and one-on-one. The realization that your rudeness may drive someone to consider your actions and words to be aggressive enough to resort to self-defense (and with more than just fists) is often a better check than more remote actions (like lawsuits or restraining orders).
Of course, we are told by too many hoplophobes and hoploclasts that this just isn’t true – at least not in the 21st Century. They cite “heavily armed” societies like Somalia or Afghanistan or Mexico as proof that armed societies are ugly, rude, and brutish – might makes right. They claim that the gangs and corrupt governments easily override “a few armed citizens.” And they are right – to a degree. Fighting against a single criminal, or a single would-be tyrant might only require a few people with weapons, skill, and determination. But a polite society requires more than just a few good men with guns. Which brings me to my second point.
A civil, polite society needs a whole lot of really good people – people who value liberty and a lot more good character traits: kindness and brotherly love and a willingness to work together. That means a society that values freedom and community, not from a sense of forced “cooperation” and “communitarian values.” Good people want and need a community in which they can achieve their personal goals for themselves and their families – in which someone will not respond to every change with rude behavior and screaming “there oughta be a law.” But people who do not value liberty and these other traits we associate with civility may be figuring that they will achieve their objectives through dominating others, getting control and lording it over other people, forcing them to accept whatever is being done. Polite, truly polite people, are wiling and able to work things out freely and in voluntary cooperation. And accept personal responsibility for their actions.
I don’t mean that we need a society made up of mealy-mouthed goody-goody sorts. But we need people willing to think twice or three times before they start cussing out someone or screaming names – or swinging fists or shovels or drawing guns. We accept that THEY are responsible for their actions – and especially their response to injustice and mistreatment.
And that is NOT the kind of society we have. We have a society in which it is easy to refuse responsibility for our actions. To blame anyone else, to claim that “government does that,” or “it’s the fault of this or that group” or even “the devil made me do it.”
And for decades, society has encouraged that. More and more of our daily actions are dictated to us by others and our only responsibility is to obey those people and their surrogates (but as little as possible). But such servility is contrary to human nature, so it is natural to rebel, and to push more – to respond to rudeness by being rude. And since we can avoid most if not all of the consequences of being rude – extremely rude – it just gets worse.
Ultimately, we cannot long FORCE someone to be polite, or do anything to KEEP them from being rude. At best, we can defend ourselves from their actions. Usually, that ability to defend ourselves is enough, as Heinlein was pointing out. But sometimes the incivility so permeates the society that we cannot fix the problem without more effort. And government and totalitarianism (often touted as the solution) has never done so effectively.
So what can we do?
If we cannot in some way isolate those people who are rude to the point of danger from us, then we must be prepared to protect ourselves and our families and communities from that sort of person. Not by forcing them to do anything but by being ready to keep them from doing harm to us and ours. And, if necessary, to withdraw from them and from the society (and governments and institutions) that encourage and protect them. We are at that point.
For, enough is enough.