On Facebook recently, I ran across an entry that accused Hillary Clinton of being evil, a crime boss and a killer. As a Hillary supporter, I stopped to ask the writer for corroboration of his charges and reminded him that even in a free society, slander is a crime. Getting facts about a political candidate isn’t difficult. FactCheck is a good place to start. (Click). Of course, a person has to want the facts. Slanderers rarely do. They prefer to vent a prejudice that has little to do with facts.
Political campaigns rarely bring out the best in us and at these times, our emotions can rise enough to challenge our humanity and our culture. (Blog 7/13/16) Aristotle, as far back as the 4 century B. C. pointed out that the assumption behind a democratic society is that its citizens share a degree of common interests and goals Cicero added that this fellow feeling, humanitas, is the natural break against the aggression of our selfishness and private interests. (“Lessons in Civility,” by Daniel Mendelsohn, Town&County, August, 2016, pg 72-73) Sadly, when these two attributes become more important than our patriotism, the nation is in trouble.
How we treat each other is a measure of where we stand as a democracy. As Daniel Mendelsohn remarks in his essay, manners and civility aren’t quaint notions left over from Victorian times but are “deeply political issues.” (Ibid, pg 72.) That so many are losing their civility doesn’t mean it’s right to go on in that vein. Civility smoothes out friction in a free society and allows the engines of government to work. Without it, civilization grinds to a halt.
Years ago, in a study I can’t entirely recall, I learned a direct relationship exists between words and violence. First come violent words. Next come violent actions. If a society is to remain cohesive, violent words have no place in it. Unfortunately, thanks to the internet, we don’t feel as accountable for what we say as we might if we were meeting our nemesis face to face. Without the threat of consequences, we are free to behave like creatures of the wild, our passions and anger outpacing civility and reason.
As Mendelsohn points out “..from the rhetoric of intolerance it’s only a short step to the politics of intolerance.” (Ibid, pg. 73.) If we love our country, let us bear that warning in mind.