Coturnix on Civility and Politeness

I don’t agree that civility is action and politeness is language. Politeness is formal arbitrary cultural convention, while civility is also arbitrary cultural convention but as dictated by Westernonormative agents. Both apply to language and behavior.

But whatever.

This post by Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock is Bora’s take on online civility as well as an excellent link farm pointing to all the other stuff out there on this topic, and this is what you should read in preparation to the civility session at Scionliten, this year’s Science On Line conference.

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32 thoughts on “Coturnix on Civility and Politeness

  1. Why is the civility session the only one that will not be made available for non-conference goers to see? Isn’t that rude? Or is that the point.

  2. Sonia, that’s the only session being led by someone using a pseudonym who doesn’t want her image being shared with the world. I’d say more that it has to do with the politeness or civility of respecting her wishes.

  3. This is completely off topic, but I thought some people here should see this. Site reports that, “Obama Names Transgender Appointee to Commerce Department”, apparently one of the first, if not the first, transgender appointee in government. How do the people commenting on the article respond? See for yourself:

    Note also the ratings of the comments.

    I feel sick.

  4. Politeness is formal arbitrary cultural convention, while civility is also arbitrary cultural convention but as dictated by Westernonormative agents.

    Greg, if I understand your distinction you’re saying that in a Western context the two words are synonyms. Outside of a Western context, they aren’t.

    I’m curious about English-language semantics outside of a Western context.

  5. Interestingly, one could not have deliberately chosen three bloggers who I would trust less to speak on the topic of trust than the ones leading this session, without drawing from the Discovery Institute or WorldNutDaily.

  6. DC: I don’t realy want to make a big deal out of it, but I tend to think of the word “civil” as reference “Civilized” which is a pretty western concept the way it is generally used.

  7. Is this the same pseudonymous blogger that has already appeared on blogging heads?
    If it is then I hardly see the point for the secrecy here.
    If she wants to hide her face then she can wear the same mask she wore there.
    She didn’t try to disguise her voice so whats the deal with the request for no audio?

  8. Sigmund, we were all asked, “Yes or no?” on recording. Allowing individuals to specify something in between would be a nightmare for conference organizers. And no, you can’t effectively moderate a large group discussion, which is what the sessions at Scio10 are, wearing a surgical mask and sunglasses.

  9. My etiquette meter was calibrated on Bill Hicks, Mary Prankster and Warren Ellis, so I’m pretty sure I’d be persona non grata at a “civility” session the moment I opened my mouth.

  10. @Greg: I think I understand your reservations about a word like “civility”. Still, as Coturnix pointed out quite well, there is a clear difference between using appropriate language, and acting appropriately. It’s clearly possible to be very rude, while never using foul language. How would you word the difference?

  11. Deen: I think we are so far from understanding this issue that we are not near the point of having correct wording.

    I do think the following: If you take ten bloggers and have them each define what is “ok” and “not ok” they will be different definitions, and then if you wait six months it will be possible to come up with dozens of examples where each blogger violated their own proscription.

    We have seen great inconsistencies in the science blogosphere in this regard. As far as I can tell, incivility, while heartily defended by some, is usually (but not always) manifest as bully-like behavior or a kind of rule-hypocrisy (you do as I say, I won’t).

    One question I would have is this: Is the politically necessary lack of civility (the throw-off-the-repression of civility thing) a ticket to not ever have to revise one’s remarks, admit one is wrong, or even apologize when one shits all over someone else in the blogosphere? In other words, when the un-civility is used as a tool and one accidentally bruises someone who should not have been bruised, is it necessary, as part of the un-civility thing, to walk away like nothing happened (thus throwing salt in the wounds)? Does an apology or a retraction ruin the power of un-civility? Or is the lack of redress simply the mark of low character…

    But, regarding the remark above that this is not exactly the group one might assemble as experts in how to act in the blogosphere … there are two things to consider. First, this is an un-conference and a discussion. Go to the discussion and participate and everyone’s voice will be treated equally. That is the nature of hte conference. Second, these three organizers do have very different approaches from each other, which is why it should work.

  12. Well said, Greg. I can say with great humility that I recently chose not to admit a mistake in a series of blog comments because I knew I would just get shit on some more if I did.

  13. A post on this just popped up at Adventures in Ethics. Janet substitutes the word “civility” with “regard” and counts that as defining “civility”. As far as I can surmise “regard” is a more obscure word the “civility”. And then it seems that when someone things someone else is not giving “regard” sufficient, the interesting thing is “what does that mean.”

    The academic has spoken.

  14. @Greg: interesting question. I think if you’re going to use un-civility as a tool, you should be aware of how you’re using it and why. It seems to me that the point is usually to show that you don’t respect certain ideas, for instance. The point is usually not that you want to show how much of a jerk you can be. So if it turns out that your aim was off and you hit the wrong person, an apology should be the right response.

    And if someone thinks you lost face for apologizing, well, you can always turn the incivility up a notch again – and carefully aim it at them ;).

  15. Ridicule has utility as an educational corrective, apparently:
    (behind a pay wall)

    And honestly, some ideas deserve nothing but scorn. Let’s say the inventor of the Time Cube philosophy (no link, it’ll consign me to the spam bucket for sure!) came to debate astrophysics with Neil de Grasse Tyson. How could Tyson adequately answer any of the Time Cube whackjob’s arguments?

    Likewise, when someone throws out Pascal’s Wager or “Hitler was an atheist” in earnest in the middle of a serious theism / philosophy debate, considering how many times the charges have been answered and by how many people, and how prima facie wrong these arguments are, sometimes you have to serve up the rebuttal with a heaping helping of incivility.

  16. “I have met very few people who are any good at this.”
    Well fuck you with a goat! I’ve actually met a lot of people who are good at this (although I’ll grant George Carlin is at least three sigma above the mean here). Perhaps some of us inspire better incivility than others. *looks insufferably smug*

    Also, some people seem to be *bad* at incivility, but that is because you don’t know their agenda. If one simply wants to make the more moderate voices (whose agenda one actually wishes to advance) sound reasonable, it’s arguably more effective to be less effective.

    @Jason- I knew it. That study proves men are all goatfuckers.

  17. Other than unmitigated constant unending asshatery, which is of no use to anyone, using un-civility always involves, eventually, defining how it works and when to use it and when not to use it . That is what people are bad at. I’m forever hearing “This is what you should not do” and then seeing the person doing it.

    Anyone can pull the trigger on a shotgun.

  18. Unmitigated constant unending asshatery has a great deal of entertainment utility, if you can be ridiculous enough to avoid stomping on real emotions.
    Your mother was a hampster and your father smelt of Elderberries!

    Defining uncivility and how it works and what it’s used for is attempting to create a formal code out of exceptions to the formal code for behavior. It can certainly be done, but to try to do it in a truly generalizable way gets tiresomely meta and vague very quickly.

  19. Your mother was a hampster and your father smelt of Elderberries!

    Hey, is that a new shirt? You’re daddy get a job?

    try to do it in a truly generalizable way gets tiresomely meta and vague very quickly.

    I might already be very tired of this discussion. But I do wish they were recording it.

  20. Fuck you Greg!!! Suck toes covered in toejam!!!

    I am all about the incivility, but with effective incivility comes the necessity to be civil about it. When your aim is off, it always pays to apologize. People lose slightly less respect for you being such a fucking asshole, when you at least are reasonable enough to apologize when mistaken.

    That, and the chicks think it is really fucking hot…

    I will not however, apologize to Greg for my overarching comment above. While it may seem unwarranted, I am certain that he is thinking something that would really piss me off right about now…

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