Friday, June 29, 2018

Niceness versus civility

The hardest thing to understand is an idea you accepted before you knew you could question it. Like most of us, I was taught to be nice while I was learning to speak. For decades, I had the vaguest idea of the differences between niceness and civility, but watching people rage at the idea we should be civil has helped me see how very different niceness and civility are, and why people who value niceness may hate civility, and why some, like me, may come to think that niceness is a refuge for hypocrites.

Niceness and civility are both forms of politeness, yet they're as different as grape juice and wine:

Nice people don't like disagreement.

Civil people enjoy civil disagreement.

Nice people think respect means being gently deferential to social superiors like parents and bosses and celebrities they admire.

Civil people think respect means treating others as equals, no matter how different their circumstances or views.

Nice people divide the world between nice people and mean people. They are nice to nice people, but since they believe mean people have rejected niceness, they feel free to treat mean people rudely.

Civil people divide the world between people who act civilly and people who act rudely. Civil people are nice to people who act nicely and civil to everyone else.

The nice person's impulse to defer can make them respond nicely to something mean. Then they regret it and say something like "I don't know why I stepped aside" or "why I didn't slap him", and their friends assure them "it's because you're too nice." "Too nice" is a gentle rebuke that nice people use to remind each other that sometimes nice people must be rude for two reasons: a nice person's rudeness tells a mean person that they are not being nice, and it tells other nice people that the nice person is defending niceness.

At its most extreme, the belief that niceness does not need to be shown to mean people results in something many nice people will deny: mobs often consist of nice people. The jurors in the Salem Witch Trials were thought nice by their neighbors, as were the people who blacklisted suspected socialists during the Red Scare, as are the people who join in mobbing online and off.

The civil person's impulse to treat everyone as an equal can inspire nice people to take offense when they think a mean person is being treated with insufficient contempt or a superior is being treated with insufficient deference. The Quakers are a famous example of the latter: their insistence on politely treating nobles as equals made nice people think Quakers were not nice—which was true. Quakers were not nice. They were civil. They may've seen the difference between civility and niceness in the Bible. Luke 6:32-33 points to it:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.
Many of history's worst monsters were nice—Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, said he was "a pleasant boss and a fatherly friend". Niceness is called a virtue, but it shouldn't be—responding nicely to nice treatment is a trait we share with many species. The true virtue is civility, which calls for overcoming our tribal desires for vengeance and treating all others as full members of the human community.

PS. If you think you cannot protest injustice and be civil, look to the example of the civil rights heroes.


Another difference: Nice people think nice people don't lie, so they believe nice people who accuse others. Civil people think accusations should be examined thoroughly before deciding guilt.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Three reasons the left should learn from the civil rights movement and reclaim civility

Opponents of civility do not understand it. Civility is not niceness or etiquette or deference or loving your enemies. It is only the most formal form of politeness. It calls for treating others as your equals when you think they are not. It is loved by diplomats and hated by people who love war. Its purpose is not to prevent hard discussions—it’s to enable them.

Historically, the left and right embraced civility for one reason: it's effective. The civil rights workers of the '50s and '60s were always civil when they engaged in civil disobedience because they knew three things the modern left has forgotten:

1. Civility lets you speak with the people you need to convince. Martin Luther King said, "We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade."

2. Civility makes your side look good and the other bad. The heroes of the civil rights movement did workshops before engaging in civil disobedience to help protesters stay civil under the worst provocation:
The key to the sit-in is non-violence, but it takes a tough inner fiber neither to flinch nor retaliate when, occasionally, hooligans pick on the sitters-in to discourage them or provoke them into some violent act. Fearing the stress on sensibilities and temper to which a sit-in could be subjected, the high school and college students of Petersburg, Va. studied at a unique but punishing extracurricular school before they attempted sitting-in.

In the course, which they ironically call "social drama," student are subjected to a full repertory of humiliation and minor abuse. These include smoke-blowing, hair-pulling, chair-jostling, coffee-spilling, hitting with wadded newspaper, along with such epithets as "dirty nigger" and "black bitch." Anyone who gets mad flunks.
3. Civility is popular. In the recent example of a business owner expelling a Republican, "72 percent say it is wrong to eject someone from a restaurant for their political views."

Defending incivility, angry leftists say, “But Trump's not civil!” That's true. It's part of the reason he was the most unpopular candidate ever run by a major party, and he only managed to squeak through the Electoral College because the Democrats chose to run the second most unpopular candidate. His incivility is an excellent reason not to emulate him.

Bernie Sanders is the country's most popular politician. This principle is one reason why:
"Let's treat each other civilly. Let's treat each other respectfully and let's not try to demonize people who may have disagreements with us." —Bernie Sanders
If you have to vent, vent in private with friends. In public, keep your eyes on the prize.


Niceness versus civility


Here's Malcolm X pointing out that you can respect people and oppose them too:

"Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." —Malcolm X

The American Heritage Dictionary makes a useful distinction:
Civil often suggests the barest observance of accepted social usages, as in the avoidance of rudeness: "Mr. Bingley was unaffectedly civil in his answer, and forced his younger sister to be civil also, and say what the occasion required" (Jane Austen)
An example of feminists doing more damage to their cause than any antifeminist could: Feminist Cringe.

Considering Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Beyond Vietnam' - The Institute for Civility in Goverment: "Beyond Vietnam: A time to Break the Silence" is not the speech by Martin Luther King Jr. we remember. But if we're interested in civility, we should."

Opting Out by Thomas Chatterton Williams

The American Scholar: Opting Out - Thomas Chatterton Williams: On the decision to “retire” from being black

Worth reading for its own sake, of course, but also because it includes this quote:

“Treating race as a social fact amounts to nothing more than acknowledging that we were mistaken to think of it as a biological fact and then insisting that we ought to keep making the mistake.” —Walter Benn Michaels

Sunday, June 24, 2018

This may show the problem with the current masters of Fourth Street Fantasy

The people who love safe spaces are the people who love a story that says bravery is walking away. And, of course, those people love that story because they don't even have the courage to walk away. They enjoy their economic privilege by insisting the main problem is social privilege.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

On comics panels within scenes—especially for 3d comics artists

Comic artists can learn a great deal by studying movie-making, but there are things that don't apply. In particular, a shot in a movie scene has different rules than a panel in a comics scene. The shot must convince us that we're still in the same scene, so some continuity is necessary—if nothing else, the lighting should stay consistent, and so should the color of the background.

But in comics, you can often get away with no background at all, or a background that consists of visual effects that aren't meant to be interpreted literally—effects like speed lines are symbolic representations of motion and have nothing to do with where the reader assumes a scene is set. Once a comic artist has established the location of a scene, the reader will assume anything that follows is happening in the same place until something indicates that the story has moved to a new location.

Remembering this is especially useful for 3d artists because the medium makes it too easy to have complex backgrounds in every panel. Study the old masters of comics storytelling, and you'll find they did their best to put no more than necessary in a panel. Additional detail may seem realistic, but it only complicates a panel and slows down the reader.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Weaponizing politeness

Being asked to moderate your tone is called "tone-policing" by social justice warriors. If I was prepared to enter a Wikipedia edit war, I would correct their entry on tone-policing, which currently says tone-policing is
an ad hominem and antidebate appeal based on genetic fallacy. It attempts to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented rather than the message itself.
If that was correct, then any attempt to establish terms for debate is a logical fallacy. But the truth is tone-policing is only a request for common courtesy.

When SJWs say they reject tone-policing, they are engaging in their own form of tone-policing: they're saying they may speak rudely because they are oppressed, but others may not speak rudely to them. The tactic is often effective with polite people, who shut up and wonder if they were being rude by being polite. They end up like a computer in a 1960s sci-fi show: This does not compute! This does not compute!

Social justice warriors reject politeness because they fear what politeness is meant to create, a level playing field where everyone may speak. Suspecting they cannot compete as equals, they demand a quiet audience for their views. Their goal is to turn a debate into a lecture and their opponents into students. They cannot imagine a world where people treat each other as equals.

Related: The Terrible Sea Lion: Persistent Politeness is Loved by Friends and Feared by Foes

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Definitions of and for identitarians, neoliberals, and social justice warriors

Neoliberalism: Contemporary capitalism that promotes privatization and deregulation. Replaced Keynesian/New Deal liberalism in the late 20th century. Prominent neoliberals include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Justin Trudeau, and Emmanuel Macron. Extreme neoliberalism practiced by people like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and the Presidents Bush is also known as neoconservatism.

Socialism: The belief that our economic class—whether we can live off income from what we own or must work to survive—matters most, and therefore wealth must be shared. Socialism can be democratic or authoritarian. Though socialists prioritize class, the history of the struggle for equal rights for women and people of color is filled with socialists, from Charles Fourier who gave feminism its name to Martin Luther King, a democratic socialist.

Identitarianism: The belief that our social identities—race, gender, nationality, religion, and so on—matter most. Right-identitarians believe people of certain identities are superior. Left-identitarians believe people of all identities should be equally represented from the top to the bottom of society.

Right-identitarianism is ancient. The belief that men are superior to women is, as Marx and Engels noted, as old as the class system, and the idea that white people are superior dates back to the invention of race and “white people” in the 17th century.

Left-identitarianism is much younger. After the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Ivy League academics like Derrick Bell, father of Critical Race Theory, rejected the anti-capitalism of thinkers like King and Malcolm X. Where socialists saw sexism and racism as tools of the rich to divide workers, liberal reformers saw unique forms of prejudice and oppression that could be addressed in isolation. This reductionist approach sometimes put feminists and anti-racists at odds. To resolve this tension, one of Bell’s students, Kimberlé Crenshaw, developed the theory of intersectionality.

Intersectionality: Originally, the belief that race and gender are independent forms of oppression that sometimes intersect, creating unique hardships for people like women of color who are doubly oppressed. Left identitarians have added class to their analysis, but it fits awkwardly: people with social identities want respect for their identities, but poor people want an end to their economic class.

Social justice: Originally, the belief that the rich should treat the poor with respect and kindness. First developed by Catholic priests in the early 1840s as an alternative to the growing movements for democracy and socialism that resulted in the revolutions of 1848, social justice remained a religious concept for over one hundred years—the famously anti-semitic Father Coughlin published a magazine called Social Justice, and during the civil rights era, people like King and Malcolm X did not use the term.

In the 1980s, the name was appropriated by left identitarians to describe their concern for social rather than economic justice.

Social justice worker: Someone who works in the world to help the poor. Social justice workers like Dorothy Day and Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara treated everyone with love and respect. Their tactics include civil disobedience and peaceful protest.

Social justice warrior: Someone who rages online about social identity. Social justice warriors reject civility and “tone policing”, and treat their targets with contempt. Their tactics include censorship, doxxing, blacklisting, and death threats. For an early example of SJWs doxxing and terrorizing a woman in the science fiction community, see The Outing of Zathlazip.

Possibly of interest

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems by George Monbiot.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

On the Hidden Figures movie, and the inadequacy of the white savior/magical Negro distinction

Finally saw Hidden Figures, a movie I meant to see on opening day and just kept running into reasons to put off.

The quick take: Great movie. If you care about space flight or civil rights, see it. The casting is perfect, the directing is solid, the script is quietly competent.

But what I want to talk about is a moment that choked me up for a long minute after I asked Emma to pause the film, the "passing the chalk" shot when the white administrator gives the chalk to the main character so she can show everyone what she can do.

That shot is the moment that every civil rights struggle in the US results in: first rich white men gave the vote to poor white men, then white men gave the vote to black men, then men gave the vote to women, then straight people gave the right to marry to GLBTQ people. There has always come a time when the people who had full rights under the law were convinced to share those rights even though sharing weakened their power. This is the reason I continue to have hope for my species.

Some people say Costner's character is a white savior, but it makes as much sense to say he's a magical Negro: he's a supporting character whose purpose is to help the main characters. Supporting characters never have room to be fully realized: all we know about Costner's is that he claims to have a wife, but we never see him at home, so the wife could be imaginary or his name for a male lover, or anything the viewer cares to assume, because Costner's character's only purpose is to support the star. He does an excellent job, managing to be both gruff and understated simultaneously, but what's noticeable about his performance is no different than what's noticeable about traditional "magical Negro" performances: the actors take simple parts and make them memorable, even though they have less to do than the stars.

Hidden Figures is not a profound movie. It is better than that: it is an honest movie that deserves its success.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The medical form asked if I was being insulted or mocked

I filled out a questionnaire at the doctor's today—I went because I seem to be losing my hearing in one ear—and quickly realized the form was meant to find out if people needed help and were hesitant to ask for it. One of the questions was about whether you get insulted or mocked. There wasn't an option for "Yes, I talk about politics on the internet", so I checked no.

Friday, June 1, 2018