The Ultimate Incivility
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve long believed that human beings are overly touchy. Many actively look for excuses to take offense. This excess negativity isn’t just unpleasant. Due to the scarcity of attention and patience, unreasonable offense frequently crowds out reasonable offense. It’s no coincidence that straining gnats positively correlates with swallowing camels.
Rather than bemoan our loss of perspective, I’d like to rebalance the scales of offense. My two central maxims:
First, remain calm when someone questions people’s ideas or behavior. After all, maybe their ideas are false, and maybe their behavior is wrong.
Second, take offense when someone questions people’s presence or existence. When you complain about a person’s being around irrespective of their behavior, you go too far. Think of Braveheart‘s King Longshanks sneering, “The problem with Scotland… is that it’s full of Scots!”
Do our contemporaries really cross this line? All the time. When my kids book came out, plenty of folks remarked, “Well, some people should be having fewer kids.” They weren’t joking, and offered no constructive criticism of their fellow men. Instead, they dreamed of a world where some living, breathing children had never been born. That is not cool.
The same goes, of course, for mainstream conversations about immigration. Sure, people enumerate specific complaints about foreigners’ ideas and behavior. But the goal is not to change foreigners’ minds or reform their behavior – hence near-universal apathy for keyhole solutions. The goal, rather, is to rationalize deportation and exclusion of foreigners, regardless of how they comport themselves.
An old adage urges us to “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” My standards of civility are much less demanding but follow the same format. Getting rid of bad ideas and bad behavior is a worthy goal. Trying to get rid of people themselves, however, is the ultimate incivility.