ATTENTION: See update below (1/21/11)
There is no debating the rise of incivility in our political discourse here in the United States, or the reality that vitriol is undermining the very functioning of our democracy. What is often overlooked is that we are all to blame for this crisis. That is the message of my editorial today in the San Jose Mercury News newspaper.
Here in the United States the topic of civility has been front-burner, given the tragic shooting in my native state of Arizona of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and many others. The motives of the killer remain unclear, but the anger-filled rhetoric we hear and read every day is very real.
I have argued for some time now that the onslaught of information in our interconnected age has combined with our use of self-filtering technology to isolate us from points of view that clash with our own biases. We place ourselves in hollows — often pronounced “hollers” — little different than the rural residents of early Appalachian settlements.
This isolation leads to a hardening of positions and an increasing intolerance of other opinions, and it spreads rapidly and virally.
A little over a year ago I launched a movement to increase civility across the globe, at least online, with iCivility.com. I didn’t set out to radically overhaul the political discourse here in my adopted home, Washington, D.C. I set a more modest goal — improving discourse in our online world.
About a year ago I was introduced before a speech. The think-tank president introducing me commented on my launch of iCivility, and said “Patrick Ross has accomplished a lot of things in his time in Washington, but I’m afraid with this new effort he’s doomed to fail.”
I suppose it all depends on how you define success. If success is an Internet free of vitriol and ad hominem attacks, then yes, I am destined to fail. But if I manage to a few open-minded individuals with my message of civility; if those individuals share the message with a few friends; if as a result a handful of those online proactively moderate their own rhetoric and encourage moderation in the rhetoric of others; then I would call that a success.
If you share my view that civility is critical to society and political discourse, I encourage you to share this blog post with your online friends. Together we can make a difference together.
UPDATE: (1/21/11) I’ve received a lot of positive feedback since my call for increased civility ran in the San Jose Mercury News, and traffic at iCivility.com has been up. But many people have told me I need to expand the campaign across other social media, and I now have done so. Please “like” iCivility on Facebook and follow iCivility on Twitter and let’s make a difference together.