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When Civil Society Comes Apart

We have a problem in America. It’s a difficult one, the edges of which are blurred. On the one hand, we have a rise in the voice of hate groups that make public their racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices. Their members often turn their anger into violence. These people need to be identified, vilified and stopped. On the other hand, we have the wider public, which is divided along political and cultural lines. People honestly differ in their world-views, and debates from their respective positions are the backbone of a healthy democracy—but such debate is currently filled with hate, and our national reaction to those who don’t agree with us is to criticize their character as much as their beliefs. Such hate-filled discourse also sometimes leads to violence and even when it doesn’t it leads to an unhealthy atmosphere of mutual distrust and an inability to form a shared vision of what our country stands for.

Hate groups are malignant forces within our society, and many of their members are filled with dangerous malevolence. We’ve seen the results of this kind of hate in the last week. These groups are dangerous and their activities and influence, which appear to be spreading, need to be contained. When the larger society condones hateful messages and violent actions, not only do members of these groups become emboldened, but their messages become more appealing to disturbed and disgruntled individuals. There should be no public approval or looking the other way when media, public officials or national figures fail to disavow and distance themselves from hate messages or from figures associated with hate groups, or subtly reinforce pejorative stereotypes or conspiracy theories based on such stereotypes and prejudices. Failure to condemn statements of this type leads to wider acceptance of them and encourages those who make them.

Our president has a responsibility to take the lead in condemning hate groups and hate messages and not promoting conspiracy theories or false information based on prejudiced stereotypes. Unfortunately, he often fails at this task and his failure has given credibility to dangerous attitudes and beliefs that have led to violent acts by unstable individuals who believe them. But if those who oppose him and his supporters do the same by spouting nothing but extreme anger and giving credence to conspiracy-laden accusations, then they are also to blame when no one will speak civilly to each other and when extremists respond to their opponents with violence (remember—a Trump supporter sent bombs, but also a Trump opponent/Sanders supporter opened fire on a group of Republican representatives).

It’s easy to point fingers at the offenders of civil discourse, whether it be public officials or media figures, but it appears to be difficult to do so with civility. In fact, our political and opinion leaders on both sides have made it a badge of honor to say that “the other side” doesn’t deserve civility. Anyone who thinks that the political left or right has a monopoly on such thinking or such conversations is probably listening to only one side. Both sides see the other as lacking in morals, both sides see any attempt to understand or work toward compromise with those who disagree with them as giving in to evil.

The big picture is that our society is disintegrating in front of us, and instead of anyone trying to fix it, we are all spending our time and energy placing blame. There is enough blame to go around. It’s time for people to resist the temptation to hate and to try to find common ground and respect to allow us all to get along. The alternative is a hate-filled, vigilante society in which neighbor fears neighbor and we splinter into irreconcilable subgroups, each one of us self-righteously sure that we are right and our opponents are not just wrong, but deserve to be treated with disrespect and violence.

As I said, anyone who believes this only applies to “the other side” is part of the problem.


Reader Comments (10)


October 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

Your basic premise is both flawed and untrue. There has been no rise in hate or hate groups in this country. People in the US are amazingly accepting. The primary thing that has changed is the way in which hateful acts and hate groups are defined and politicized. The vast majority of incidents labeled as hate speech and hateful acts are mainly people expressing a non-progressive viewpoint that has nothing to do with true hate or true violence. This has long been a leftist tactic used to foment the oppressor/oppressed narrative that has kept Democrats near the wellspring of power. This false narrative has unfailingly been broadcast by the legacy media although it has been excessively amped up since the election of President Trump. I’m always surprised not only that people don’t see how they’re being manipulated, but also that we can have such a low opinion of each other. There are still a few hateful, bigoted people out there, but their impact is both pathetic and neglible. Society is not disintegrating in front of us, but our perception of each other’s motives is being warped by power-hungry entities that find benefit by causing disillusion and fear. I don’t see hate or fear in everyday life nor will I believe the unsupported claim that we have somehow lost the ability to see decency in one another.

October 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

The individual who responded to Casey's thoughtful comments, so eloquently and yet so out of touch with reality of the state of affairs in America, that it seems he has been living in a different universe.
He/she blames just about everything that is going on, "Leftist tactics used to foment oppressor/ oppressed narrative".Without responding point by point on his deeply flawed reasoning let me just
point out few statistics. It is not leftist that has caused 47,220 gun violence in 2018. it is "Corporate
Greed" and the" Corrupt Politics of the Congress", that we are at war with not just ourselves, but
with the rest of the world, fighting in 7 countries, that we spent $7 trillion dollars in the Middle East, but have over 40 million American living in poverty........take a moment and think, please!
of the country who live in poverty level and below .

October 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Most of the gun violence you’re referring to is suicide and gang violence. Of course these are lamentable issues, but they do not at all reflect on the typical behaviors and responsible attitudes of legal gun owners. I’m in agreement that the US is overly involved militarily in too many foreign countries. That money would be far better spent on domestic concerns. As far as being out of touch with the reality of this country, I can assure you that just today I directly worked with nearly fifty of our most vulnerable, destitute citizens in my state. At any given time, I’m responsible for overseeing the well-being of eight to ten thousand people who are mentally and physically disabled and who live well below the poverty line. I help everyone who asks for assistance and I can assure you that these people have no interest in being propped up as political tools for any partisan cause. So again, my viewpoint is not out of touch with our most vulnerable people and is in fact very much in alignment with a very harsh reality that I’ve spent sixty hours a week over the past fifteen years trying to combat.

October 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

I may be wrong, but it seems the majority of the people who commit these crimes, have had at least
one or more of their guns with proper permissions.These are instruments of killing people at wars,not deer hunting!..Please take a look at the statistics in Europe and or Japan. We are turning the country into an armed camp. When second amendment was written, the Gov. did not have F-18 or F-35 that can wipe us out from what, few hundred miles!. and they are now for sometimes, have been promoting the idea of teachers carrying gun to school, or churches, now the Temples! the height of absurdity. Democrats do not have the exclusivity on corruption and being out of touch with the majority of the people of this country.. I am referring to those who run the party, not rank and file..

, .

October 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSam

You are wrong. Sixty-five to ninety percent of all gun violence is committed with illegally obtained weapons. The majority of the remaining gun violence by registered gun owners is committed by either suicides or mentally-ill people. If we were to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from acquiring guns, gun violence would drop by ninety to ninety-five percent. Removing guns from typical law-abiding citizens will actually increase gun violence by criminals and the mentally-ill.

October 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

Please read statistics that are not manipulated by the gun lobby and the think tanks used as a facade
of their propaganda.Based on the right and not manipulated statistics," Law abiding misuse causes
most gun death in US" or , when a 2 year old child shooting his mother...Speaking of suicide, the last
statistics I read, 22 commit suicide are Iraq war veterans..so there is no argument about "Guns & Wars"
being good for anyone individual or nations, except for those who profit!

October 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSam

The stats are solid and searchable. They are governmentally obtained and politically neutral.

October 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

For a Price, anybody can get stats that would suit their agenda.
Only very few are reliable. And those tell a totally different picture
than what you are saying..

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSam

CORRECTION: 22 Iraqi veteran commit suicide each day, this was stats 3 years ago.. No idea how many now..

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSam

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