Let Us Mourn The Death Of Civility


“How do you do, dear twat?” “Oh, very well, Mr. Cocksucker.”

Are you tired ofthisstupidfuckingrefrain yet? Oh, boo hoo, life is just souncivil these days!

Naturally, that statement begs the question: As opposed to when?

Really, when was this Golden Age of Civility? Ten years ago? Fifty? One hundred? When the fuck was this time when everyone was concerned about etiquette and politeness? Because, honestly, I don’t think that shit ever existed. Let’s take a quick jaunt through American history, shall we?

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Ahh, colonial civility.

That’s Captain John Malcolm, a loyalist and customs official, being tarred and feathered by a Boston mob in 1774. Tarring and feathering, for those of you who don’t know, was a torture inflicted upon individuals by mobs. This incident occurred before the Revolutionary War. Nice and civil, no? I’m sure no one spoke out of turn or used bad words, so that makes it okay, right?

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Oh, how we yearn for these bygone days.

That’s Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the former Secretary of the Treasury and the sitting Vice President of the United States, fucking shooting at one another. Hamilton was, of course, killed in this 1804 duel. I’m sure Emily Post would have approved, as long as they had their pinky fingers extended on their pistol hands.

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I say, Sullivan, these morning constitutionals certainly are invigorating!

That’s an engraving of the Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1844. That’s right. People in Philadelphia rioted over a fucking rumor about what kind of Bible to use in the schools. Now, there was (surprise!) an anti-immigrant sentiment in Philadelphia. Instead of being terrified of brown people speaking Spanish, people were scared of white people with red hair who were Catholic. And these “Nativists” cared sooo much about the King James Version of the Bible that they just had to go and fucking kill some Irish Catholics. Who, of course, responded in kind. Very civil, that.

There’s much more after the break.

16 thoughts on “Let Us Mourn The Death Of Civility

  1. Ah, more invigorating than caffeine. Thank you for this morning’s wake-up.

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  2. soullite says:

    But i you’re forced to be civil, it’s a lot harder to point out that the elite are rapacious child-killing war mongers who gladly sacrifice the future of their country for money and power if you have to be civil about it.
    The point of civility isn’t really politeness. It’s to protect a very corrupt and narrow elite.

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  3. montag says:

    I think they mean the Reagan years, because he never said “blowjob” in public.
    Of course, he did joke, with the cameras running, that “the bombing starts in five minutes,” which the Soviets most likely thought to be very uncivil, and (after they checked the radar for incoming) a joke in very poor taste…

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  4. MapleStreet says:

    Well said.
    But you are arguing events. They are arguing the myth of america.

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  5. scout says:

    Americans like to think we’re so well heeled but to quote a great American (John Winger in Stripes) on the meaning of being American:
    “That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse…We’re Mutts”

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  6. Adrastos says:

    An instant classic. Good shit, man.

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  7. hoppy says:

    I think I get it now: incivility has been around for a long time, so it’s ok to keep it going now. Next time I disagree with something said in my local city council meeting I will just stand up and loudly express my contempt for those saying it. Next time I am at a gathering where someone is being honored, I will just grab the microphone and rant about how the wrong person is being honored. And, of course I will try to fit in a N word in every conversation.
    What am I missing here?

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  8. pansypoo says:

    there is an earlier congressional kerfuffle with cane and fire tongs.
    ok, how about the APPEARANCE of civility.

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  9. wolfetone says:

    Hoppy: What you’re missing is the point of the post.

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  10. Jude says:

    What you’re missing is that we shouldn’t idealize a past that never existed. These stupid stories are setting up current events as a contrast to a mythologized golden age of civility.
    No one’s advocating that you shouldn’t act in a decent manner. But let’s not act like these norms have just recently been violated. This shit isn’t new. It’s part of that hoary old the-sky-is-falling-things-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be narrative that just won’t die.
    Now, there are a few other ways to go with this. You could, as I briefly did, touch on how there’s a giant racist component to this “civility” bullshit. You could also bring up the class issue, which is closely tied to the race issue. Manners are white, middle- to upper-middle-class folkways that, like all such things, are arbitrary social constructs that change over time. Saying “fuck” in public, while it may offend some people’s sensibilities, doesn’t actually do any harm, or oppress anyone. Sure, more people say “fuck” in public now than before, but, you know, fewer lynchings.
    In a larger scope, mythologizing the past is something that the right-wingers (and lots of other people) love to do. They can get away with it because a) plenty of people don’t know shit about history and b) no one ever calls them on it. When you set up the past as a perfect time, and you compare the present to it unfavorably, you minimize new solutions to current problems. You just look to the past for the answers. That gives us “strict constructionists” and fundamentalists of other sorts.
    Fuck that. The present is fine when compared to the past. The past just has the allure of stability and inevitability because, you know, it isn’t happening any more. The truth is that life is fucked up right now, but life has always been fucked up. There’s always some kind of shit just waiting to destroy the economy, or kill everyone, or turn the world upside down. We just forget about the perils that never materialized.
    I realize that’s a bigger answer than you were looking for.
    Regarding civility, in the small scope, people should, you know, treat people like they want to be treated. I don’t like to traffic in “should” statements, because I’m more concerned with what is than what should be. But when people play nicely together, things tend to be more pleasant. Let’s just not act like badly-behaving people materialized from another dimension last week.

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  11. BuggyQ says:

    “When you set up the past as a perfect time, and you compare the present to it unfavorably, you minimize new solutions to current problems. You just look to the past for the answers. That gives us “strict constructionists” and fundamentalists of other sorts.”
    Damn, Jude. That’s some righteous shit, that is. I’m so gonna use that.

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  12. The Other Sarah says:

    Well, I’d argue, Jude.
    I truly would.
    I was alive and listening to joint sessions when LBJ was President, and Nixon, and Ford, and Carter, and Reagan, and Bush1, and Clinton, and yes, even w.
    Nobody ever screamed “You lie” at any of them during one of those speeches.
    Even when they were lying.
    So there is something different going on now. I think you touched on it with the lynching photo.

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  13. Interrobang says:

    Part of the reason that the right-wingers are getting so het up about us lefties saying various four-letter words is that we’re doing it in public, and various of us are not the Correct Sort of People to be Using Those Words, After All. Their ideological patriarch Nixon swore like a mad bastard, but he was a powerful, rich, white man and he did it around “just folks,” whereas we tend to (in their eyes) violate the “polite company” rule, since we’re neither behind closed doors nor “just folks.”
    Or, shorter Interrobang: They’re pissed because we get to say “fuck” in public but they don’t get to say “nigger” in public and get away with it.

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  14. hoppy says:

    Jude, that was a very good answer, but I also agree with The Other Sarah. My opinion is that things are indeed worse now than I can remember them being, and I’m 73 years old. Much of that is the difficulty that racists have with Obama being President. Part is the gradual acceptance we are giving to really rude, crude behavior. Ant the latter is what bothered me about your post. But, your bigger point that there never has been a “good old days” time, unless you happened to enjoy racial and religious bigotry, is a very valid one.

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  15. trace says:

    The thing is, the Forces of Destruction will use anything as a cudgel. If I say “fuck,” they’ll attack my incivility. If I’m polite, they’ll call me a pussy.

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  16. Jude,
    Just now getting caught up (damn work!!) and WOW! Great post friend!
    And yep, both you and Sarah are right. I guess it is a step up that now it’s only “you lie” vice a beat down with a cane (both delivered by South Carolians I might add). While the “right” thing to do is endorse a genteel civility among our legislators, I (and many others probably) secretly harbor the desire to see all those pompous windbag millionaires in the Congress turn the place into a cage match of epic proportions (kind of like they do in Taiwan). Sort of a real life “Celebrity Death Match.”
    Is that wrong? 🙂
    Unfortunately, the result of the cage match would probably also be the beat down of the Democratic caucus (with exception of Feingold and Grayson) and an even more emboldened, god-blessed Pube caucus.
    Sigh.
    SP

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