Is Civility That Difficult?

In less than a month, Virginians will head to the polls to cast their ballots for three statewide contests as well as to vote for all 100 members of the House of Delegates.  The most-watched contest is the race for governor, which features three candidates: Democrat Ralph Northam, Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and Republican Ed Gillespie.

As regular readers of this website know, I believe the worst outcome for the long-term future of liberty in Virginia would be the election of Ed Gillespie.  Unlike Mr. Gillespie, I feel it is important to do whatever we can to prevent further gerrymandering and work to expand political choices.  However, I do know good people who support each of the candidates.  Nevertheless, the purpose of this piece isn’t to delve into that topic, as I’ve done so elsewhere.  If you’d like to rationally discuss this idea, please send me a message.

From time to time, I post something on Facebook regarding the governor race.  Along these lines, on Thursday of last week, I shared a poll, the first of October, which shows Ralph Northam with a 13 point lead.  Although it is a considerably wider margin than any other poll (and thus I’m assuming is inflated), like other polls it maintains that Northam has a winning percentage greater than the margin of error.

However, when it comes to discussing the matter on Facebook, it has become a rather nasty affair for some people.  The conversation often goes something like this.  I post something which I think demonstrates Ed Gillespie’s hostility to promoting liberty in Virginia.  In response, one or more of his Republican supporters declares that Gillespie is the only way to stop Northam, that Gillespie is the lesser of two evils, and that half a loaf of bread (Gillespie) is better than none (Northam).  I replied suggesting that this half of a loaf they think they will be getting from Gillespie won’t materialize in the way they expect and offer a few examples of his positions to offer proof of my claims.  You would think that they would present evidence to rebut what I had said, but instead, they often launch into personal attacks against me.  To the best of my memory, not once has anyone offered proof or even made the claim that Ed Gillespie is, in fact, the pro-liberty candidate in this race.

Let me give an example.  As I’ve written previously, I think that Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) is one of the best members of the Virginia House of Delegates.  However, in this election cycle, he is supporting Ed Gillespie for Governor.  Obviously, in this matter, he and I disagree.  However, last week when I got into a discussion with a now-former Facebook friend, that person declared that if I didn’t support Ed Gillespie I would be betraying Freitas and stabbing him in the back.  I decided the best course of action was to block this person rather than deal with these kinds of insults.  Unfortunately, this incident was only the first.

In one of the many political Facebook groups of which I am a part, this week a fellow posted a statement from Cliff Hyra stating that Ed Gillespie favors increasing state spending by $2 billion, hardly a fiscally conservative position.  I asked if he could share the video of Gillespie making that statement, which he did.  However, in the interim, a former staffer for a member of the House of Delegates began making some very rude statements about me.  Rather than attempting to refute some negative attributes about Gillespie’s positions, he instead began attacking me (it seemed odd, especially given that I don’t really know the fellow).  As a result, I told him I didn’t have any interest in engaging him in conversation which led him to declare that he must have the superior argument and reasoning.  I stated that no, my reason for not debating him wasn’t due to his victory, it was because he didn’t actually debate the issues and decided to attack me instead of trying to refute my argument.  One of his friends sprang to his defense, but as I had already defriended this other fellow some months before due to his history of rudeness, I said I had no interest in engaging him either.  On Thursday afternoon, while sitting in my political statistics class, I was reminded of a saying about playing chess with a pigeon, but, instead of sharing it at the time and stooping to the level of insults, I just hoped the situation would end without further confrontation.

Am I wrong here? Do you all find personal insults to be a persuasive and effective strategy to winning an argument?  Do you think to yourself, I should change my position, not based upon logic or reasoning, but because this person was disrespectful toward me?  I would assume it would be more likely that it would only harden your previously held conviction, now convinced that the other side had nothing substantive to counter your claims.  It reminds me of a moment in the early part of this year when I disagreed with something Denver Riggleman’s campaign manager said.  Rather than trying to convince me of his position, he instead chose to belittle me.  When I decided it was best not to speak with him further, he continued to insult me.  Do you think this action by his staff would make it more likely that I would support Mr. Riggleman’s candidacy or less?  I assume the answer is obvious.  I asked a fellow blogger about it and her recommendation was to ignore the Riggleman campaign.

Getting back to the previous matter, both of the two fellows remained silent for the rest of the day, which I assumed was the end of the conversation.  However, on Friday morning, the first guy tagged me in a post declaring that unless I agreed 100% with a candidate or political party I was supporting, I must be a hypocrite.  As you might imagine, this led to his blocking.  Shortly thereafter, his friend chimed in to declare that I was an insane hypocrite which resulted in his blocking as well.  Both of these folks previously were involved on the Moxley for Senate campaign.  One might think that activists would act more cordial to folks with a similar outlook, but unfortunately, the exact opposite can be true.

So far, in the last several months I have blocked three people on Facebook; all of them are Republican activists as mentioned above.  In case you were wondering if I am block-happy, during my approximate decade of time on Facebook, I’ve blocked less than 10 people, but they all have been for similar behavior.  Unfortunately, with the way things are going, I suspect that I’ll end up blocking a few more people (or at least defriending them) before this election cycle has concluded.

Why is it that politics brings out the worst in people?  Why can’t people engage in civil debate, sticking to differences on issues and policies instead of diving into the gutter of ad hominem attacks?  It seems that is it hard for some people to say that although I disagree with your opinion, that doesn’t mean I should treat you like human garbage.  Getting back to an earlier point, although I think Delegate Freitas is mistaken for supporting Ed Gillespie (and I assume he thinks likewise of my position on that matter), should we toss aside the fact that we agree on a vast number of issues and instead brutally insult each other, taking turns declaring that the other is a fool and a traitor to the cause of liberty?  I should certainly hope not.  And yet some political activists have publicly engaged in this kind of behavior!

Although the goal is to create an environment where we can focus on political disagreements and not devolve into personal attacks, in a moment of frustration or anger likely we have all insulted someone who thinks differently than ourselves.  I’m sure I have.  But, we should be mindful of this kind of behavior and do our best to curb it, otherwise, our discourse will morph into an exchange of insults and degradations.

I’ve stated that no matter how the 2017 elections go, I am looking forward to them being over and working together, even with those who preferred a different gubernatorial candidate, to expand liberty in our Commonwealth.  But even that sentiment has been met with hostility from certain individuals.  Remember, no matter which of the candidates you support, if any, that opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are smart or dumb, a patriot or a traitor.  Each individual is more than the value of one or two of his or her political preferences.

I’ve found one great aspect about attending grad school is that I am afforded the opportunity to believe whatever I wish so long as I can back it up with evidence and that I can engage in civil dialogue on a host of political topics without concern about being insulted.  By comparison, even when you present evidence on social media, it often will be dismissed as “fake news”, not because it isn’t true, but because it doesn’t conform with the reader’s preconceived beliefs.  Even worse, it is likely that they will attack you viciously for not accepting their groupthink mentality.

You wouldn’t think that civility would be that difficult, would you?