Sunday, July 1, 2018

On "Civility"

Yesterday, I marched in downtown Los Angeles against the Trump administration's policy to separate immigrant children from their parents at our "border." I joined tens of thousands of other Los Angelenos on a beautiful southern California afternoon in protest of our government separating thousands of children in what appears to be a systematic form of child abuse and crime against humanity.

America is not a great country at this point, if it ever was, and anyone who's arguing for more civility is deluded and naive. My friend, the great writer Lidia Yuknavitch said the other day on her social media account that civility has always been determined by those in power. 

Civility has always been defined by those in power.

We have babies in cages on our "border" (not to mention the dismantling of environmental laws to protect the planet, the specter of women losing reproductive rights, the vilifying of the press, the collusion with world dictators, the Muslim ban, the racism that permeates literally every single directive from the POSPOTUS and his enablers) and are being told, even by those on our "side" (Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, etc.) that it isn't "American" to deny someone like the lying press secretary a peaceful dinner in your restaurant. This doesn't settle with me -- and not the so-called lack of civility.

What, exactly, does civility mean, and how has it been defined in this country from its very inception?

These aren't rhetorical questions but, rather, real ones that are if not tormenting me than at least filling up my mind to the extent that I feel near anguish. The anguish comes, I think, because the situation at hand calls for so much self-reflection -- so much probing of one's interior, one's ego, one's impulse to be right. I say one's because I imagine it's true for a lot of people, particularly those of us who are privileged (and I don't mean economically; I mean white). What does it even mean to be a good person, to act with civility when the very definition of the word has been determined and defined by those in power?

The center does not hold.

I feel the same way when I read arguments against what white men call "tribalism" or "polarization." Honestly?

I got into an argument on a friend's thread on Facebook -- not with the friend but with one of his "friends." I've sparred with this guy before, and while I'd like to make him irrelevant by not even engaging with him (his comments are nearly always dull and condescending with that overwhelming sarcasm and fake irony that marks the intellectually lazy), I'm learning through the engagement what it takes to be truly disobedient. Or maybe what it might take to be truly disobedient to the mores and definitions of civility that not only our ancestors but also our contemporaries demand.

Again, I'm just thinking about these things. I am certain of very little.

I'm a person who has trouble even uttering the word fuck, mainly because of the way I've been brought up, yet in uttering the word fuck I alienate even my own parents whom I love.

The person with whom I sparred on Facebook responded to my call for civil disobedience by asking whether I was prepared to be violent against my fellow citizens because being disobedient might cause a schism like we haven't seen since the Civil War. He asked, "Prepared to defend and even harm others if need be?"

I answered, "I will personally not commit acts of violence against any human beings, but I am prepared to stand against anything. That means anything. Absolutely. There are plenty of examples of peaceful and resolute civil disobedience across history. It's not a matter of "winning" or "losing." I align with those people. When and if my rights as a woman are compromised as they very well will or might be very soon, I will stand against that and for other women, minorities and the disabled."

I added, "The path to change is seldom polite. And the definition of civility is generally set by those in POWER."

The guy responded, "The definition of civility in this country was originally established when the first inhabitants began following the codes and mores of western civilization, along with the principles of the rule of law. Men opening doors for women, pulling their chairs out. You know that kind of demeaning, misogynistic behavior ya'll are so eager to abolish in favor of...I don't know what. Hip hop?"

If I had one, I'd rest my case. 

Mull on that, Reader.

 What Kind of Times Are These
By Adrienne Rich
There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary

to talk about trees.



  1. Conforming to Social Conventions of propriety... well, tho' that might be considered Civility by many, it depends upon who is setting such standards and what Conforming means you give up in the way of your Core Values? Civility itself is questionable if in being Polite and Proper you are still defending all of the wrong things or not speaking up and out against them. So much is wrong right now that I just cannot be Civil about it or I would be compromising what I Believe to be right, Godly, decent and values all Life. Never been much of a Conformist so if that labels me as not Civil, so be it.

    1. I love you, Bohemian, and I love your moral clarity.

    2. Thank you Elizabeth, you made my day... been struggling lately with staying put where we are... so many 45 rabid supporters around this pretentious, fake and shallow Community that it has made me want to just escape our Dream Home and go back to The Hood, where the people were authentic and had tight knit community. If I didn't feel completely overwhelmed by the prospect of moving, buying & selling real estate again, along with the Caregiving, I'd be out of here in a heartbeat. I SO miss my Beloved Historic Home Today... and the Old Barrio around it.

  2. Ah, what an age it is
    When to speak of trees is almost a crime
    For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
    And he who walks calmly across the street,
    Is he not out of reach of his friends
    In trouble?


  3. To me it all boils down to this- we are living in a time in a country where obviously there are many people (up to and including you-know-who) who think it is perfectly fine for children to be taken from their parents and held in places where the press is not allowed to go.
    And I can't relate to that in the least and no, I will not be civil when they try to make their case because there is no case to be made except for being purely evil.
    And having taken American history from one of the best teachers I've ever had, I know for a damn fact that civility had very little place in the formation of our country.

  4. That man on Facebook is so smug and sexist and condescending, yet I am sure he thinks he’s being clever. Revolutions were never waged by those who overly esteemed civility, which to my mind is just a way of telling folks to sit down and shut up and let the people wielding power poorly, uncivilly, have their way. Well, no. I won’t be civil then. Not if they don’t care enough to be civil in return.

    1. I’m as sick of those calling for civility as I am of those speaking otherwise.

  5. What an excellent (and insightful poem)! Adrienne Rich was ahead of her time in describing social media. The poem is copyrighted 1995, I see, which is interesting -- I wonder what prompted her to write it? I appreciate your protesting and I admire your willingness to engage with others on Facebook. I just avoid the Trump defenders, which is probably not very courageous of me.

    I do value civility and I try hard to maintain it (although this idea of civility being defined by those in power is interesting...) -- but there are times when truth has to win.

  6. I don't think civil disobedience implies violence, but I am naïve. I am a fan of Gandi who proved that civil disobedience can be non violent, if not for everyone then certainly for himself. Martin LutherKing Jr. also believed in civil disobedience, "Any man who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community on the injustice of the law is at that moment expressing the very highest respect for law."

    Sometimes the law is an ass.

    As for fuck, well my dear, you just need to embrace that word because it is quite liberating. Sometimes there is just not other word that will do. Here's a video to help you embrace fuck.

  7. I am so sad that my college age daughter is under this regime!
    She is brillant. And a feminist!
    I pray that I have given her the tools to change this sh*t!!!!

  8. So sorry for the double post! I'm new to this..



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