The old saying ‘politeness costs nothing’ doesn’t have much status anymore. Especially not in the untamed wilderness that is the internet. You’ll also hear a lot of chat about how the ‘call to civility’ stifles debate and discussion of the really contentious issues. I don’t buy that for a second. I will agree that establishing rules of civility has been an effective tool of oppression, ensuring that uncomfortable truths can be easily ignored because they weren’t phrased right, but that is not and has never been an acceptable excuse for the dreadful conduct that is often witnessed on various internet forums and blogs.
I suppose it all depends what your goals are. I blog because I like writing and I like chemistry. I also like to keep a record of stuff I read, or see that this interesting. I don’t blog to be particularly controversial or incendiary like some do. I think that type of behaviour alienates a lot of reasonable readers. I also think that those who speak so strongly about the right to be rude if required are the ones who frequently hold the most privileged position of all in the debate: that of blog owner or forum moderator. And you can bet that they are reserving the ‘right’ to censor anyone who is too impolite or disagreeable.
Rudeness during debates is often a knee-jerk response, the instinctive and ill-considered comment that indicates limited engagement with the dissenting opinions (that the majority probably hold). Engage with a difficult topic? Engage with a different view point? Far easier just to issue a vague attempt at a witty yet offensive rebuke and go back to tending one’s own disillusions. No need to even consider that the other opinion may have some validity or merit. Rudeness or incivility is as much a form of oppression and demonstration of privileged as having a requirement for people to be polite. I think people would do well to remember that.
Of course I write this from a British perspective, a point of view that sits quite uneasily in any discussion of rights, oppression and privileged. But therein lies another point: on the internet no one knows your cultural background. Wouldn’t it be simpler to acknowledge that the differences in opinion, so often expressed, may be a function of that difference rather than cultivated prejudice or real ignorance? Benefit of the doubt, another great expression that is underused on the internet.