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Civil, Civility and Civilization

7 mins read

Civil, civility and civilization. 

Interestingly, all three words derive from the same root, stemming from the Latin word civis, which means “citizen.” 

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines civility as civilized conduct, courtesy or politeness. A civilization is based on the premise that civil folks may disagree without relinquishing their civility, which allows the civis to live in peace and harmony. These are critical elements to maintaining our democratic republic. 

Using common-sense thinking, it seems to me that a civil society would be one where all manner of ideas can be discussed and even criticized without risk of the citizens in question being physically attacked. It would NOT be a “civilization” where criticism of the government or its leaders is not permitted; where citizens are prohibited from reading certain books, and from saying certain criticisms about Abrahamic religions, and where such utterances are met with certain torture, imprisonment, or death. 

Unfortunately, many such so-called civil societies and nations no longer meet the core requisites of civility and tolerance. 

Belief, and its synonym, “faith,” are powerful emotional forces. History illustrates that such forces can literally move mountains. 

But such beliefs/faiths do not necessarily equate to Truth, with a capital T. Indeed, all too often deeply held faith contradicts Truth. 

Among the definitions of “faith” in Webster’s dictionary are “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust; without doubt or question …” 

The British politician, writer and diarist Tony Benn said “Faith is something you die for; a doctrine is something you kill for; there is all the difference in the world.” The influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell said “Man is a credulous animal and must believe in something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.” 

In discussing the controversial anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin’s notions of cultural “beliefs,” Peter Medawar opined “… if it were an innocent, passive gullibility, it would be excusable; but all too often it is an active willingness to be deceived.” 

Logicians and philosophers discriminate faith/ belief from truth by this simple principle: to accept a proposition as true, there must be some degree of evidence that it is so. The greatest chasm between Faith and Truth rests on propositions for which there is no evidence, nor is the juxtaposition of such evidence required for a belief/faith to be accepted as truth by the believer. 

Today, large constellations of otherwise good and sound folks too easily believe in a proposition that evidentially is untrue. To wit: This country’s republic form of government is under vicious attack by adherents of “The Big Lie.” A false belief in what is blatantly a falsehood, and which has been proven to be so. What remains a mystery is how so many Americans are blinded into believing an invention that is demonstrably a fiction. 

I would remind our readers of the axiom of the world’s most successful (and evil) propogandist, Heinrich Himmler, one of the leaders of Nazi Germany’s National Socialist Party: “Yell a lie loud enough and long enough, and some people will believe it.” And that, my fellow Americans is exactly what is engaging the national political discourse today. 

How about we reverse Himmler’s axiom: “Yell a TRUTH loud enough and long enough, and some folks will believe it!” Perhaps this is the only remedy against the metastasizing cancer of The Big Lie, which is eating away at the soul of so many of our citizens, characterized by incivility and the belief in more lies. 

Recall the sage words of Simon and Garfunkel: “I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises. All LIES in jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. LIES, LIES, LIES.” 

I understand why these power-hungry know-nothings are engaging in such a destructive game; singularly to gain and retain POWER. What I may never understand is why so many normal citizens readily accept these false beliefs as truth. Perhaps because Truth really is stranger than Fiction. 

Psychologists, neurologist, linguists, philosophers can wrestle with why otherwise rational humans can hold strong beliefs in, and have unwavering faith in, transparently deceptive notions. Belief/faith is a phenomenon that is a mystery of the human brain and spirit, which I cannot wrap my reason around. But, I do understand the power that derives from whatever it is that underpins this malady. 

Historically, dictators and demagogues have succeeded because they convince others that their false delusions are “Truth.” That is, the ability to turn paranoid fantasies and megalomaniacal delusions into a toxic belief. Are you listening out there? 

Superman had his beliefs right, and in the correct order: “Truth, Justice and The American Way!” 

“Well, all I know is what I read in the newspapers.” – Will Rogers. 

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999 and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate from 2010 to 2015. You can reach him at david.m.taub42@gmail.com. 

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