Civility is a weapon designed to deflect accountability and it is a weapon that conservative commentators have learned to wield very effectively.
It’s the perfect weapon, because it can be so easily buried into the back of any justifiable protest. We are a land of law and order, we are reminded, and civility is the safeguard to our way of life. This lens is supremely powerful, and it can burn a dissenting voice like a leaf under a magnifying glass.
Weaponised civility can twist the most justifiable protests into narratives of pure evil.
Take the School Strikers for example. How did a story of children bravely finding their voice and standing up for their future, with well thought out speeches and valid concerns … How did THAT get turned into a media narrative solely focused on belittling them and demanding they be quiet and go back to school?
The government certainly focused on this point. They completely ignored the entire reason the protest was being held and focused on how they were hurting their futures by not attending school. They minimised the entire issue down to school attendance, an act, they tell us, that is uncivil.
Or what about the Ferguson protests in America? Police brutality against Black Americans is extremely well documented. Hell, we have all seen dozens of videos of police gunning down unarmed Black people for absolutely no reason in just the past few years alone. Black America has taken every ‘acceptable’ avenue of legal and civilised redress, and they are routinely and systematically ignored. So riots started out of sheer frustration and anger.
The media response?
“Why are they so uncivil? This is NOT the way to protest! They hurt their message when they talk like that!”
And just like the School Strikers, the reason for the riots was completely drowned out in the media by calls for civility.
The technique of weaponised civility is so finely tuned now that it has become the main technique for deflecting accountability, and everyone who is invested in the social, economic, and political status quo uses it. From Fox and Sky News commentators, to government ministers and senators.
They have learned that the best way to quell justifiable outrage is to label that outrage as disrespectful or ungrateful, or selfish, or entitled. Etc etc. And you know that it is a weapon of the status quo because calls for civility are never made toward people who UPHOLD the status quo, no matter how egregious or horrible their words and actions are.
Take for example the difference in the media portrayal of Indigenous Activists and White Supremacist campaigners. One we are told deserves our endless patience and respect because they are expressing their ‘freedom of speech’ while the other is chastised, insulted, belittled and literally told to shut up.
The reason for these dramatically different responses is that one isn’t threatening to upset the status quo, while the other one is.
Another example, look at how conservative commentators treat the people who protest Indigenous deaths in custody, it always comes with calls for patience, for everyone to remain calm and respectful and ‘let the police do their job’ ‘let’s not jump to conclusions’ the mood is condescending to say the least, and it centres around calls for civility and for everyone to defuse and be calm. The status quo after all must be maintained.
Keep in mind that these calls for civility and de-escalation are coming from the same commentators who were frothing at their mouths and lost their minds when a child refused to stand for the national anthem at school. Because that child was challenging the status quo, the mood shifted immediately to escalation and attack.
To recap, when someone threatens the status quo, calls for civility will drown out all other voices. However when someone maintains the status quo, no matter how belligerent, civility will never be a part of the conversation.
We even see heads of state use this weapon. Trump is infamous for responding to tough questions by declaring those asking them as ‘fake news.’ The implication being that the reporter has bad intentions and therefore is not worthy of an answer. It is deflection disguised as indignation, a purposely crafted image of civility besieged by barbarity.
Even the ‘right way’ to protest will be deflected by weaponised civility.
Colin Kaepernick’s famous silent knee protest against police brutality met nothing but derision, deflection and labels of disrespect from the media, even though he was exercising the exact type of silent, peaceful protest they had clamoured for during the race riots. It didn’t matter that he was protesting the right way; he was challenging the status quo and for that, he had to be deflected by calls for civility.
The coining of the term ‘cancel culture’ and its subsequent vilification is also an example of weaponised civility.
Ask any comedian that now says “you can’t make comedy anymore because of woke culture” whether this is simply repression disguised as civility. Because the boycotting of those that thrive on the upholding of the most problematic parts of our society, like sexist and racist jokes, or saying diversity has gone to far, is seen as a threat to the status quo, and therefore must be ‘uncivilised’.
Civility is not just a defensive weapon, it can go on the attack too. That is what the infamous saying ‘Thoughts & Prayers’ is designed to do: it is a deflection of accountability. It is used when awful events demand an answer and the answer that is given is ‘how can you talk about this NOW? Be civil, we can talk about this later.’ But the later will never arrive and the questions will remain unanswered, because civility is the shield that deflects accountability.
Weaponised civility is about removing the power of emotion from protest, it is about telling victims that they ‘brought this on themselves’, it is about labeling those that smell smoke as alarmist, it is about maintaining the inertia of an unjust status quo. It is the PR campaign of corrupt power politics.
It is the status quo, above all else, maintaining the status quo.
It is very important, more than ever, that those of us that want to see change in this world, a change toward a more just, equal, and sustainable world, learn to say: