Friday, August 24, 2012

Civility is Disappearing. Why?

A while back, USA Today reported on the declining civility on college campuses citing numerous anecdotes such as Yale women taking offense at frat boys shouting sexist slogans, the online video resulting in a Rutgers student's suicide and a UCLA student's YouTube rant against Asians.

There is a bigger issue which is the decline of civility in general. For example, political discourse is at an all time low on the civility scale.

It may not have started on the Internet, but it certainly serves as a convenient platform for incivility.

Take the USA Today story mentioned above. If you look at it on-line, you will find numerous malevolent comments, many of which have nothing to do with the story itself but rather are directed toward previous commenters, including the following:

What's it like to go through life with no IQ like you do?

Would it be asking too much to put a verb or semicolon in a sentence?

The best thing these idiotic "scholars" can do for America is volunteer to go to Afghanistan and clear minefields by walking across them. Of course, in that they're not patriotic, they won't...

These sissy-chicks (all liberals, of course) make real women look bad. Go back to your mommies and leave normal people alone.

Encourage respect and tolerance? Why is it these LEFTIST professors NEVER encourage respect and tolerance towards individuals promoting a CONSERVATIVE viewpoint. Instead, they try to CENSOR any political viewpoint that is not in LOCKSTEP with their LEFTIST AGENDA. HYPOCRITES!!!!!

WELL, IN THE NAME OF FREE SPEECH I WILL FIGHT BACK IF SOMEONE START TELLING ME UGLY OR RACIST NAMES. I HAVE PLENTY OF AMMUNITIONS SO WE'LL SEE WHO GAVE UP FIRST.


I agree with many who say it is about the anonymity that the Internet provides. As one of the more coherent commenters pointed out, many of the rants would not have been made if real names had to be used. As a by-product of the decline in civility comes a decline in grammar, spelling and punctuation.

This trend has infected Sermo, a doctors only on-line community, as well.

Here are two excerpts from comments on a post of mine on Sermo from three weeks ago:

A surgeon: Also no need for me to see the film or examine the patient, although of course I did both, you ass.

A radiologist: Well, it seems, surgeon, if you have a radiologist who cannot tell "worsening bilateral pneumonia" from atelectasis, you are working in a hospital with perhaps suboptimal radiologists. As for the "you ass" part, FUCK OFF pissant.

I doubt that exchange would have taken place in the cafeteria or the doctors' lounge.

What do you think? A version of this post appeared on Sermo yesterday and the few who commented all felt that civility is declining and most agreed that the Internet was fueling that decline.

10 comments:

Huhet said...

Agree for the most part about the anonymity, but you'll find equally asinine comments on articles in which people link their Facebook profiles and comment under their assumed real names.

Todd J. Scarbrough, M.D. said...

I think it's as much a loss of people's ability to form rational, cogent arguments without devolving into ad hominem attacks filled with hyperbole. Exchanges like the Sermo responses DO happen in cafeterias and doctors' lounges many times, sad to say.

The Art of Retort is lost throughout society, and especially in our political system. No one can be bothered with details or facts anymore--nope, let's make everything personal and base... one is certain to get more attention that way for sure.

Only tangentially related, but imagine a response like this (http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/to-my-old-master.html) being given today. I just don't think it would happen... and this responder had reasons a-plenty to write back with vitriol, hate, and no civility whatsoever.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Huhet, I agree that it's not entirely about anonymity. Some people just don't know any better.

Todd, your link is a great example of civility taken to the extreme. Those were the days.

Lazlo Toth said...

Todd, I'm not sure what historical period you're citing here as a time when people, even highly educated professionals, did NOT get into childish arguments.

Have a good look through the Letters of Note blog or some of the more eccentric exchanges documents in Cliff Pickover's Strange Brains and Genius. Those are a good start, but my sincere opinion is that any good dip into the history of science and medicine will reveal plenty of behavior that's every bit as juvenile and bizarre as the cited comment exchange.

With all respect, I am skeptical that there's been any great change in people's minds. I think it's just much, much easier than ever before to document our hasty thoughts where thousands of people can see them. The Internet is different than any previous communications medium, and I don't think it's surprising that our culture's etiquette and morality haven't really assimilated it properly. I can understand your frustration, but really, I need some more concrete evidence that this isn't just confirmation bias.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Lazlo, interesting pseudonym and comments. Perhaps I should have considered the point that you made. It may seem worse because everyone knows what everyone else is saying these days.

Diane said...

Grammar and punctuation doesn't bother me(guilty as charged). The internet allows for those who haven't had to the opportunity to attend college and sometimes even high school to share their opinions on a variety of topics they before the internet had been alienated from. I see the Internet as the great "equalizer."

I think the issues with civility are more on a societal level. In the past 50 years divorce,single parenting,multiple religions, higher tolerance of eccentric and alternate lifestyles have suddenly become vogue and accepted after hundreds of years of very strict societal values. Instead of slowly allowing the water out of the dam, we have simply removed the dam and the lack of civility,rise in crime, increase in selfishness,disrespect for others are the collateral damage-like water rushing through the tree's along a riverbank, some damage is to be expected.

If what we are witnessing is the damage from too suddenly removing social barriers,(aka dam) and the lack of civility, morality, etc are similar to the damage on the plains of a flooded river, the question would be, what will now grow in place of what we destroyed?

Chris Porter MD said...

I've been checking out Sermo and Doximity lately, out of curiosity and in effort to form a group to discuss issues specific to my hospital system. I was stunned by Sermo. Eg, one guy repeatedly referring to President Obama as "that caramel-colored so-and-so.." Several on Sermo are like drivers in traffic who flip you the bird as they disappear. Doximity identifies you, and while occasionally heated, the discourse is definitely not as low-brow as Sermo.

While I think we've always had these tendencies, divisive politics fostered by a 24/7 news cycle times the internet gives our ugly side more visibility.

Regarding changes over the last 50 yrs, I'm reminded of Uncle Charlie ranting to Mr Douglas about 'kids, these days' and Mr Douglas pointing out that Plato made the same rant. I wrote a piece on same here, in context of surgeons ranting about the next generation:

http://onsurg.com/voice/onsurg-founder-cp-md/shift-mentality

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Diane, good comments. I like your analogy about the dam.

Chris, Thanks and your post has a lot of truth in it.

Chris Porter MD said...

Sermo just made a plea for users to adhere to its Code of Conduct! Will be interesting to see how use is affected.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Chris, Thanks for reminding me. I had seen the email. I wonder if my post helped push them to do it.

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