Shivility

Shivility
Philip Guston, City Limits, 1969
" … the one damned thing our Constitutional liberties do not provide."

Our melting pot seems to have become a caldron of complaints, our more perfect union defined more by its imperfections than by its inspiring aspirations, with innumerable factions, each presuming to speak for The People. Anything seems capable of sparking a fresh confrontation between passionate partisans and those they firmly believe represent some retrograde Dark Lord. Masks, strongly recommended by decent people dedicated to protecting public health, have somehow become tangled in notions of Constitutional liberty, as if protecting each other amounts to an unforgivable affront. The fabled Bill of Rights now seems the premise of an endless Bill of Wrongs enumerating endless infringements rather than encouraging civil consensus. Social Justice seems the new tyranny, as those harboring long-nurtured grudges forcefully demand a long-elusive equality, each advancement experienced as somebody's else's setback, producing a long, slow descent. Consent of the governed first requires some consent to govern by those to be governed, and no consensus seems likely to emerge. We've become an unruly herd, each seemingly dedicated to separate and inherently unequal interpretations of our common creed.

Civility cannot be insisted upon.
It simply must be rooted in dignity. Deny another dignity and you'll induce Shivility instead, a dedication to destroying you and your kind. Repeated attempts to subjugate result in humiliation, not control, and also no shared sense of destiny. You and me become us and them, before undermining the very principle of democracy: not you and me doing whatever we please, but us doing together whatever sustains us. Empathy encourages our better angels, jealousy our Dark Lords. It's an old supremacy trope to suddenly insist upon civility when our melting pot boils over. Insisting upon civility seems like a late-stage admission of a long-enforced omission from our founding mission. We cannot ultimately afford to leave anyone behind, for they'll seek out and find our sorry asses to exercise some long overdue Shivility, at least to their minds.

Any half-decent democracy should properly scare my pants off about half the time, slow erosion seeming the principle means by which any advancement might be made. They rule until we take over, with an instant and insistent opposition weighing us both down. The times we might most usefully come together seem to contribute most to tearing us apart, all just apparently part of a much grander plan. The touted will of The People seems indistinguishable from sheer individual willfulness, sometimes more willful disregard than mutual respect. I can scare the heck out of you without needing to care, under my narrow interpretation of the law. My liberty trumps your freedom, my justice can legally kneel on your neck. If you could not write a check, you're part of nobody's constituency, your bravery a product of the threats mounted against you and indistinguishable from desperation.

Self-proclaimed patriots arm themselves with senseless weaponry and scare little girls on the street. Self-proclaimed reformers take laws into their own hands to collectively topple symbols of what someone else believes they stand for. We sometimes seem ruled by the laws of some dystopian jungle, with each individual insisting upon their own exceptionalism under those laws. We trespass against each other without ever asking for or extending forgiveness. You might shoot me for offering you a mask. Our Pandemic appreciates our Shivility, mocking liberty and the very idea of justice for all. It seems vulnerable only to a humility our innate hubris denies us. A passive defense seems the only defense worth anything at all. I cannot command civility any more than I could militantly advocate for pacifism. Our damned pandemic seems to demand civil passivity, which seems to be the one damned thing our Constitutional liberties do not provide.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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