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The emerging "uncivil" society

By Henry Lamb
web posted April 3, 2006

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets last week to oppose legislation designed to stop or reduce illegal immigration. Pundits and politicians, alike, were shocked to see the massive show of support for the 11 million illegal aliens already in this country. Their illegal trek across the southern border is littered with crime, and their demand for health, legal, and education services is taxing state and local budgets across the West, and beyond.

These demonstrations, and their impact on Congress, signal a softening of America's immigration policy, and a widening division between traditional American values of national sovereignty, and the politically-correct values of a border-less "global village." The news coverage of these events overshadowed another demonstration in San Francisco, which reveals an even more ominous division - between civil, and uncivil society.

A group of about 25,000 young Christians gathered at the AT&T Park baseball stadium in San Francisco last week to celebrate and promote Christian values in a campaign they call "Battlecry for a Generation." A couple of hundred of the youngsters went to the front steps of the city hall to protest gay marriage. They were greeted by hundreds of people with bullhorns shouting: "No to Woman-Hating Anti-Gay Christian Fascist Theocracy!" and "I moved to San Francisco to Get Away From People Like You;" and "Shut up and go home. We don't need more people like you taking over our children's lives."

California legislator Mark Leno, who introduced the gay marriage bill, passed by the legislature, but vetoed by the Governor, spoke to the crowd, saying about the young Christians: "They're loud, they're obnoxious, they're disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco." Before the young Christians even staged their rally, the San Francisco Supervisors adopted a resolution condemning the fundamentalist rally, for spreading hate of gay people and others.

The anti-Christian demonstration was organized by several "civil society" organizations, which include: World Can't Wait; Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights; Sister Bernie Galvin; Not in Our Name; Code Pink; San Francisco Labor Council; Pride at Work; The anti-war ANSWER Coalition; American Atheists; and the Church of Natural Grace.

Public demonstrations and protests are more American than apple pie. They are a product of the basic freedoms of speech and assembly. It is a part of the process through which conflicting values and ideas collide. In a civil society, conflicting ideas survive the collision of public debate on the strength of reason, persuasion, and the merit of the proposition.

On the steps of the San Francisco city hall, there was no reason or persuasion or opportunity to even discuss the merits of opposing views. There was noise, name-calling, and intimidation.
These tactics are not limited to the streets of San Francisco.

With increasing frequency, when ideas collide in Congress, one side or the other meets the opposition, not with reason and persuasion, but with noise, name-calling, and intimidation. When the Bush administration offered a plan to repair the underfunded social security system, the idea was not met with reasoned, persuasive alternatives, but noise: "We're not going to let the Republican culture of corruption privatize social security to increase profits for greedy corporations..." and the like. Every issue that arises in Congress is met by similar responses from one side or the other, or both.

Our national discourse is less civil than it once was, in Congress, and in the streets. Our national behavior is less civil than it once was. Consequently, our society is less civil than it once was.

Realization of this fact is what motivated the creation of the young Christian group in 1986. The group is promoting values it believes will lead to a more civil society. The groups that assembled in San Francisco to shout down the young Christians, do not appear to be concerned about civility.

These groups, and hundreds of others like them, are concerned only about prevailing, not about reason or persuasion. They demand to be heard in the public square, and then try to prevent opponents from exercising the same right. They demand public acceptance of their views, and then denigrate and demean those who promote different views. This behavior is a retreat from civil society.

These groups, and Congress as well, consist of individuals. Indeed, society is but a collection of individuals. Every individual who claims a right for himself, and is unwilling to grant the same right to all others, is a dropout from civil society, and becomes another soldier in the emerging "uncivil" society.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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