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A Little Civility, Please


    The reason I launched this blog was to spur some dialog about our national park system. I wanted to inspire different views. It's healthy and a good way to get folks to consider different viewpoints, to help everyone think through a problem or situation.
    That said, I really was hoping for some civil, well-thought-out, constructive dialogs, not monotonic hate-mongering, which has appeared of late. Is there any change we can tone down the rhetoric, focus on civility, and try, just try, to show a little respect for one another's points of view?


Kurt, you speak with constructive wisdom. Maybe all us should read and heed this blog...I'll be the first...anybody second...Stan?

Kurt, why don't you just @#[email protected]#[email protected]#... Just kidding... I think writing online is much like some people are when driving in a car. There is a lot of pent up rage in people and few outlets for letting it out. Sometimes, screaming in traffic or screaming on someone relatively anonymously behind the vehicle of the internet allows people to feel that they can vent very aggressively. I think it's sad, for sure, that good conversation gets ruined by personal attacks; I think we'll find, though, that there's something else going on in our modern life which drives that out of people. Since we are all living relatively private, disconnected lives, where "online" communities can be sometimes more vibrant than "in person" ones, where we go to ATMs, live in private homes, penned inside watching tvs, and even where our outdoor pursuits often involve us alone. How many times on a trail do I find myself saying "Hi" and "Hi" over and over again, suggesting that we have no connection actually with the people we see. One problem I have with people who aren't imaginative enough to see that the problems in the parks go far beyond proper funding and issues around the cost of user fees is that even these solutions are contributing to a society woefully disconnected. It's as though we are trying to oil a machine that's a cancer on us all. When people are able to be so vicious to each other without much consequence, despite how destructive the machine is (a car in traffic is deadly, a voice on the internet that reaches billions can be just as much so), it's not enough that we ask people to refrain from the behavior, since the conditions which give rise to it are becoming even more prevalent. I kind of feel that way when I eat in a restaurant and get bad service. There's a part of me that wants to tip even more than normal in such cases because I realize that there's something very humiliating about the job, and only a crazy person would give great service in such an environment. I also figure everyone else is bound to punish the person more for their bad service, and I feel almost inclined to reward them. In a case where people are being rude an insulting on an online forum, they have to be driven away from the space; that can't be rewarded. Even so, I worry that we don't realize how the mechanized, civilized beast of our world, the kind of world where places like Yellowstone are mere reserves, exceptions to the norm rather than the norm, I have to it really so crazy that people aren't "civil" to each other? I don't think so at all. If we weren't constantly trying to protect the civilization that grounds "civility", the behavior of an exorbitant human culture centered in the city and whose terms of value all relate to citified (i.e. civilized culture), then maybe we'd be in a better place to deal with such nonsense. I seem to wax philosophical, but for me, this is very pragmatic. If we really love our spaces, whatever they are, internet spaces, natural spaces, relationship spaces, what will actually enhance and protect those spaces? Instead of securing our boundaries, perhaps there's something primal explaining why our boundaries never seem secure enough. You do good work, Kurt. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I'm just a gadfly; that's all. Jim

Jim, Do you reward the dog that bites? Should we applaud the schoolyard bully? The corporate leaders that fleece their employees and customers, do we build monuments to them? No. I wholly agree with your contentions that we as a society have become so disconnected from social interactions with one another that it affects our behaviors, and that the very "civilization" we've constructed is in some fashion pulling us down. Yet I don't think it takes much effort to discourse civilly. Unlike being in a car, where reactions come every second, when you're sitting at a computer typing you have an opportunity to reread what you've written, and, if necessary, exercise that "delete" key, before hitting "post." Up at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Superintendent Bob Krumenaker addressed this very topic in his park's newspaper last year. Here's part of what he had to say: "...I worry about civility and our collective ability to engage in difficult issues constructively. I’ve been called brilliant by people who agree with decisions I’ve made and names I won’t print here by those who do not. The letters I treasure most, though, are the ones that say that the writer disagrees with the park’s position on an issue but appreciates the chance to participate in an open and constructive dialog. I hope that the park can play a role in reminding people of some of the arts of democracy, and reinforcing the value of community. We will try to listen better and provide more opportunities for people to engage in dialog with this small branch of your government. We’ll try to do more to be both accountable and transparent in our decisions. Hopefully, openness builds understanding, understanding builds trust, and trust builds towards consensus. But we won’t always be able to satisfy everyone, and probably even more so if park finances continue to be stretched thinner each year. But when we disagree, I hope we can do so in a way that is not disagreeable." Jim, as I noted in my post, I'm all in favor of hearing discordant viewpoints. There could be nuggets of truth in them. But I'd hope they could be expressed constructively. Those who can't manage to do that, well, it only takes one keystroke for me to block them from commenting. Now, as to your self-description as a "gadfly," that's my role. You'll have to be satisfied with the "contrarian" mantle you accepted the other day;-)

Kurt, I don't think I suggested you reward people who are interfering with the space in ways that are making our own communication impossible. In fact, I think you should have no tolerance for them. I would have been remiss, though, if I didn't bring up that we need to consider other sides of this. It's like 9/11; I have no tolerance for people who think that flying hijacked airplanes into office towers is an acceptable response against U.S. imperialism. I also have no tolerance for personal attacks; they are always unjustified, and there is never any reason for them. At the same time, certain conditions exist that give rise to them, and if we only treat the crime as what needs stamping out, then we don't understand the person or the world that gives rise to such things. I always think it's interesting to connect those things back to the issues we are talking about. Why does such behavior occur? Yes, it's unjustified, but why? Are there appropriate responses that are neither unacceptable and "not civil." I have a tendency to reconnect our words back to their historical purpose and meaning and think about how it infects us in ways we don't even realize. It's as though we have a cancer and have lived with it for so long that the chemicals that might fight the cancer, which are so harsh in some respects, are demonized because they are not cancerous enough. That's the way I view civilization and civility. However, a personal attack is never a cure; it also is not civil, and perhaps the best way to contrast it isn't in terms of its "civility" but its sheer rationality, since that's what is relevant. A personal attack simply is never relevant and confuses the space and is therefore hurtful to the person it is uttered against as well as the person who utters it. Dialogue is a virtue, but it is not civil. It is vulgar and dirty and sulphurous. Leave civil dialogue for politicians and other sophists. Anyhow, I hope I've clarified that I'm not defending the ad hominemizer the way I might defend bad service at a restaurant but that those situations and a number of others point to a need to consider the larger landscape of our own actions. Sometimes, in fighting against one problem, we unwittingly are propping up another. You of all people aren't doing that, but I think it's helpful to make that explicit if only because it challenges us in ways we aren't normally challenged and helps bring us back to the things we sense and care about. It's easy to abstract situations and treat them in isolation; it's much harder to see how they breathe in every context imaginable. Does that make sense? If it doesn't you, can @[email protected]#@[email protected]! To the contrary, I am also a gadfly, ;), Jim

Geez! Where have I been, great comments by a couple of creative about grabbing the bull by the horns on civility. Excellent commentaries by both...Kurt & Jim!

Thanks, Kurt, for quoting me in your blog, and I appreciate your boldness in raising the entire issue for your readers. I worry that both in the national parks and in society we're losing the appreciation that what makes democracy work is the ability to express different opinions and still retain respect for those that disagree with us. As I said to our visitors in the park newspaper (if anyone wants to read the entire piece, click on the link at, the parks can play a constructive role. We could be the most accessible government agency these days... Bob Krumenaker Superintendent Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

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