Moffat: Incivility may indicate societal decline

Published: January 22nd, 2001

Category: News

In modern society, incivility is everywhere — from our children’s classrooms to the recent presidential election to the mall parking lot. According to law and philosophy Professor Robert C. L. Moffat, incivility’s pervasiveness, and its escalating repercussions, are strong signs our communal and societal bonds are breaking down. “Civility is an important indicator of the health of a society,” says Moffat. “Incivility, by the same token, indicates societal decline. Taken far enough, it means nothing less than the destruction of society.” Bullies, raging political parties, and irate shoppers fighting over parking spaces — however annoying —may not seem like threats to society. But, according to Moffat, they are. In his chapter entitled “Incivility Everywhere!” — part of a larger book-length work, “Civility and its Discontents,” to be published in 2001 by University of Kansas Press — Moffat says there is substantial research “showing these ‘mere’ incivilities generate not only harmful stress, but far more serious social pathologies, including even murder. Among factors Moffat says contribute to modern incivility are the decline of reciprocity (members of society no longer feel bound by reciprocal duties toward one another), weakening social cohesion, growth of excess negative liberty (fewer constraints to inhibit inappropriate actions), peril of prosperity and the degeneration of personal responsibility. The answer to this growing incivility, Moffat contends, is civil discourse. “It’s up to each of us,” Moffat says, “to rededicate ourselves to becoming more tolerant and more responsible. Each of us must take personal responsibility for solving the problem.”

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