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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Respectfulness vs. Civility

It's become almost a cliché that, when urging citizens to express their disagreement and/or displeasure with their elected representatives, they're enjoined to “be respectful”.

Why, precisely?

It's one thing to be civil—to discuss policy differences, not personalities, to avoid shouting, chanting of slogans, profanity, and allow the politician to reply without interruption. That's just how civilised people treat one another in public fora (and why it's called “civility”). But respect, and respectfulness is something else entirely. People are respectful to those who have earned their respect through their actions. There is no obligation to respect a politician simply because he or she persuaded more people to vote for them than the other guy. If they're spending money irresponsibly, running up huge debts to be paid off by generations yet unborn, debasing the currency, taxing the vitality out of the economy, and acting in the interests of the lobbyists who fund their campaigns instead of their constituents, they deserve no respect, and citizens should feel no reason to “be respectful” in their presence.

Look at it this way: would you feel respectful of a CEO whose company sold you a defective product, just because he had been chosen by a board of directors elected by the shareholders of the company and is handsomely paid for his services? Of course not! His company just picked your pocket, and as head of the company, you have no reason to respect him. But the greatest pocket-pickers and purveyors of shoddy service are politicians, and they are owed respectfulness only if they have demonstrated, by their actions in office, that they are deserving of respect.

Similarly, politicians like to be formally addressed as “The Honourable”. Fie on that. Citizens should only call them “Honourable” if they are actually, you know, honourable.

Posted at September 10, 2009 21:09