Saturday, May 07, 2011

Whither Civility?

Via Half Sigma, an interview with Brad Scharlott, who describes an email he received from Bill McAllister:

Last week I sent a copy of my paper to Sarah Palin’s former press secretary asking if he had any comments, since he is mentioned in an unflattering way. He went ballistic. He called me a “scumbag” who is “in the service of evil.” He said he would slap me if he ever saw me, and that in a former age he would have challenged me to a duel. And then, under the heading “Brad Scharlott disgraces your university” he sent that critique of me in an email to all my colleagues in my department. I’m guessing he was used to using strong-arm tactics like that in Alaska.

HS believes this reaction says something substantive about Scharlott’s allegations.  Scharlott himself seems to think it has something to do with Alaska.  But the weird thing is, I seem to read about these kind of tantrums on a regular enough basis to notice a pattern connected to politics.  (Though not regularly enough to recall any specific example.  Sorry.)

One advantage of having a blog is that I can express my opinions about other people in terms far less moderate than I would ever use in real life.  Because in real life, people of my class and profession do not call each other scumbag.  We have thought it about a lot of people.  We may sometimes refer to each other in those terms.  But directly picking a fight like that?  Never mind colleagues; I’ve fought lawsuits with people with more restraint.  I don’t want to claim any moral high-ground here:  such restraint seems in my own self interest.  Verbal escalation seems a way of getting in to serious trouble with no obvious upside.

But I wonder:  what is it about a person that causes them to attempt basically junior-high-school level verbal bullying?  Is it just a matter of class?  Is it the personality type (or T-cell level) of people inclined to go into working politics?  Does this kind of vituperation work often enough to make it a viable tactic on a routine basis?

But maybe I’ve just lead a sheltered life?


Professor Hale said...

I have noticed that people in politics seems ti have a sense of entitlement to public office and all that goes with it and they get very angry if you stand in their way. I know that they must be used to having political rivals, so it can't be that. It is that they see the person who is challenging them as inferiors, and they really resent that. basically, everyone who is not part of the political inner circle is beneath them.

For what its worth, if have noticed the same thing in other professions too and the definition of professionalism is the extent to which you can hide your contempt of outsiders expressing an opinion on your field of superiority.

Φ said...

Perhaps then the apparent prevalence in politics of un-professional behavior is selection bias: it's just more likely to make the news when it involves politicians?