The daily war on civility

The science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein suggested that one sure way to know a society was in decline or even near collapse, was to observe the lack of social civility in everyday life. The ruder the average person was to others, the sicker the society was.

It’s an interesting idea and, having not yet seen an actual society destroy itself, I don’t know if he was right. But then again, the rise of the “Karen” phenomenon, which shows an endless string of videos of angry, rude, entitled people lashing out at any and all in their midst, does give one pause.

Here in Altamont, I rarely see examples of serious public rudeness. At the post office, I hold the door for others just as often as folks hold the door for me. We thank one another and smile. It’s all good. And the folks behind the counter are even friendlier and more helpful than almost any other government employees I’ve ever seen. In fact, that’s been true for the roughly 30 years I’ve been a customer there.

Walking along the streets, most people smile, wave,m or say hi. On my bike, I see most drivers are courteous and give me plenty of room except for the occasional driver of a huge pickup truck or professional drivers of large vehicles.

In most businesses, folks wait their turn, chat, and interact pleasantly with the folks working in the store. Considering the fact that we live in New York State, a place most non-locals tend to characterize as a pretty rude place, I think we’re doing pretty well locally. Or maybe they’re just referring to folks down in New York City, but even there, I’ve had few problems and met many friendly folks over many visits since the 1980s.

If there is a rash of uncivil behavior across our country, then I place the blame squarely on the broadcast septic tank that is Fox News, OAN, Truth Social, and the rest of the right-wing media. We’re talking about a propaganda machine that broadcasts hate, fear, bigotry, misogyny, and victim blaming 24/7/365. If you immerse yourself in said septic tank, you will come away angry, entitled, and ready for a fight at a moment’s notice. And that’s where I think the problem comes from.

I believe that most people in a normal state of mind are basically decent and act as such. They see others as equals and attempt to be decent as long as nobody attacks them for no apparent reason.

But the septic-tank folks are in a non-normal state of mind. They’re revved up and they just know, deep in their souls, that the reason for their anger and unhappiness is other people. And attacking those terrible people is their Fox-given right and responsibility to make the world a better and safer place for themselves and their families.

While I’m not a sociologist or a devotee of abnormal psychology, I think that this sort of weaponized rudeness is actually set free on purpose by the billionaire class that controls the right-wing media. By dividing us, we end up spending all our time fighting one another while they playfully manipulate the masses and steal us blind in plain sight.

Are you aware of the trillion-dollar gains made by the rich during the past several years? And of course, social media plays a big part in this campaign of division. And sadly, that happens even here in Altamont.

Perhaps the one place where rudeness does intrude on our peaceful village is on the Altamont Community Facebook page. It’s usually pretty civil but, every so often, one issue or another causes people to devolve to name-calling and accusations to the point that the page’s administrators have to step in.

The latest silly thing to upset the apple cart is the raging controversy over folks who like to honk their horns and say hi to Robbie, a resident at the group home at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Western.

The basic issue is whether or not people honking their horns are being rude to Robbie’s neighbors who might find the random honking of car horns at all hours to be less than peaceful. Now think about this, folks. How often do you hear a car horn in the village? Almost never.

Many of us greatly value the quiet atmosphere of our village and it’s part of the reason we have chosen to live here. So, to suddenly have a cacophony of car horns going on a daily basis is basically antithetical to the nature of Altamont.

Nobody is questioning the basic good nature of Robbie or his desire to greet his neighbors. It obviously makes him very happy.

But simply waving, flashing your lights, or saying hello makes Robbie just as happy. It’s perfectly fine to acknowledge him and it obviously makes many people feel quite warm and fuzzy but, as in all things, there are now unintended consequences.

When neighbors spoke up civilly and simply indicated the noise was a problem (random cannon fire ring any bells?) they were met with anger and suggestions that they move away. Talk about a rude response.

So yes, rudeness is an issue. But it seems to me that, if we were to turn off the septic tank, log out of Facebook, and just go about the business of living in harmony with one another, we’d all be a lot happier.

Remember how they used to tell us in school “United we stand, and divided we fall”? Well, let’s all unite in civil behavior and give the billionaire class, the septic tank fishies (Hannity, Carlson and the rest) a bad day and live our lives more happily.

After all, what sort of a world do we want to hand to our children? Or Robbie?

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says his daily philosophy is to try and leave the planet a little better than he found it — and that means being pleasant to others.