How Civility Appears Like

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We are monkeys underneath our suits – this is how civility appears like. I am not going to sound like Rousseau here. It is rather closer to Foucault. What do I mean? Think for example of his rendition of Parrhesia, the notion of frankly telling and expressing the truth. I say this is what disappeared in civilized culture. In civility, one talks as if what one tries to say is mitigated by some new set of linguistics which does not really intend to show what one really wants to say about something. This set includes of course euphemism, and the wonderful fabrication of what they call as sarcasm. At some point, to think of it positively, civilization may have evolved from certain brutally honest and frank nomadic conversations by replacing them with intelligent language such as the latter. But sarcasm too has its own delineation to the truth foretold. While it only inverts the manner of saying the truth, it nonetheless obscures some minds who are, to put it vulgarly, stupid. In other words, in a civilized society, one may use sarcasm as an indication of a higher form of intellectual wit but only in so far as it assumes that the recipient is not stupid enough not to understand. How did this come about? I have to be directly Nietzschean here – because this is an example of herd mentality. Herd mentality (or more like crab mentality) is: I do not hurt you so you do not get to hurt me also; we are one herd of insecure crabs. On the one hand, it may sound like a version of the golden rule in the negative sense, ‘do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you’ in contrast to the positive one, ‘do unto others what you want them do to you also’. On the other, it somehow promotes a kind of pacified individualism. So, the only problem there-being, is when the recipient of the sarcasm understands it but is not in the mood for civility. Bottom-line: only civilized men get to wit to civilized men. This understanding however has ambiguous point of views.

  1. One, on the mode of the receiver, it is imperative that he is part of the civilized ambiance. He must be ready to receive and understand any possible wit that may come to him. This civilized ambiance has to be part of its underlying civility coined as friendship. Now frankly the coinage of the term friendship may even be the benefit of the doubt itself, but as it happens, friends often catch each other’s sarcasm. It is in that civility called friendship where a sphere of interaction specifically tied to its members makes them capable of forming a higher understanding of themselves through a set of language or connections.
  2. Two, the content of the sarcasm is important, the truth behind it. Now if two people are not friends and one wants to say to the other a painful truth, which if obvious to the latter may appear as sarcastic, then the former should not resort to sarcasm but to parrhesia or truth-telling, to say it in an uncivilized manner i.e. direct and frank. In other words, one suspends the right to be sarcastic if one does not abide in the civility of friendship. Best option is to say to the other the truth itself. A formulaic gesture then invokes: if the content or truth is painful, one must say it directly rather than do it sarcastically; if on the other hand, the content or truth is not painful or the other is a friend, then sarcasm may be applied.
  3. Now what is the third variation? Understanding a sarcasm is, to put it generally, understanding language. Wittgenstein says that if one does not get the logic of what language one is saying, it is better to be silent about it. In other words, all stupid persons must remain silent if they do not want to be told frankly that they are stupid by others, or to be told sarcastically by their friends.

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There is however a missing fourth variation that elevates the level of sarcasm in a more serious plane. When we apply this civility in an ecclesial or a religious context – and take the hint of the satire – civility in the church and religious orientation, and therefore bearing in mind too much of the political secularization masking their operations, restates itself as: ‘We are wolves underneath our soutanes’. Still not Rousseau but Hobbes. This is for those who think they are hit, and I am willing to reconcile my cause. For in the church, along with the pride of anyone whose spirituality assumes a ‘holier-than-thou’ aura, a higher form of intellectual set of linguistics continues to fabricate. More intellectual and dangerously serious than sarcasm is the owned pretension more clandestine than mere superficiality. Does it still need to introduce itself? – Das hypocrisy? In this hidden variation spotted only by a truly secular eye, sarcasm downgrades and takes the place for the uncivilized, and for the civilized or for ‘friends’, hypocrisy becomes the new mask. Within this most solemn of charades, the ego of hypocrisy elevates the hidden seriousness of sarcasm and inverts it totally: the serious content in the face of a joke becomes a joke while appearing serious. For hypocrisy operates as the projection of truth that is not even allowed to penetrate the one projecting it. And there is only one immediate effect of this civility: Parhessia or Truth-telling disappears.

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