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José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar: Ballad of the Snail
[Corrido del Caracol] (19th century)

"Damn me to that kind of Hell if you will."

The small pick-up truck parked in front of Popular Donuts featured a tailgate spray painted with the words Fuck Biden. That sight was enough to convince me that I didn't want any donuts that day. I felt deeply disturbed, embarrassed for the pick-up's owner, who, I suspected, had fallen in with a bad crowd. I remembered back to my late grade school days when I first encountered people my age behaving like "adults." I placed adults in quotes there, because even then I recognized that those people were more mimicking their elders than behaving like them, for there seemed a touch of the perverse in a fifth grader dabbling in four letter words and stolen smokes. The effect just embarrassed me and I quickly slipped away from those guys and tried to give them wide berth going forward. I thought them trouble if only due to their decidedly uncivil performance. They didn't so much seem grown up or liberated, as degraded, and they were voluntarily doing that to themselves! I decided that I would choose not to use that sort of language, not even to myself. I still, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, scream "Danged Nab It!" rather than some four letter deep blue facsimile of it. I won't even cuss when it's just me about.

I consider this convention to be a necessary element of civility, and Incivility to be early evidence of rot.
It's the outward sign of an inward cynicism, the kind that leaves its practitioner unable to win. Desperation often results, a "why me?" state its purveyor cannot shake. Their offenses invisible to themselves, they repeat mistakes with ever-increasing vehemence until their presence simply becomes unbearable. They wonder how they became so "goddamned" unpopular, why they're shunned, why they get left behind. It's their Incivility that does it, their deep-down offensive strategy for fitting in. They take their freedoms as justifying their own bad judgement. They read their rights literally, believing themselves divinely protected from blowback resulting from interpreting literally. They firmly believe that their constitution guarantees them the right to do any thing they choose, to even use their tailgate to advertise their poor taste and judgement. The rest of us can see them coming from miles away. We've learned to stay away.

But what would happen if some uncensored and deeply uncivil media became popular, where people disguised as reputable—wearing neckties, even—were to extend permission, twenty-four seven, permission to engage as those few errant fifth graders used to in my youth? Those few and perhaps even more might feel emboldened. They might gain a kind of courage to amplify even their own Incivility. To take it to church with them, to preach it from pulpits, to insist that their candidates never get a fair shake, that their election was quite literally stolen from them, that their freedoms are threatened, even though what they consider their freedoms are just bad manners masquerading as normals. Their own grandmothers should be embarrassed by them. In my day, people like that fairly reliably ended up in Juvie, almost without exception.

It has become my sacred responsibility to encourage civility regardless of the context. I understand that this stance limits my ability to engage under any Scorched Earth Policy, but so be it. I'll just have to get left behind when people fly parody American flags tinted blue and upside down as if that should elicit some sense of superior patriotism or something. I'm not terrified of Critical Race Theory or the idiots who cannot seem to simultaneously muster Woke and civility, and those who beatify their grudges, and those who smoke in the loge seats even though the sign clearly states No Smoking. I'm careful to never pee on public toilet seats, either, so damn me if you will. Please damn me to a civilized Hell, one where some dignity influences me, one where I at least understand the allegory of freedom. Damn me to that kind of Hell if you will.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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