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Lay Your Hammer Down
Hillsdale College ^ | Edwin J. Feulner

Posted on 06/30/2004 8:36:55 AM PDT by Nasty McPhilthy

Lay Your Hammer Down

In 1969 a Stanford University psychologist named Philip Zimbardo set up an experiment. He arranged for two cars to be abandoned – one on the mean streets of the Bronx, New York, the other in an affluent neighborhood near Stanford in Palo Alto, California. The license plates had been removed, and the hoods were left open. Zimbardo wanted to see what would happen to the cars.

In the Bronx, he soon found out. Ten minutes after the car was abandoned, people began stealing parts from it. Within three days the car was stripped. When there was nothing useful left to take, people smashed windows and ripped out upholstery, until the car was trashed.

In Palo Alto, something quite different happened: nothing. For more than a week the car sat there unmolested. Zimbardo was puzzled, but he had a hunch about human nature. To test it, he went out and, in full view of everyone, took a sledgehammer and smashed part of the car. Soon, passersby were taking turns with the hammer, delivering blow after satisfying blow. Within a few hours, the vehicle was resting on its roof, demolished.

At this point, you might be wondering what all this has to do with graduating from Hillsdale. “Why did this man come from Washington to tell us about cars that were abandoned in a psychology experiment 35 years ago?” I promise I’ll try to make that story relevant to this happy occasion.

I know today is special for you because you’re leaving this campus to enter the next phase of your lives. For me, arriving here is a delightful experience. My work in Washington consists largely of grappling with policy issues that boil down to how the federal government spends our tax money. You can’t imagine what a wonderful breath of fresh air it is for me to visit a college that refuses to accept federal funding. This is one of the very few places in America where I truly am away from all of the “inside the Beltway conspiracies” to get more money out of the taxpayers.

But beyond that, as your president has said, this is an “institution that is tied to the principles of the United States.” Hillsdale is indeed a very special place.

But let me now return to those abandoned cars: Among the scholars who took note of Zimbardo’s experiment were two criminologists: James Q. Wilson, who is now the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and George Kelling. The experiment gave rise to their now famous “broken windows” theory of crime, which is illustrated by a common experience: When a broken window in a building is left unrepaired, the rest of the windows are soon broken by vandals.

Why is this? Aside from the fact that it’s fun to break windows, why does the broken window invite further vandalism? Wilson and Kelling say it’s because the broken window sends a signal that no one is in charge here, that breaking more windows costs nothing, that it has no undesirable consequences. The broken window is their metaphor for a whole host of ways that behavioral norms can break down in a community. If one person scrawls graffiti on a wall, others will soon be at it with their spray cans. If one aggressive panhandler begins working a block, others will soon follow. In short, once people begin disregarding the norms that keep order in a community, both order and community unravel, sometimes with astonishing speed.

Police in big cities have dramatically cut crime rates by applying this theory. Rather than concentrate on felonies such as robbery and assault, they aggressively enforce laws against relatively minor offenses – graffiti, public drinking, panhandling, littering.

When order is visibly restored at that level, a signal is sent out: This is a community where behavior does have consequences. If you can’t get away with jumping a turnstile into the subway, you’d better not try armed robbery.

Broken Civility

Now all this is a preface. My topic is not crime on city streets. Rather, I want to speak about incivility in the marketplace of ideas. The broken windows theory is what links the two.

As the head of a think tank in Washington, I work exclusively in the marketplace of ideas. Our job at the Heritage Foundation is to engage in a wide range of public debates about public policy issues. We put forward traditional conservative policy options and ideas with the aim of persuading others to our viewpoint on the whole range of national policies – both international and domestic.

What we’re seeing in the marketplace of ideas today is a disturbing growth of incivility that follows and confirms the broken windows theory. Alas, this breakdown of civil norms is not a failing of either the political left or right exclusively. It spreads across the political spectrum from one end to the other.

A few examples: A liberal writes a book calling Rush Limbaugh a “big fat idiot.” A conservative writes a book calling liberals “useful idiots.” A liberal writes a book titled The Lies of George W. Bush. A conservative writes a book subtitled “Liberal Lies About the American Right.” A liberal publishes a detailed “case for Bush-hatred.” A conservative declares, “Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.”

Those few examples – and unfortunately there are many, many more – come from elites in the marketplace of ideas. All are highly educated people who write nationally syndicated columns, publish best-selling books, and are hot tickets on radio and television talk shows.

Further down the food chain, lesser lights take up smaller hammers, but they commit even more degrading incivilities. The Internet, with its easy access and worldwide reach, is a breeding ground for Web sites with names like Bushbodycount.com and Toostupidtobepresident.com. This is how the broken windows theory plays out in the marketplace of ideas. If you want to see it working in real time, try the following: Log on to AOL, and go to one of the live chat rooms reserved for political chat. Someone will post a civil comment on some political topic. Almost immediately, someone else will swing the verbal hammer of incivility, and from there the chat degrades into a food fight, with invective and insult as the main course.

This illustrates the first aspect of the broken windows theory, which we saw with the car in Palo Alto. Once someone wields the hammer – once the incivility starts – others will take it as an invitation to join in, and pretty soon there’s no limit to the incivility. And if you watch closely in that chat room, you’ll see something else happening. Watch the screen names of people who make civil comments. Some – a few – will join in the food fight. But most will log off. Their screen names just disappear. They leave because the atmosphere has turned hostile to anything approaching a civil exchange or a real dialogue.

This illustrates the second aspect of the broken windows theory: Once the insults begin flying, many will opt out. Wilson and Kelling describe this response when the visible signs of order deteriorate in a neighborhood:

Many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly. They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. Don’t get involved. For some residents, this growing atomization will matter little.... But it will matter greatly to other people, whose lives derive meaning and satisfaction from local attachments.... [F]or them, the neighborhood will cease to exist except for a few reliable friends whom they arrange to meet.

The chat room shows us that a similar response occurs when civility breaks down in the marketplace of ideas. Many people withdraw and tune out, regardless of whether the incivility occurs in a chat room, on a talk show, in a newspaper column, in political campaign ads, or on the floor of Congress. This is the real danger of incivility. Our free, self-governing society requires an open exchange of ideas, which in turn requires a certain level of civility rooted in mutual respect for each other’s opinions and viewpoints.

What we see today, I am afraid, is an accelerating competition between the left and the right to see which side can inflict the most damage with the hammer of incivility. Increasingly, those who take part in public debates appear to be exchanging ideas when, in fact, they are trading insults: idiot, liar, moron, traitor.

Civility and Character

Earlier this week I was in London and attended a dinner honoring Lady Margaret Thatcher on the 25th anniversary of her accession to the Prime Ministership of Great Britain. As you know, she is a good friend of Hillsdale College and has visited your campus. She was also a great political leader and has always been a model of civility.

If you want to grasp the nature of civility, try to imagine Lady Thatcher calling someone a “big fat idiot.” You will instantly understand that civility isn’t an accessory one can put on or take off like a scarf. It is inseparable from the character of great leaders.

I also happen to believe that our President, George W. Bush, is a model of civil discourse, and I only wish that everyone else in the political arena would take a lesson from his example.

Incivility is not a social blunder to be compared with using the wrong fork. Rather, it betrays a defect of character. Incivility is dangerous graffiti, regardless of whether it is spray-painted on a subway car or embossed on the title page of a book. The broken windows theory shows us the dangers in both cases.

But those cases aren’t parallel in every way, and in closing I want to call your attention to an important difference. When behavioral norms break down in a community, police can restore order. But when civility breaks down in the marketplace of ideas, the law is powerless to set things right. And properly so: Our right to speak freely – even with incivility, if we choose – is guaranteed by those five glorious words in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law....” And yet, the need for civility has never been greater. Our nation is divided as never before between the left and the right. We are at loggerheads on profoundly important political and social questions. Meanwhile, civilization itself is under barbaric attack from without.

Sadly, too many of us are not rising to these challenges as a democratic people. On the contrary, we’ve seen a 40-year decline in voter participation in national elections. In the last two presidential elections, fewer than half of eligible voters bothered to vote. Rather than helping to reverse this decline, the rising chorus of incivility is driving out citizens of honest intent and encouraging those who trade in jeering and mockery.

Fortunately, this is not the stuff of Hillsdale.

If we are to prevail as a free, self-governing people, we must first govern our tongues and our pens. Restoring civility to public discourse is not an option. It is a necessity.

Who will begin the restoration of civility? I hope you will. Your graduation today is proof that you’re up to the job, and I urge you to take it on as a serious, lifelong commitment.

Graduating senior Jennifer Meyer said today that this college has given her – and all of you – “all that is virtuous in one’s life.” Civility is, I firmly believe, one of those virtues. After four years of study at Hillsdale, you know the difference between attacking a person’s argument and attacking a person’s character. Respect that difference.

Your education here has taught you how to engage in rational debate and either hold your own or lose with grace and civility. Take that lesson with you.

Your professors at Hillsdale have shown you, by their example, that you don’t need the hammer of incivility to make your point. Follow their example. Defend your convictions – those virtues – with all the spirit you can. But do it with all the civility that you ought. As you leave this special place, lay your hammer down.

I wish you Godspeed on your journey through life. Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2004.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: diversity; multiculturalism; pc
Second article on the page. (first one is a good read, also.)
1 posted on 06/30/2004 8:36:56 AM PDT by Nasty McPhilthy
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

Required reading for ALL liberals (and most conservatives).


2 posted on 06/30/2004 8:43:08 AM PDT by Aeronaut (There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men. -- Edmund Burke)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy
There are people on this forum that could use this hint to good purpose.

I will not name names.

3 posted on 06/30/2004 8:43:19 AM PDT by Just another Joe (Warning: FReeping can be addictive and helpful to your mental health)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

Thanks for the post.


4 posted on 06/30/2004 8:47:52 AM PDT by ZGuy
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To: Just another Joe

ouch


5 posted on 06/30/2004 8:49:51 AM PDT by TexasTransplant ("You know, I think the best possible social program is a job" Ronald W. Reagan)
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To: Just another Joe
I will not name names.

Sounds like a great teaser title for a savage attack screed!

6 posted on 06/30/2004 8:50:06 AM PDT by headsonpikes (Spirit of '76 bttt!)
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To: Just another Joe; Jim Robinson
I agree. Ought to be read by all those participating in this forum. There have been times I've just felt like walking away...

Reasonable debate and siagreement is one thing, but the incivility is quite another...

7 posted on 06/30/2004 8:51:24 AM PDT by sionnsar (Resource for Traditional Anglicans: trad-anglican.faithweb.com)
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To: sionnsar
There have been times I've just felt like walking away...

Unfortunately, if you aren't willing to joing in, that's what the bashers want you to do.

8 posted on 06/30/2004 8:54:59 AM PDT by tacticalogic (I Controlled application of force is the sincerest form of communication.)
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To: tacticalogic

because liberal lefties in Palo Alto can't turn a wrench


9 posted on 06/30/2004 9:01:15 AM PDT by spokeshave (strategery + schadenfreude = stratenschadenfreudery)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy
This is an excellent! address. And I concur with its premises, fully, in re its purpose in address.

However, in practical political terms, it does not necessarily apply, IMHO.

The Dem/Lib's have been launching uncivil, incivil attacks endlessly over the past 30 years. Republicans have spent oodles of years being "civil". While I think, overall, repubs are yet civil -- we are in a war for the soul of this country abroad and domestically -- against agents who use a "by any means necessary" philosophy.

Dem/Libs have only amped up their hateful, lying rhetoric -- against HOW many years of requests they be civil? They don't hear; and they choose not to be. This then requires different tactics. Dealing with bullies usually requires more than simple "civility".

10 posted on 06/30/2004 9:02:43 AM PDT by Alia (California -- It's Groovy! Baby!)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy
This is an excellent! address. And I concur with its premises, fully, in re its purpose in address.

However, in practical political terms, it does not necessarily apply, IMHO.

The Dem/Lib's have been launching uncivil, incivil attacks endlessly over the past 30 years. Republicans have spent oodles of years being "civil". While I think, overall, repubs are yet civil -- we are in a war for the soul of this country abroad and domestically -- against agents who use a "by any means necessary" philosophy.

Dem/Libs have only amped up their hateful, lying rhetoric -- against HOW many years of requests they be civil? They don't hear; and they choose not to be. This then requires different tactics. Dealing with bullies usually requires more than simple "civility".

11 posted on 06/30/2004 9:02:48 AM PDT by Alia (California -- It's Groovy! Baby!)
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To: Alia

You post perfectly captures my reaction to this.


12 posted on 06/30/2004 9:05:49 AM PDT by FreedomPoster (hoplophobia is a mental aberration rather than a mere attitude)
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To: spokeshave
because liberal lefties in Palo Alto can't turn a wrench

And don't have a clue as to the value of perfectly good parts.

13 posted on 06/30/2004 9:15:31 AM PDT by tacticalogic (I Controlled application of force is the sincerest form of communication.)
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To: sionnsar; Jim Robinson; Nasty McPhilthy

I thought the same thing when I read it the other day. Thanks for pinging Jim. FR has the good standards the speaker talks about, but everyone should read the speech anyway.

Thanks for posting N McP.


14 posted on 06/30/2004 9:22:37 AM PDT by leadpenny
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

Let's see, the leftists have been hitting us in the face with a shovel since the Bork hearings and all you jokers are saying now is that Ann Coulter has gone too far and you want to disown her. Have I got that right?


15 posted on 06/30/2004 9:34:00 AM PDT by namvetcav
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To: Nasty McPhilthy
Great read thank you.

The broken window theory of crime can explain a lot in terms of "white collar crime" like A Anderson accounting, Enron, WorldCom, etc. It can also be used to explain the very bitter partisan fighting now occuring between Democrats and Republicans that is harming the legislative process in many states and the nation's capitol. I particularly liked the political character assasination explaination in the article.

Thank you for the explaination to much of what is going on.

16 posted on 06/30/2004 9:34:47 AM PDT by Robert357
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

Great article. Thank you.

My first thought, on his mentioning the broken-window theory, was in regards to the terrorist attacks on us during the Clinton years. Little by little, with nothing being done in retaliation. Finally leading up to 9/11.


17 posted on 06/30/2004 10:00:49 AM PDT by Chipper
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To: namvetcav

"Our nation is divided as never before between the left and the right. We are at loggerheads on profoundly important political and social questions. Meanwhile, civilization itself is under barbaric attack from without."

I love Ann (God Bless Her)but, the point is, a nation divided is sure to fall.

No Joke.


18 posted on 06/30/2004 10:01:33 AM PDT by Nasty McPhilthy (When the levy breaks…..there’ll be no place to run.)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

EXCELLENT READ. Funny thing is just purchased a town home in a good area. My father and I Did some landscaping/painting, added hard wood floors and a few other things to help attract renters. When we were finished the house looked wonderful. Within a few weeks next door neighbor on the left painted his front door and upgraded his window shutters. Now the neighbor to the right has just planted new shrubs in his yard. I can't help but wonder if what we were doing had an effect on our neighbors..


19 posted on 06/30/2004 10:05:23 AM PDT by Independentamerican (Independent Sophomore at the University of MD)
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To: namvetcav

"Let's see, the leftists have been hitting us in the face with a shovel since the Bork hearings and all you jokers are saying now is that Ann Coulter has gone too far and you want to disown her. Have I got that right?"

You ARE right! When you're in a street fight with a kicker, sticking with Marquis of Queensbury rules means YOU LOSE!

Consider the "Democrats Gone Wild" phenomenon and its success against Bush's "New Tone". For many generations, leftists of all persuasions have been diligently working to undermine traditional modes of discourse, with its expectations of courtesy and respect. I believe the malign influence of the sixties, beginning with Mario Savio's "Free Speech" movement at Berkeley, accelerated the decline. The entire campus protest "anti-war" movement took it from there.

We now find ourselves battling a cultural and political war with forces of evil that are unrepentent and unbounded in their malevolence. I would agree with Patton's technique of slapping the cowardly perpetrator, with an eye toward helping these confused people regain their senses and self respect. If they had any to begin with...


20 posted on 06/30/2004 10:14:45 AM PDT by vanmorrison
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To: sionnsar
Reasonable debate and siagreement is one thing, but the incivility is quite another...

OH YEAH?!

21 posted on 06/30/2004 10:43:02 AM PDT by bruin66 (Time: Nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once.)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

Bump to finish reading later - life interrupted by work, again!


22 posted on 06/30/2004 12:16:54 PM PDT by Hegemony Cricket (Better fight the WOT in the Iraqi "holy" city of Najaf, than in the American holy city of New York.)
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To: LiteKeeper

Ping - interesting article.


23 posted on 06/30/2004 1:19:12 PM PDT by Hegemony Cricket (Better fight the WOT in the Iraqi "holy" city of Najaf, than in the American holy city of New York.)
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To: Nasty McPhilthy

INTREP - PSYCHOLOGY


24 posted on 06/30/2004 5:14:40 PM PDT by LiteKeeper
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To: SheLion; Wolfie

Ping for smokers and WOD ping lists! Good read!


25 posted on 07/28/2004 7:40:45 AM PDT by CSM ("The Democrat Cocktail: Ketchup with a Chaser." by JennysCool (7/7/04))
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To: bruin66
in the words of Teresa

"Shove it"
26 posted on 07/29/2004 5:07:51 AM PDT by mondoman (The decline in political discourse is ALL George W. Bush's fault! (OOPS))
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To: Nasty McPhilthy
I received my copy in the mail yesterday. Glad to see someone posted this.

I believe that herein is a formula for attracting the desirable "undecided" swing voters in this election. Whoever is the more effective party at positioning themselves to take the high ground, will attract the those who are disenchanted with the rabid dialog.

I keep waiting to hear from either party what they stand for in this election. Rush made a point of this yesterday. The Dems are quite vocal about ABB, but cannot enunciate a positive policy v. the GOP.
27 posted on 07/29/2004 5:13:27 AM PDT by mondoman (The decline in political discourse is ALL George W. Bush's fault!)
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