Good manners should extend to online political discourse, too

Written by Bob Wanner, MLA for Medicine Hat. First published in Medicine Hat News on June 24, 2016.

Politics is a hard-fought, rough-and-tumble business requiring those entering this field of public service to have thick skins.

But even the thickest-skinned politician is not bulletproof.

That has been proven far too often in the past and as recently as last week when a democratically-elected British MP was gunned down in the street.

One individual’s actions in deciding the collective will of constituents who democratically elected their representative is wrong does not serve the public good.

It should be no surprise to anyone that violent rhetoric can lead to violent actions.

How it benefits anyone is something of a mystery.

But, such actions don’t come without warning signs.

They are more often than not predicated by unsavory discourse which has nothing to do with fact but is peppered with foul and violent language.

No one is suggesting political discourse needs to be meek and mild.

But it should be engaged with at least the minimum level of manners and common decency.

It should be no surprise to anyone that violent rhetoric can lead to violent actions.

That is a truth which is consistent in a barroom brawl and, unfortunately, when it comes to physical threats against politicians.

It is becoming almost normalized behaviour to have online threats of extreme violence against schools and the children who occupy them — something this city experienced earlier this year.

We should not just accept such actions as the way things are in the internet age.

Exemplifying good manners should not be a virtue that is forgotten once you enter the online world.

Unfortunately, the common courtesy that has historically been expressed between citizens — even among those with differing views — is falling victim to a new form of malicious behaviour that is creeping from the online world into the real one.

Parliamentary democracies are based on an adversarial form of debate but one which the etiquette established by the ancient Greeks has served to promote peaceful and respectful discourse for more than 2,000 years.

It has proven the test of time as a method of espousing differing opinions in an attempt to reach the common goal of the betterment of society.

It is a system which in the ancient world separated the civilized city- and regional-states of Europe from those which did not quite met that standard.

To accept the type of extreme, violent, incendiary language which is common on the Internet is to accept that we as a civilization are rolling back the high standards of behaviour that were once cherished, the manners our parents taught us and those values which were once held as unassailable.

There has been — and will continue to be — no shortage of heated political debate in a free and democratic Alberta. But that can only continue by pushing back the rising tide of those who are purveys of violence-laden rhetoric and whom seek to upend civil and constructive discourse.