The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson

Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts, Meanderings,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).

A Civil Society

For thousands of years, western society has grappled with what constitutes a civil, legal, and just society. It has been a tumultuous and turbulent process that has resulted in many violations of human rights along the way. We have learned through trial and error, philosophical discourse, and moral and ethical practices the means to achieve a civil, legal, and just society. These lessons learned must be applied by all to maintain a civil society. This article only deals with a civil society in the public arena. Civility in private and commercial activities utilizes many (if not all) of these precepts and are addressed in other observations of mine. Some of these lessons learned are:

Polite and Respectful Speech and BehaviorTOC

Polite and respectful speech and behavior are the only acceptable means of communication. Interrupting someone, talking over, drowning out, shouting at, cursing at, using foul language, and physically intimidating gestures are uncivil and lead to a breakdown of society. Confronting someone you disagree with while they are engaged in private activities (i.e. living at home, dining out, shopping, etc.) is a violation of their human right to privacy. In no cases is it acceptable to confront a family member of someone you disagree with. To do so otherwise is to utilize terroristic methods against someone.

The person you disagree with is the only person that you should engage. They, and they alone are responsible for their words and deeds. They, and they alone need to be held responsible for their words and deeds. Only when it is necessary to prove or disprove their words and deeds should others who have knowledge of the situation be brought into the discussion.

Remember that being polite and respectful to others is not a reflection on the other person, but it is a reflection on you.

Freedom of Speech is EssentialTOC

Everyone has the right to express their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. This would hopefully be done in a polite and respectful manner, but it is not required that they do so. Disrespectful or impolite speech should be condemned but not restricted. But no one is free to lie about, slander, or libel another person. All speech is acceptable, and there are no restrictions on what a person can say. If you disagree with someone you have the freedom of speech to express your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. You have no right to suppress another’s thoughts, beliefs, or opinions. You have no right to restrict others free speech through verbal or physical acts of intimidation. Remember that the answer to free speech that you disagree with is free speech to voice your disagreement.

When engaged in dialog and debate demonization, denigration, or disparagement of the opposition is unacceptable, but criticism and critique are to be encouraged. The only acceptable method of discourse is disagreement - to be of different opinions. While you are engaged in a disagreement you should be cognizant that people of good character can and often disagree with each other. The method of their disagreement is very important to achieve civil discourse. There are two ways you can disagree with someone; by criticizing their opinions or beliefs or critiquing their opinions or beliefs.

  • Criticism - Disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings.
  • Critique - A serious examination and judgment of something.

Most people and most commentators have forgotten the difference between Criticism and Critique. This has led to the hyper-partisanship in today's society. In a civil society critiquing a viewpoint or policy position should be encouraged. This will often allow for a fuller consideration of the issues, and perhaps a better viewpoint or policy position without invoking hyper-partisanship. We can expect that partisanship will often occur, as people of good character can and often disagree with each other. Criticizing a viewpoint or policy position will often lead to hostility, rancor, and enmity, which results in the breakdown of civil discourse and hyper-partisanship. It is fine to criticize someone for their bad or destructive behavior, but it is best to critique them for their opinions or words. We would all do better if we remember to critique someone, rather than criticize someone.

Under no circumstances are physical assaults permitted during dialog and debate, as well as the exercise of someone’s free speech.

With Facts, Intelligence, And ReasoningTOC

Facts should be utilized with intellectual reasoning to determine the truth. To do otherwise would abrogate the truth and lead you to misjudgments. To allow emotions into your facts and reasoning will also lead to a falsehood.

You must, however, obtain all the facts before you apply intelligence and reasoning. This requires that you listen and read all sides of an issue, not just the side you agree with. You need to winnow out the facts to determine their applicability, their importance, and their usefulness to your reasoning. You must also weigh the facts in their importance and give more credence to the more important facts in your reasoning. Intelligent reasoning then requires that you apply formal and informal logic to the remaining facts. At the end of this process, and not before, you can claim your decision is based on facts, intelligence, and reasoning.

In today’s society, it often seems that there is a religious fervor to the issues that are contentious. One side or the other makes up its mind on the issues and will cling to their opinion even in the presence of countervailing information. You must always be open to the possibility that your opinion may be incorrect based on the new or additional information. When this happens, you must be willing to modify your opinion based on this new or additional information. When I obtain new or additional information impacting an opinion of mine I thoroughly investigate this new or additional information, think and reason about what I have learned, and modify my opinion accordingly.

Allegations & Assertions are to be proven by those making themTOC

The person asserting something has the responsibility of proving their assertion is correct. The person disputing the assertion has no responsibility to prove the other person’s assertion is incorrect. Too often, in today’s political debates, one side or the other makes an assertion without justifying their assertion. Indeed, they often imply or retort that the other side must prove them wrong. Assertions also contain Presumptions; Assumptions; Incorrect Facts; Incomplete Facts; Missing Facts; Irrelevant Facts; Faulty Reasoning; Logical Fallacies; Cognitive Biases; and the Unintended Consequences problems that may be inherent in the assertion. The deconstruction of an assertion to determine the validity of the assertion may take considerable time and effort. Unless an assertion is not disputable it should be questioned to determine if it contains any of these problems. Generally, the assertion of facts is indisputable. However, the meaning of these facts is often disputable. Therefore, when someone makes an assertion about the meaning of the facts you need to carefully examine the assertion to determine its validity.

In science, law, philosophy, theology, and many other areas of human interactions, it is the responsibility of the person asserting something to prove that their assertion is correct. Otherwise, we could end up with the following absurd situation:

Someone could assert that Martians eat garbage and urinate gasoline. If they did not have to prove their assertion, but someone had to disprove their assertion, then the following would be necessary to disprove the assertion. The person disproving the assertion would have to prove there is no such thing as Martians, or if there were Martians prove that they did not eat garbage, and if there were Martians that ate garbage they would have to prove that they did not urinate gasoline.

Obviously, it is not possible to prove or disprove these things. Therefore, the person who asserts something bears the burden of proving that their assertion is correct.

As Christopher Hitchens once said, "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence." To agree to disagree requires that both sides must present cogent arguments, explanations, or reasoning for their assertions. Otherwise, it is not possible to disagree with the party without a cogent argument, explanation, or reasoning, you can only dismiss their assertion. You should, therefore, challenge a person who asserts something to prove their assertion. If there is no proof for an assertion, then the assertion can be simply dismissed. Otherwise, you get into the situation that "if you cannot prove that they are wrong then they must be right", which is obviously a fallacious statement.

Loaded Questions and Proving a NegativeTOC

A loaded question (also known as a Complex question fallacy) is a question that contains controversial or unjustified assumptions (e.g., a presumption of guilt). Questions such as “When did you stop beating your wife?”, “Why do you continue to steal?”, etc. are obviously loaded. The most insidious of these loaded questions, however, is when the question has assumptions built into the question that is not obvious. These questions presume facts or truths that have not been proven. And unobvious loaded questions abound today (and many journalist questions are unobvious loaded questions).

The only proper way to answer loaded questions is by challenging the assumptions. But this gives the appearance of not answering or dodging the question, which often redounds negatively on the person answering the question. It is also true that challenging a question can take (considerably) more time than a simple answer would take. Challenging the question's assumptions should and needs to be done to properly answer a loaded question.

The other answer to this question is when a question is formulated in a manner that requires someone to prove a negative. One of the things that western society has learned is that you cannot prove a negative (i.e. prove you didn't say or do something).  Historically, forcing someone to prove a negative has led to witches being burned at the stake, heretic’s being executed, lynching’s to occur, summary executions to take place, as well as many other violations of human rights. It has also led to falsehoods to be introduced into science, law, philosophy, morality, and ethics. No one is required to prove a negative, therefore, refusing to answer negative loaded question presumes nothing and cannot be utilized for any purposes.

Therefore, a loaded question should not be answered directly. It is the unobvious loaded question that has built-in assumptions or a presumption of guilt that should especially not be answered. They should always be challenged as a loaded question by the party being asked the question. Refusing to answer a loaded question presumes nothing and cannot be utilized for any purposes. The time it takes to challenge a loaded question should not be considered detrimental to the person who answers, and indeed, should be redounded positively on the person who answers as it is often a positive reflection on their intelligence and knowledge.

The Rule of Law is SacrosanctTOC

Without the Rule of Law, there can be no Justice. But the Rule of Law requires that several concepts and tenets be enforced for Justice to prosper. These concepts and tenets are “Etched in Stone”. As this is an important topic I have written a separate web page on "The Rule of Law". I would encourage you to review this web page after reading these thoughts.

No Rush to JudgmentTOC

Everyone is entitled to a Presumption of Innocence. Not only in Law but in Society. For if you do not presume innocence then the accused stands to lose their reputation, employment, wealth, future opportunities, and even family and friends based on unproven allegations or assertions. These items should not be lightly taken from anyone without proof of wrongdoing. The proof being credible, verifiable, and substantiated. The question is then how you can judge an allegation or assertion of wrongdoing? The answer to this question is in another article I have written: “Who are you to Judge?”. I would encourage you to review this article at your convenience.

This is also why gossip is so insidious. It provides no recourse for a refutation of the person being gossiped and leads to misjudgments of a person. Therefore, I have made it a point to not engage in gossip or to pay any heed to gossip, as all people of good conscience should not gossip or pay heed to gossip.

To rush to judgment would cause serious harm to the individual and to the social fabric of our society.

Consequences of an Uncivil SocietyTOC

To not follow the above precepts is to allow for the breakdown of civil society. Society fractures into opposing factions that will not pay any attention to civility or to each other. Misjudgments, wrong conclusions, and extreme partisanship will become rampant. It could possibly spiral out of control from verbal agitation, to physical assaults, then to a civil war. History has taught us these lessons. Let us pay heed to history and not allow this to happen by returning to the precepts of a civil society.