Sunday, October 26, 2008

Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni



Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni offers common sense lessons contained in short chapters with titles ranging from "Speak Kindly" to "Be Gentle to Animals." There is little to disagree with in Forni’s text which centers on the commonalities of civility cross-culturally, citing multiple religious and literary minds along the way. For academic discussion it passes the gauntlet of political correctness, moral relativism, inclusiveness, and the like. Consequently, there is little to argue about and where is the fun in that!


Given the wide use of references from various moral minds throughout the ages, Forni sets the text up for possible criticism regarding these certain individuals. For example, Forni includes multiple quotes on civility from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom abandoned each one of his five children as infants at impoverished orphanages, leading to childhood deaths. Shirking the responsibilities of parenthood and abandoning infants is certainly not a defining of a "civilized man." His political writing encompass a lifetime of attacking the institution of private property, making him the godfather of the most inhumane political system in history. Benjamin Franklin, also continually quoted, is well known for his infamous orgies in France while maintaining his post as U.S. diplomat. Also quoted is Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman statesman and right hand man of the emperor Nero, during the most terrifying of executions and tortures of thousands of Christians in the early church. Lucius Annaeus Seneca is quoted as saying "Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness" (Forni 3). The Christians who were burned alive on posts to light the festive Roman parties were not afforded this opportunity for kindness.


It is not my argument to say that those involved in morally questionable acts cannot utter a phrase on civility. Forni in his Forward to the text admits he himself is a "flawed messenger bearing a good message." I am suggesting however, that a "cohesiveness" of thought is sacrificed in the attempt to feverishly incorporate the cross-cultural, multi-religious, anti-religious (Freud civility lesson in Chapter 8), and imaginative concoction into a coherent philosophical synthesis of what truly defines civility.


Given that no concrete philosophy is provided, this leaves Forni without any footing to fully articulate a conception of why we should be civil and loving toward out neighbor. He is repeatedly unsuccessful as breeching the why beyond a latent self-interest that plagues the chapters, though he pretends to inspire its suppression. For example, the conclusion of his chapter, "The Science of Love" insists that showing love is of "great importance to those of us in the second part of our lives. When we retire we are at risk of finding ourselves isolated…If we are kind and considerate, people will want to be around us, and we benefit from enduring circles of attention and care" (30). The quantity if the pronouns "us" and "we" in the text as they relate to personal benefit highlight a failure to reflect on the mysterious phenomena of love and true self sacrifice. Forni cannot explain love beyond strategic interpersonal objectives. The neglect of writing in support of the inherrant and objective moral value of service to neighbor, apart from its consequences is boring and uninspiring. Furthermore, it will not rouse meaningful discussion on the more admirable aspects of the human spirit which is fully capable of acting outside the realm of reward based behavior.

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