Back in December 2008, commenting on the career of the recently-deceased Conor Cruise O’Brien, Daniel Davies casually sketched out… well, I’ll let him tell it:
I think his decline and fall from sensible, interesting, Good Bloke to reactionary ballbag outlines the Three Prime Directives, the rejection of which defines Decency:
1. Think about the consequences of what you’re saying
2. Don’t become an ethnic partisan
and, the Ultimate Prime Directive
3. No need to be a c**t about it.
CCO’B started off on the right side, but one by one he gradually broke them all.
(Daniel didn’t use asterisks, but I’m a bit less fearless about causing offence. Plus I’m getting quite enough one-handed traffic as it is, thanks to this post.)
In the shortened form of ‘BACAI’, the phrase has entered the language – at least, it’s entered the jargon used on Aarowatch and D^2 Digest. What does it mean? I’ve written elsewhere on what precisely the insult in question signifies, and Daniel’s usage isn’t that far from mine. Basically there is no need to start from the assumption that disagreement can only be motivated by evil and stupidity; no need to be aggressive, wilfully insensitive and deliberately offensive; no need to challenge the other person to jump through hoops of your own devising and denounce them when they fail to do so. Above all, there’s no need to enjoy doing all this, or to congratulate yourself and others for doing it. (If anything sums up the meaning of the C-word in BritEng, it’s this combination of insensitivity and self-congratulation: he’s ruined your day and not only does he not care, he thinks he’s been rather clever.)
As well as identifying the deep affinity between BACAI and what’s become known as the Decent Left, Daniel has repeatedly stressed the importance of the (Ultimate) Prime Directive in blog discussions (the other two have rather fallen by the wayside). I think the PD can be unpacked into two equally important statements:
1. Whoever you are and however just your cause, there is no need to BACAI.
2. This matters: BACAI is never a good thing and should always be avoided.
The second statement is there to help enforce assent to the first, which everyone is wont to regard as dispensable on special occasions (e.g. when they’ve been annoyed by somebody enough to want to BACAI).
Fast forward to last weekend and TAM 8 – the eighth annual session of The Amazing Meeting, James Randi’s sceptics’ conference. And:
Phil Plait’s “Don’t be a dick” talk, in which he decried what he sees as the rise of incivility in the skeptical blogosphere.