According to the recent study Aggravating Circumstances by Public Agenda Online, 80 percent of Americans consider "lack of respect" to be a serious social problem.

Most surveyed believe the problem is increasing, with 41 percent viewing themselves as part of the problem.

Politically correct feminists bear some of the responsibility for making North America a less civil place in which to live. PC feminism is the politics of rage that depicts men as political enemies of women. It replaces reasoned argument with ad hominem onslaught and has sparked a hate-filled backlash at the fringes of the Men's Rights Movement, where women are hated as a class in tit-for-tat fashion.

The bitterness inspired by PC feminism is so great that tell-all books are written by insiders to expose the viciousness. Tammy Bruce — former president of L.A. NOW — chronicles the left-wing campaigns of malice against dissent in her book, The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds.

More recently, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman by pioneering PC feminist Phyllis Chesler, accuses the movement of embracing slander, libel and backstabbing against anyone who dares to question or disagree.

The fractiousness might be written off as distracting gossip were it not for the fact that slander has become standard methodology for many discussions that affect social policy: domestic violence, rape, abortion, sexual harassment. The methodology of malice has become a barrier to progress that must be addressed. Intellectual civility must be championed, beginning on the individual level.

The following is a list of some intellectual rights you should demand:

— You have the right to not care. Perhaps anorexia in America is being blamed on Calista Flockhart for the 100th time. If the topic is boring, you have the right to state, "I don't want to talk about this further."

— You have the right to not understand something without being made to feel stupid. A feminist may be excoriating white male culture for the lack of women in Congress. You have the right to say: "I don't understand. Since more women vote than men, how can men be blamed for election results?"

— You have the right to be uninformed. You may know nothing about the trafficking of girls into prostitution in East Asia. Don't apologize. Simply state: "I am not familiar with that. Why don't you explain it to me?"

— You have the right to make an error. Perhaps in arguing against affirmative action, you misstate a statistic. Committing honest errors is inevitable and you have the right to be fallible without having your integrity questioned. Admit "I'm clearly mistaken on that point," then move on.

— You have the right to change your mind. When the Taliban required women to wear burquas, you may have railed against the garment: Now that burquas are optional, you may defend the prerogative of Afghan women to dress as they wish. There is no shame in changing your mind. Indeed, it can be a sign of intellectual honesty.

— You have the right to disagree without having to justify yourself. Female co-workers may be bashing men in general as philandering wife-beaters. You have the right to state firmly "I disagree" and walk away without explanation — or stay and argue, as you choose.

— You have the right to form an opinion and to express it. You do not need a diploma, permission from your spouse, dispensation from the Church, or a birth certificate listing the "correct" sex. Simply by being human, you have a right to reach conclusions and state them. For example, men have a right to independent opinions on "women's" issues like abortion.

Rights are what we are entitled to claim from other people, and all rights have corresponding duties — those behaviors that others are entitled to claim from us. The following are some of the intellectual duties, or rules of etiquette, that others have a right to expect from you.

— Never purposely embarrass anyone. Brute reason is as inexcusable as brute force.

— Give the other person time to consider your points: don't badger them. Your purpose is not to punish someone but to persuade.

— When someone has conceded a point, move on. Do not keep hammering away simply for the satisfaction of being correct over and over again.

— Freely acknowledge errors. "Sticking to your guns" makes your error the center of attention and is likely to cast doubt on every other claim you've made.

— When you are uncertain, say so. Saying "I don't know" is a sign of intellectual honesty and self-confidence, not weakness.

— Acknowledge good points made by your "opponent." Such courtesy within arguments is so rare that you will acquire a reputation for fairness based on this habit alone.

— Don't argue to display your own cleverness. This is as offensive to most people as an ostentatious display of wealth that usually causes resentment, not admiration.

It is time for a renaissance of goodwill between the sexes and of civility in public debate. The renaissance will begin with individuals. It will begin with you.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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