Though my mother tended not to hold her fellow motorists in high regard, I have no recollection of her expressing her displeasure by giving the finger.

Times changed, as did modes of self-expression, exemplified by an unfortunate episode in which I inadvertently gave the finger to a carload of nuns some decades ago. To be clear, I gave the finger quite intentionally but I did not know the offending motorists had taken the vows. They responded – as one — by making the sign of the cross, thus winning the day.

I reflect on this because of a conversation the other night with a fellow who makes campaign commercials for Republican candidates. He made a special point of saying they were moderate Republicans.

He observed that the level of political discourse – especially online – had declined precipitously and, in the course of that conversation, I asked, “have you ever seen pedestrians give each other the finger?”

We agreed that we had not and we attributed the difference between automotive finger giving and pedestrian non-finger giving to the sense of safety provided by two important features of automobiles: a considerable amount of surrounding steel; and high escape velocity. Neither of these is a notable feature of pedestrians.

This led us to ask why people seem to feel that Facebook and Twitter are more like being in cars than being on foot especially when it comes to politics.

What happens when participants in an online flame war see each other in person or does this never happen?   Would they continue to shout at each other as they did online or would they moderate their conversation as might befit a pedestrian encounter? We did not know the answer.

We agreed that virulent political discourse was likely unhelpful to governing though it is clearly a favored means of attention getting.

Perhaps this sheds some light on the relative importance of governing and attention getting in politics?

Is there a chance that Kathy Griffin’s remake of Judith beheading Holofernes has set a floor beneath the lowest permissible level of political conversation?

I doubt even my mother would have held up the bloody head of the President although, by now, she would surely have been giving the finger. Even to nuns.

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