My view on civility in discourse is that people ought to try their best to be nice, given the very delicate matters often on the table. This may involve being nice to actual people with whom you disagree (in person or online) or actual people whose life choices are implicated in your utterances. Indeed, people ought to bear in mind that even abstract arguments have real targets–all arguments, in this sense, are ad hominem. On this point, here is an interesting meditation on civility. It’s a fun read and well worth it, a sample paragraph:
What exactly is the difference between what I am doing and what McArdle is doing? Is it that the hypothetical poor person is this faceless human being that nobody in the elite pundit class has ever actually known and that therefore their internal feelings and humanity can sort of be tossed about in some half-assed psychoanalytical effort to theorize their needs and dreams? Meanwhile, McArdle is a concrete human being in your circle whose humanity is present on your mind as she’s being torn through in my concrete example for my pro-material-security argument?
I’m inclined to think, as I think the author is suggesting (though I’m not sure), that we ought actually to be nice to the people in our arguments, even though those people aren’t always real people. Our views, however, have implications for real people, so perhaps we should act as if those people were before us and not just nameless idiots. After all, you care about the cognitive life of those idiots; that’s why you’re arguing with them.