We’re told that civility is what we need to bring people back into politics. Diana Mutz, a leading researcher on the psychology of “in-your-face” politics disagrees. Too much incivility has deleterious effects, but too much civility leads to apathy and inattention:
For those concerned about widespread political apathy, Mutz concludes, more civility on television is not a solution. Political programming need not be shout fests, but it does need to be entertaining. Campaigns may never be the carnival-like events they were in the 19th century, but by taking cues from shows like American Idol, political television (particularly around election season) can better compete in an entertainment-dominated media environment. (html)
Mutz also finds that when it comes to arousal, text-based incivility (not intra-personal, but rather the kind of thing one sees in op-eds and transcripts) cannot compete with TV for creating agitation.
There are some clear links here to civility online and even the sort of balance we need to strike between the Garden and the Stream.
A related issue is how catastrophic events motivate us more than slow growth. See Tree That Falls