Friday, 19 April 2013

The excitable crowd...

This is a hard post to write for I understand - more than I care to analyse - the power of words to wound and the ability of other people's lies to destroy a man. Those who wave "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" probably haven't experienced the agony - the torture - of incessant verbal abuse. Not the shouting sort but the quietly whispered version; the drip, drip, drip of nastiness, the exclusion, the endless pointing to flaws and failings.

So, yes folks, words can - and do - drive people to the point of no return. And we should respect that fact and act accordingly. But we talk here of persistent, deliberate, directed, personal attacks not the generality of criticising a place or a people. Such things do not wound, do not destroy and are designed more to irritate, to generate a response.

I recall the first time I was attacked on the basis of a stereotype - it was the north/south thing. This fellow student told me I was a rich, posh southerner who wouldn't understand real life because...well because I was from "The South". I was surprised mostly by the 'all southerners are posh' line since I'd never thought of myself as anything but perfectly ordinary, as far removed from poshness as most folk. What shocked me though was the realisation that this man saw the world through a prism of stereotyped prejudice - his 'rich posh southerner' line was little different objectively than the view of black people as good at sports but not much else.

I say all this to provide some context, to point out that there's a difference between tribal allegiance and personal feelings. There's a big difference between calling someone fat and ugly and saying that everyone from Denholme is an inbred. Both these comments are rude but only the first is personal. And those folk from Denholme revel in their slightly redneck image (although heaven knows how they got to be called Frogboilers).

Which brings me to the excitable crowd, the mobile vulgus - the mob. For it is in this monster and its exploitation by a savvy few that the real danger lies. Step back to the distinction between the personal and the general - the mob takes offence (or is directed to that fake offence) at the latter and, in doing so, uses the former to prosecute its case. In times past this resulted in some rows, maybe a fight.

Today - because the government wishes to control speech - it results in someone being arrested for being rude on Twitter.

It seems that the mob can issue any kind of threat once its dander is up - from whining, self-righteous victim-mongering to actual death threats. But the target of that mob's anger - whatever their initial words - is hounded, chased, attacked and threatened. And the men of the law - with their shiny police vehicles and politically-correct masters - do the bidding (as they ever did) of the mob.

These laws - the ones that get people arrested for joking about blowing up a snow-bound airport, making snippy comments about Olympic divers or making unpleasant remarks about people from Liverpool.

These laws are the real offence.


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