Why Blocking Is Good For Your Health
A few words about the disintegration of language and why I don’t have to listen to your shitty opinions.
A few days ago I wrote a tweet that got shared a lot. It wouldn’t qualify as viral, but the sentiment — an off the cuff, satirical joke made in the immediate wake of Steve Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s Chief Strategist — struck a chord with enough of you that eventually it was hitting the timelines of users who don’t know me, or hadn’t seen the tweet it followed off from. Some of those people, as might be expected, decided on their own interpretation of my nine short words.
The overwhelming majority of readers got it immediately. It struck the right, gallows humour tone at the right time, and I’m guessing it made people feel a sense of solidarity that someone else was feeling as they did. I’ve done a lot of that sharing myself these last few days, in the belief that a desperation shared is a desperation halved.
On reading of Bannon’s appointment, and of his role as Editor of white supremacist store front, Breitbart News, it took a nano second for my mind to jump to known, festering umbilical chord to misogyny, Milo Yiannopoulos, and from there to his disciples; the hundreds of Pepe the Frog avatars that have come to my virtual door over the years with their bag of suppurating wares: A stale brace of badgering, an old, stinking pot of harassment, perhaps a hand-carved rape threat or two. I have an immediate block policy for such users, because let’s be clear, they don’t come to discuss their differing political opinions, they come for a particularly nasty type of sport & entertainment; to taunt my gender, my liberal politics, and sometimes my appearance. I am not a free gym. I am not a bouncy castle for emotionally stunted white men.
So as a section of Twitter (mostly Trump supporters, but a few finger wagging liberals too) started quote tweeting me, the moral lesson they wanted to impart was the same: “This is what happens when you put your fingers in your ears and stop listening to differing political viewpoints!” Trump supporters said it with relish (Ha ha! See? This is how we beat you, Libtard!). Liberals said it with a weary, admonishing sigh (Oh, naïve lady, see how your brittle behaviour has contributed to the downfall of civilization as we know it? Please do better).
I’m going to be honest, this pissed me off. I mean, I try and be patient, but I’m an opinionated person who hates being ticked off and has the smallest of issues with being thought of as wrong. So I began tweeting back, pointing out that all these idiots had missed the joke. That it was a bit of satire they stupidly took at face value, stupid other people on Twitter. I was also at pains to point out that I do not block differing opinion, I block abuse. There can be no world in which I’m expected to tolerate harassment online in the interests of holding a balanced political viewpoint, then somehow, covered in the blood spatter of a thousand amphibian skirmishes, be in a better position to ward off the incoming Tangerine Apocalypse. I think most people would agree on this.
It was in these exchanges, and those that span off from them, that I started to notice a few new things. Firstly, that no one ever backs down on Twitter, least of all me. Secondly, that agreed meanings of terms like misogyny, racism and homophobia had started to disintegrate. I’m no expert on the psychology behind this phenomenon, but I’m going to hazard a guess that if the views you have held for most of your life have been regarded as abhorrent and socially unacceptable, that’s going to make you a little uncomfortable and defensive. If someone calls you a racist, and you know that racist = BAD, perhaps you subtly, gradually, start to convince yourself that your behaviour and thought patterns do not come under the heading of racist. Therefore you are not racist. Therefore you are not a bad person.
Or maybe you feel so aggrieved and victimised by the incessant chant of racist! sexist! that some thoughts occur to you; “Why aren’t my views allowed? Why am I being shouted down? Why am I being oppressed? It’s almost as though, as a white man, I’m not allowed to speak. That feels a little bit like racism AND sexism. I think I’ll adopt those words and start shouting them back.”
And in the crystallisation of those thoughts, all of our toughest words — those with which we have for years marshalled on fairness and inequality — turned to ash. In the mind boggling, gymnastic invention of internet doublespeak, the far right gaslit us into paralysis. There can be no dialogue where basic definitions of the cornerstones of liberal values have been hijacked, re-painted and flipped. Labels aren’t going to be enough anymore. Knowledge, articulacy and at least a rudimentary grasp on philosophical logic are just a few of the arrows we are going to need in our quivers if we hope to be able to do battle online and in life.
I felt an overwhelming sense of desolation last night, as the death throes of that tweet spasmed across my timeline. My mind was in chaos. Panic set in. I felt that language had died. Twitter looked like a dystopian wasteland where no good could grow. I hadn’t had much sleep. There can be no discourse in a space where truth has become such a malleable, mercurial concept. It felt like a lost and futile game. I deactivated my account because my self-discipline is poor, and set about the job of reaffirming my sanity. I looked outside. The sky was definitely blue. I walked my dog. Love unequivocally does exist.
I have worked today from my sick bed, and in between emails, croaky calls, naps and swigs of Day Nurse, I found a bit of calm. Out of that came another realisation, and it has made me kind of angry.
When the right accuses the left of being thin-skinned — of shutting out differing opinion, whilst back slapping themselves for keeping the channels of liberal noise wide-the-fuck-open — they make a dishonest comparison. I’m mad at myself now for defending my tweet as a joke. I mean, it WAS a joke (a joke in which I compare the men who threaten to rape and impregnate women online to the men in Trump’s cabinet who would force women to carry said child to term) — But what if it wasn’t a joke. WHAT. IF. IT. WASN’T?
The politics of the far right are hard and they are cruel. They are deeply unfair. It is as painful to me to read about politicians wanting to force gay cure on our LGBTQ+ community, to deport Muslims, to deny children fleeing war zones the basic comfort of a bed, warmth, food, as it is to be called a bitch online. More so, in fact. This is why I have The S*n blocked on Twitter. This is why I have K*tie H*pkins blocked on Twitter. I, like many of you, have a physiological as well as mental reaction when I read these hostile, self-serving viewpoints. You cannot tell me that reading about the left’s desire to increase benefits for the disabled, or to improve standards of education, or deliver affordable healthcare for all, has the same emotional toll on a right wing individual upon reading. It is not an apples for apples exchange. And that is something the people who wagged their fingers at me, or tried to shame me with their quips about echo chambers and political bubbles, either don’t understand, or lack sufficient empathy to take on board.
So whilst I acknowledge that a blanket sentiment can’t be applied to everyone, any person who wants to lecture me about keeping the channels open and not blocking my ears to their point of view, is going to have to do it whilst strapped to some kind of electrical device that alternately zaps their heart, their head and their balls as an accompaniment to every liberal manifesto I decide to spout at them. I WILL keep the channels open, I WILL keep reading Baron Von Nutmeg’s ludicrous Twitter feed, but this will be work, and I’m stating here and now, that it is not obligatory. You can still contribute, you can still be a conduit for change, without having to subject yourself to a two-bit Hyacinth De Ville sneering to “let them all drown”.
I’ve written this now. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with it. Maybe I’ll find a small, primary school child who understands more about online publishing than me and I’ll find a way to share it with you.