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Tag Archives: political controversy

You may have little or no interest in the dreadful case of Madeleine McCann but anyone who participates in on-line debate might have a look at this: J. Synnott et al. Online trolling: The case of Madeleine McCann, Computers in Human Behavior 71 (2017) 70e78 .

It is of general interest because the bizarre world of the on-line participants is all too familiar. It is a world of certainty, aggression, obsession, rejection of argument, close identity matched by hostility to outsiders, sense of mission and refusal to accept that anyone could have good motives; it is a world of activists with “open minds” opposed to establishment cover-up.

John Synnott’s research interest and method could as easily have been directed at any one of dozens of political controversies. There is certainly an audience for the rejection of thought and there would seem now to be a political constituency to be lead.

Perhaps, however, it is misguided to view this as new. It may be an old 19th century fear that the masses are not always progressive or democratic.*

Incidentally, unless you’ve access to a college library or similar, you may be unable to read the article in full. Never mind, a bit of googling will bring up accessible media coverage of the research.

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*  https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/07/02/worried-about-simplistic-lies-in-public-debate-consider-the-audience-for-them/

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Jess Philips, a Labour member of the UK parliament has submitted a file on the misogynist abuse she’s experienced for investigation by her party.* Here in Ireland I watched on-line as Joan Burton, Labour T.D., former Labour Senator, Lorraine Higgins and others were subjected to the same kind of depraved comment.

A surprising feature of this is the extent to which it seems to come from the political left and is seldom addressed or disowned by leftists. When I’ve challenged it on-line and when I’ve asked ostensible leftists why they stand with it, the routine reply is that it is “understandable” by reference to what the targets are said to have done wrong in their political careers or what they’ve said by way of disagreement with a particular left organisation. In other words, the message to supporters is that anyone we oppose may be maligned without let or hindrance.

It is too easy and probably untrue to see this as political skulduggery which at once directs obscene pressure on to political opponents while keeping the support of even the most vile degenerate. A more likely explanation is a basic theoretical failure: some leftists have come to confuse anti-establishment with socialism.

Leftists – other than revolutionaries – must realise that parts of the establishment have to be defended; they were hard won in the first place. The expectation that political controversy will be conducted in a decent, respectful and truthful manner is a component of the establishment. Its rejection along with expertise, education and even parliamentary democracy is no small matter and is incompatible with a progressive stance of any kind.

It might be argued that “the establishment” refers to people but that’s not at all plausible. Office holders like members of parliament or union officials are selectively seen as establishment or anti-establishment. Their categorisation is not a matter of office or personality but of their political views.

The establishment indeed contains laws, conventions, practices and some of those are basic to the conduct of politics and decent behaviour but they are vulnerable and prone to attack. Socialism must always oppose barbarism whether it is found within the establishment or the anti-establishment.

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* http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jess-phillips-submitted-96-pages-of-abuse-to-labour-investigation_uk_578cb8dde4b0daae46fc2579?edition=uk&utm_hp_ref=uk&