Put Down The Pitchforks

BY SAM WHITE

Can everyone please stop trying to get everyone else sacked?

Here’s what people used to do when they were annoyed with someone: ignore them. Fume quietly. Or maybe even go right ahead and tell the offender what you think.

But what you would never do is cry victim and appeal to a higher authority. Snitching to teacher was viewed as cowardly in the extreme, and to do so would mark you out as feeble and undignified.

And yet this, and worse, happens all the time now. The go-to punishment that the mortally offended immediately grasp for is that their tormentor be sacked, without caution or appeal. That’s a draconian punishment for often doing nothing more than ignoring the boundaries of the ingroup opinion corridor.

Going for someone’s job and livelihood is below the belt, and in normal circumstances would be considered out of the question. I might despise you and your opinions, but I don’t wish to see you out of work (and I certainly don’t want to cause you to be out of work).

So I can only conclude that we’re not in normal circumstances anymore, as a fair wedge of people have no problem with such morally out-of-whack tactics. It’s a familiar routine: whoever is the current pantomime villain voices an outlandish opinion, uses naughty words, or fails to kneel before a sacred cow, and the mob will be after them, rooting for their destruction in the hope that they’ll be rendered forever unemployable.

In Britain, the most high profile recent casualty was Daily Mail columnist and former LBC shock jock Katie Hopkins. Except she isn’t that shocking at all, unless you’ve spent your whole life only talking to people who agree with you.

Has she said unpleasant things before? Certainly. A column in the Sun comparing incoming migrants to cockroaches was a low point. I’m surprised that went to print (it was later taken down), and she was rightly condemned for it, with even a UN high commissioner weighing in.

But she also, entirely rightly, never apologised. Let me be clear, I don’t mean she was right not to apologise because the column she’d written was in any way reasonable. It wasn’t, it was contemptible. But it was right of her not to apologise because she isn’t sorry, and you can’t force people’s thoughts to conform with your own, no matter how disagreeable theirs might be.

The now deleted rogue tweet that got her cast out of LBC last week suggested a ‘final solution’ to the problem of Islamic extremism. It doesn’t need explaining that to couch one’s views in the language of the Holocaust is provocatively nasty. But apparently it does need explaining that we are allowed to make provocatively nasty references, to absolutely anything, including, should you really want to, genocide.

And let’s not forget, her tweet came in the profoundly emotional immediate aftermath of the Manchester bombing, in which an Islamic terrorist slaughtered 22 concert goers, including children. For so many people to have focused their anger on getting a media commentator fired over a tweet, rather than on the psychopath who murdered children at a pop concert, shows a worryingly skewed perspective. It indicates that when it comes to slicing out the Islamist cancer, we’re not all on the same page.

You didn’t have to wait long for the next burst of scattershot outrage. Earlier this week, sections of the Liverpudlian populace suffered fainting fits because of what one person thinks. Liverpool is usually a tough city, with no shortage of sardonic good humour. But there are times when it turns into Snowflake-on-Sea: highly strung and forever the victim.

So when Talksport presenter Mike Graham replied to a tweet about the Heysel Stadium disaster by calling Liverpool supporters who’d contributed to it ‘murderers’, it’s not difficult to imagine what happened next. Inevitably, as always now, there were calls for him to be sacked.

MG

Was his tweet inaccurate? Yes. If he’d written #InvoluntaryManslaughter he’d have had a cast iron defence, but perhaps that went over Twitter’s character limit.

Those flipping out in anger hadn’t lost their rag because he’d overstated the charges though. It was simply that he’d transgressed, and spoken in a way in which those complaining never would, indicating that he might hold opinions which they don’t. A sackable offence? It’s not any kind of offence.

Again, no apology was forthcoming, but Graham did delete the tweet, and he wrote this by way of explanation:

MG2

And then, in a break from the familiar right says something/left takes offence norm, there was the Kathy Griffin furore in the US. In her now infamous photograph, the left wing comedian holds up Donald Trump’s bloodied, decapitated head, creating an image deliberately evocative of ISIS jihadis flaunting their barbarism.

It’s graphic, goes way beyond the conventions of mainstream political discourse, and is astonishingly badly judged. Reports that Trump’s 11-year-old son Barron was disturbed by the image illustrate how gruesome it was, and that it should have been treated as adult material. Griffin was condemned across the board and quickly released a full apology, but was dropped from her hosting role at CNN anyway.

But let’s not forget that she’s a comedian, not a cross-cultural diplomat, and if we start dictating how comedians can and can’t express themselves then we’re going down a bleak, authoritarian road.

Part of her problem is that left leaning comedians (which means almost all of them) have critically restricted themselves in who they’ll take aim at politically. I can’t stand most anti-Trump humour because it’s predictable and self-righteous, and conforms deadeningly to liberal conventions.

Griffin’s reaction to public fatigue with the anti-Trump message was not to change the record, but to employ shock tactics and gore, revealing her lack of perspective. After months of increasingly drab Trump material, it’s time for comics to expand their subject boundaries, not ratchet up the blunt intensity of their hatred. Ultimately, the incident might serve as a wake-up call that anti-Trump hysteria has gone off the rails.

But at the same time, if Griffin chooses to express herself through grotesquerie then that’s entirely up to her. The liberty to be crass, to screw up, to articulate views beyond the pale and not offer an apology, is a vital part of what distinguishes a free society from a tyranny.

So I’ll reserve my outrage for the real villains who, as it happens, take full advantage of our obsessive speech policing to further their own nightmarish agenda. They don’t use strong language and abrasive references, they use bombs, trucks, and Kalashnikovs. And given the chance, they’d make sure you never said a word out of line again, on threat of losing more than just your job.

Now more than ever, no matter which side of the political spectrum we’ve each landed on, let’s put down the pitchforks and value our shared freedoms, even when we don’t value the sentiments they’re being used to express.

Advertisements