Friday, August 08, 2008

Poisoning the well of political discourse

No, this isn't a piece to do with Ian Oakley, although the events surrounding his activities in Watford have given me some food for thought.

As a bureaucrat, I don't tend to do much 'retail' politics, although I've been seen near the frontline more frequently of late. On the other hand, I do read across the blogosphere and have become increasingly aware of the coarseness of a minority of the debate to be found there.

Guido Fawkes, whose general tone is fairly abusive, even when he's right about the issue being debated, attracts in his comments a collection of people who, if they behaved like that in real life, would probably be shied away from by most reasonable members of the public. However, they're not alone, and the Conservative end of the blogosphere is riddled with individuals whose trade in insults is far more prolific than their range of ideas or reasoned argument. And I'm sure that bloggers of all parties and none fall into the same trap, although I don't see much of it amongst Liberal Democrats.

So why worry about this? Perhaps because these are the people who aspire to run the country, sooner rather than later. They believe in a respect agenda, yet they show none to others. They display no value for pluralism, yet they talk of democracy, and of winning elections. They complain about opposition foul play, yet think that similar behaviour by their own side is just a laugh.

I still believe that most people enter the political arena because they want to make the world a better place. They won't agree on method, or ideal of outcome, but they will accept that service to the public is the purpose of the body politic. If politics become the cause of personal abuse, many will wonder if it is worthwhile, and others will choose not to get involved in the first place, leaving our society the poorer for it.

Worse still, if it is true that a diet of violence leads to acts of violence, and many Conservatives claim to believe this, then it is surely true that a diet of abuse will lead to abusive acts, and an abandonment of those restraints that reasonable people place on their own behaviour.

There must be a place in politics for satire, ridicule and irony. However, most of us understand that there is a line beyond which we will not cross. So, from now on, I'm going to avoid those blogs where offensive comments are tolerated, especially anonymous ones.

Abuse, it's not big, and it isn't clever...


Jennie Rigg said...

Great post, although I think you mean coarseness rather than courseness.

I must confess to probably having crossed that line myself on a couple of occasions, and I can think of a couple of Lib Dem bloggers who would rather engage in ad hominem abuse than constructive debate, so I'm not going to be casting the first stone, and I don't think we (as a party) should be doing so either.

But you're right that some of the hatred expressed by (particularly) commenters on some sites is shocking, which is why I said in my recent post that I am unsurprised by the Oakley stuff - it's the logical extension of the trollish behaviour that's been going on on the intertubes since the intertubes were born. And those of us who have been active online for 15 years or so have seen a lot of fora come and go - the sort of fora that foster trolls and don't re-educate or bar them tend to become very popular for a time, and then all the decent people leave and the trolls fight among themselves until the place eventually dies. I suspect that this is true of political parties too, even if it's a longer process.

Mark Valladares said...


Thanks for that, and I've corrected the spelling (we bureaucrats have standards to maintain, after all).

You're right, many of us stray either close to the line, or over it, in the heat of the moment. However, most of us have the decency to feel guilty about it afterwards, and try not to do it again.

Perhaps I'm getting old, or overly sensitive, but it does make me uncomfortable that the good manners that my parents instilled in me throughout my childhood apparently make me ill-suited to be active in politics.