OK, the moment has passed for this post too, but I’d better write it anyway.
A couple of months ago there was an incident on the internet. Someone upset someone with their behaviour, and were banned from participating in a particular forum until they apologised. So far, so commonplace, so dull.
It’s the fall-out that was particularly worrying. The thread surrounding this trivial incident spiralled out to over 100 contributions. Two things struck me- one was someone trying to claim that bluntness and abrasiveness isn’t rudeness, and another describing bluntness and abrasiveness as “honesty”. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that being nice, measured and thoughtful is dishonesty, but it does feel like a slight to reasonable, kind people to describe it as such.
I feel there is a problem, not just on line but in general, where a certain level of background aggression being seen as normal or “having a personality”. I mean I can understand people, get annoyed and passionate, it’s a sign they care, but there seems to be a level of excitableness that people treat as normal, rather than merely understandable. People who write in a mature, reasonable and non-aggressive tone are misjudged to be snotty and condescending.
In politics things need to be done. Abrasiveness and aggression are necessary evils- we need people to achieve things, and that isn’t always going to be achieved by being nice. Tolerance of abrasive personalities, and respect for what they achieve is often blurred to the point that people fail to acknowledge the problem nature of those personalities. Sometimes abrasiveness goes too far and those who either take a stand, or lack the coping skills to deal with it properly are often misdiagnosed as the problem, rather than the person suffering the problem.
Kindness, diplomacy, intelligence and thoughtfulness are also necessary and useful traits, these need to be valued too. We need to recognise these as positive traits, and far too often in politics they are dismissed as mere differences, or even worse weaknesses or negative traits.
This is a post that I should have written long ago.
About a month or so back, I posted a link to an xkcd cartoon. It was inspired by an incident around that I was going to write about. However every time I tried to write the article another incident came back to my mind, and threatened to swamp the piece I was trying to write. It’s obviously something I need to get out of my system. I keep alluding to this incident time and time again, so I think it’s time I got this off my chest.
I’m going back ten years now. I was a member of an association within the Liberal Democrats aimed at improving the use of information technology and the internet. A key committee member of this group was a problem. The person would respond to any perceived slight against people who lacked IT skills with a level of aggression that was totally inappropriate and out of proportion to what he was responding to. In addition he would be incredibly snide about technically skilled people, seemingly thinking clever people needed taking down a peg or two. I put up with it for a while, but the constant sniping got too much.
Firstly, I tried politeness. I sent a kind and friendly email, pointing out that he was being a bit over the top. I received an unexpected response, “Are you always this nasty”. Shocked that my tone had been so badly misinterpreted, I pointed out, that no, I wasn’t being nasty, I was trying to be helpful. More aggression. I called him publicly on the group mailing list over his behaviour. I was threatened with legal action for standing up to him!
I tried to address the problems directly by writing a philosophical article addressing people’s perspectives toward technology. This was met with public aggression and my conduct was falsely described as abusive.
So I wrote to the chairman of the group, expressing my concerns about the culture of aggression, and disrespect. And was ignored. Friends and acquaintances promised that the problematic behaviour that I was concerned about would be brought up at the next committee meeting. However I never found out if this happened or what action, if any, was taken. I tried to find if there was a complaints procedure for low-level bullying within the Liberal Democrats. There wasn’t.
By now I had a thing about low-level online bullying. I championed the case of a slightly autistic acquaintance who was being given a bad time on a private members forum. Again, the mods I messaged didn’t even acknowledge that I’d contacted them or reassure me that they were on the case.
Things have, thankfully, changed. The Liberal Democrats have introduced new codes of conduct. Not because of me, or anything I have written about here, I hasten to add, but because of more serious incidents of an altogether different nature that have come to light. While the seriousness and the nature of these incidents and complaints was far different to what I was dealing with, the new code of conduct is broad enough to define the sorts of things that I, and those I stood up for, as unacceptable. It also makes it clear that complaints and concerns like mine should not have been simply ignored.
Was the behaviour I stood up to that serious? No, not really. But even though the problem behaviour I experienced wasn’t a serious, it was a real and genuine problem, and I was right to stand up to it. While it was ultimately futile, and has remained with me for far too long, I remain proud of taking a stand.
I had intended this to be “getting the issue out of my system” and to an extent it has. This week I have refreshed my safeguarding training with the Scout Association, and was pleased to see their robust policies regarding bullying. It also confirmed that the behaviours I highlighted in the Lib Dems back in 2005 that went unacknowledged do constitute bullying, at least according to the definitions uses by the Scout Association.
Yesterday, Saarland went to the polls. Saarland elects by a proportional list system, with the state split into three areas, any party gaining over 5% gets a share of the 51 seats.
As the opinion polls predicted the FDP Liberal party were wiped out, losing all five of their seats and going down from 9% of the vote to 1.2%. Their former partners in the coalition with the CDU, the Green Party were down 0.9% to 5% losing one of their three seats, and The Left were down 5.2% to 16.1% of the vote losing two of their seats.
The winners are the Christian Democrats- Angela Merkel’s party, who went up by 0.7% meaning they retain their 19 seats and their direct rivals the SPD (Social Democratic party) who didn’t do as well as the opinion polls predicted, but nevertheless went up by 6.1% to 30.6% giving them 17 seats. The big winners being the Pirate Party who went from nowhere to 7.4% gaining themselves 4 seats.
The Pirate Party in Saarland is a very young party, in terms of the time established, outlook and membership. Their leader is Jasmin Maurer who is 22 years old.
The CDUs leader in Saarland, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer now has to find coalition partners from their opponent groups.
Meanwhile the leader of “The Left” is blaming their losses on the pirates of stealing their votes, and the leader of the Free Democrats is putting their electoral collapse down to internal divisions.
(For a full list of all 11 parties competing see my post here).
Much has been made of the recent case in the media of a gay couple who won damages against the owners of a B&B.
The couple were extreme Christians applying a personal interpretation of Christian values to their guest-house. Their views are far from normal, even among Christians. Actually even among the sub-set of Christians who have a problem with other people being gay. That’s not to say believing sex outside marriage to be wrong is rare, and believing homosexuality to be a sin of some degree is not, relatively, common. It’s just that most decent, caring, Christians do not seek to impose those values on others.
As someone who was brought up in a loving, caring Christian family, I worry about the fall out from this sort of case. It always seems to be the nasty, dogmatic kind of Christian, who’s just that little bit weird. It never seems to be your normal, church-going caring christian, who has come up against some silly aspect of dogmatic secularism. Even though some religious leaders claim religious people are under attack from dogmatic secularists, these sort of cases demonstrate nothing of the sort.
There are plainly a large number of people who have prejudices and look for reasons to back them up. The Bulls’ are so clearly such a couple that I shudder when I read about their personal views, even extrapolated from Christianity as they are, being misrepresented as Christian values.
I worry about the popular view of Christianity when these are the examples of Christian values people see. Not Churches running homeless projects or reaching out to help asylum seekers. Not taking on and supporting individuals who’ve had a hard time. The image is of a people who have a set of rules which they use as a ruler to judge others and don’t hold back when they find they don’t measure up.
I think decent, caring, mainstream Christians should be doing more to present the positive side of Christianity. Sending out a message that the Bulls’ are not typical or representative of true Christians.
I don’t often take delight in others misfortune (at least I hope I don’t). But I am pleased to see Labour’s Phil Woolas brought to book. As Immigration minister he championed the Daily Mail cause against aslylum seekers, talking tough and nasty in order to please the bigots. I would be pleased if a Lib Dem were to replace him, but for me it will be justice enough to see the man himself removed.
Having read round the internet on this subject, the case has brought some interesting responses, and by interesting I mean downright strange.
Firstly there is the Daily Mail, whose general readership Woolas liked to play to. You’d expect the usual foaming-at-the mouth commenters to be split as here was a Labour minister who championed their cause. Do they cheer that a Labour MP has been found out as a lying cheat, or complain that he “woz only sayin what we were all thinkin”. No contest, it was the former, with some going as far as to accuse Woolas of being part of some great conspiracy to drop immigration controls flood Britain with foreigners. Thus demonstrating how little influence reality has on the opinions of the typical anti-immigration nutter.
Then there are repeated snide comments about Lib Dem “lies”, and how “they all do it”, and “What’s new after 13 years of Labour spin”. I know the 140 characters of twitter don’t lend themselves to much nuance, but really? Are people over simplifying for the sake of making pithy comments, or do they really not get it?
This was not just someone who told a lie. This is not someone who just picked on things in isolation in order to make someone look bad. This is not someone who expressed an opinion that happened to turn out to be wrong. This is someone who made up stuff about someone else in order to make them look bad, and printed it.
Amongst the commentary there are also some odd ideas about what constitutes a lie, and what is morally equivalent to telling an out and out lie.
There is a difference between telling lies and presenting your case in the most positive light you can.
There is a difference between telling lies and expressing mistaken beliefs. An untruth told in “good faith”, while morally wrong and a crime of incompetence, is not a lie.
There is a difference between telling lies and turning your back on a promise (for whatever reason). Being hopelessly unrealistic about what you can achieve is not dishonesty.
There is a difference between seeing things differently to you, and expressing that opinions, and telling lies. (Europhobes take note.)
There is a difference between telling lies about yourself to make yourself look good, and telling lies about another person in order to make them look bad. While I don’t approve of dishonesty in self promotion, it’s ludicrous to claim it is morally equivalent to defamation.
And no, I don’t believe politicians routinely tell lies about their opponents. They may highlight aspects of their behaviour in a negative way, they may express their opinions about what their opponents attitude amounts to. But they don’t generally just make stuff up.
If you’ve reached this point and are nodding away, then THANK YOU. There are still some sane, rational people out there and hope for the world.
If you thought this was all weasel words and pedantic nonsense, then please please please do grow up.
More on Phil Woolas:
I have proof that David Cameron is in league with…
OK, let’s look at the facts.
The image on the left was taken from a campaign poster. The image on the right, just a regular photograph. Spot the difference?
The one on the left, so smooth, almost plasticy. It’s an auton replica!!
David Cameron is in league with the autons and is using at least one of them to help him out with his campaigning. Must be.
Or it’s the result of over done make-up, or even a photoshop job.
We seem to be becoming increasingly paranoid about photographers. People taking photographs are being frequently challenged by police. We have increasingly weird ideas of image rights and what permission is needed to take photographs in public spaces.
It is often argued that people taking photographs of things some people don’t think are interesting should expect to have to justify themselves. This is a bad and small minded argument, however it doesn’t even apply here. He was photographing a church. An actual architectural landmark. Surely that point could be appreciated by even the most unimaginative of idiots?
Petitions about photography on the Number 10 website have been met with the response that photography in public places is not illegal. This misses the point- it needs to be made clear to the police that it’s not illegal and a greater degree of suspision is required before challenging people who photograph in public places. ACPO have in the past issued guidance on what the legal position of Police Officers challenging photographers is. The message appeared not to be getting through to the officers on the ground. Now worried by reports of misconduct in the press, ACPO are issuing their members with a warning. I hope it gets through to beat officers this time.
I’m wondering whether the mistrust of photographers is a problem with police culture, or one in society as a whole which is affecting some individual officers conduct. Either way- the paranoia must stop.
Being watchful and careful in public will make us safer as a nation. But this must be done calmly and intelligently. Fear, paranoia and mistrust do not make us safer.