There has over the last week been a great deal of outrage on the internet. It is a place where outrage lives. This is normal, but it has increased about a millionfold in recent days, as you might expect after the tragic events of the weekend.
I fit right in. My nom de plume, after all, is ‘outraged of Knighton’, as we know. This blog is fuelled by 98% righteous indignation/moral outrage and 2% Nutella.
I think it is important that people are allowed to speak their minds. It is, after all, what I do here almost every day. It would be utterly hypocritical of me to say that it is fine for me to vent, but not for other people to do the same if I disagree with what they say (obviously, this is totally what I believe, but sadly I am too liberal to stick my neck out).
There are things about the use of this freedom of speech that really trouble me though, and as I am getting nowhere with chapter eight of my book I thought I’d talk about them.
Firstly, the hatred. The hatred is terrifying.
Secondly, the hatred that has its only basis in fear and ignorance. I feel sorry for the fear. The ignorance however, leaves me frothing. Have any opinion you like, but for God’s sake, use facts to back it up, and make sure that they are actual facts, and not simply fear masquerading as facts, that have been massaged to fit your opinions.
Thirdly, the hatred that has its only basis in fear and ignorance and which is not interested in learning anything new, or changing because new facts might come to light. It is a hatred that will not shift, and it is corrosive. It clings to whatever it touches like tar, and I cannot see the purpose of it except to infect everything else with fear and hatred, and what is the point of that?
Fourthly, that this hatred is being used to lash out at everything and everyone that it sees as a threat, including people who are kind and peaceable and gentle and who just happen to have a different opinion. Including friends and neighbours, relatives and partners, as well as people in the wider community. I do not understand a hatred that is so virulent that it splits a person from those they love and turns them into people they hate and fear.
Fifthly, our prurience at the details of pain and sorrow and hate. I am referring to the endless, streaming footage of the carnage of the weekend. I do not need to see a dead body to know that it is sad and horrible. I do not need to see stacks of them to see that many dead bodies are more sad than one. I do not need 24/7 rolling coverage of it, scraping the bottom of the barrel, prying into people’s grief, asking frankly stupid and insensitive questions and fuelling fear and pointless speculation. It is barbaric, in my opinion.
I am not just talking about Paris here. A fifteen year old girl, Kayleigh Harwood, went missing from a town near where I live at the beginning of the week. Today, sadly, her body has been found. My local newspaper are already Tweeting an ‘interactive map’ of her murder.
Why do we need this level of detail, this immersion in the minutiae of horror? What purpose does it serve except as some kind of frankly macabre titillation?
I find it so troubling. I do not need an interactive map to understand that a girl’s life was taken, and that it is a terrible, terrible waste. I do not need it to feel sorry for her family, or outraged about the fact that women are still the ones more likely to be found dead in a ditch because some men can’t control themselves.
Lastly, and this is ironic, given what I have just written, but what the hell, I’m going to write it anyway.
Lastly, I am sad that people hijack times like these to play a kind of grief oneupmanship. My outrage is better than yours. If you feel sorry for this person, why don’t you feel sorry about this? Your feelings are not valid because you don’t express them appropriately. Etc.
We had it over how to wear your Remembrance Day Poppy, and whether you were wearing one at all. We had it over Paris, where people pointed the finger if you didn’t immediately mention that there are a dozen other places in the world where what happened in Paris is pretty much a daily occurrence and why aren’t we feeling sorry for them in the same way? It happens all the time. It drives me crazy.
I believe in freedom. I believe that even though I hate what some people are using social media for, that they have the right to their opinion and to express themselves in the way they see fit.
I don’t believe they have the right to use that opinion to bully, hector and intimidate other people who express other opinions however. I believe that people should use their rights carefully, thoughtfully and respectfully, and that it should not be used as a loophole for expressing hate speech and breaking the law on inciting hatred.
We live in a free, democratic society, although I know that some of you would disagree with this, so let me say that we have a greater amount of freedom and democratic process than many other countries in the world. It is one of the finest things about this country, in my opinion. It troubles me that all the fear, and hatred, and moral grand standing and finger pointing saps that freedom and reduces it.
We are not all the same. That is one of the finest things about the world. If we were all the same, what would be the point of travelling the world, talking to other people, learning about other cultures? What would the point of art be if it was all the same? Why would we listen to songs if they were all the same? Why would we ever need to speak if we were all thinking and doing and saying the same things?
We are not all the same, and that is why we live in such a glorious, surprising, beautiful and complicated world. If we shut everyone up and shut everything down, and stamp all over freedom with our hatred and our intolerance and our inability to grow and learn, it will be like death.
It will make life a living death because we will not be able to breathe and grow and experience the joy of what life can offer us. If we buy into that, if we allow that to happen, then we have let them win. I am not just talking about the terrorists. I am talking about the narrow minded finger pointers, the haters, the gloaters and moral grand standers. I am talking about those people who think they are better than us because their way is the right way and they will not contemplate that there might be any other way, hundreds of other ways, and all of them are good enough. I am talking about those people who will smash friendships because of a belief or an ideology that does not allow for tolerance of any kind. I am talking about those people who will champion suffering and cruelty and the loss of innocent lives because it is for the greater good. Whose greater good is what I ask?
I am talking about the people who relish spreading fear and judgement amongst us like a plague.
If we give in to this. If we scare ourselves senseless with beliefs that have no basis in fact, if we shut our eyes to everything but an endless cycle of edited horrors that feed our fears, if we shut our minds to a different way of thinking, and if as we are being drip fed, we agree that difference is a weapon pointed against us, they have won.
Not only will we have let them win, we will have helped them, because we will have let fear seal our mouths, and only have ears for those who shout the loudest and frighten us the most, and tell us what to do and how to think and what is right.
That is what troubles me most.