Free Speech, “Rape Threats” and the War on Twitter

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

British leaders often invoke the idea that Britain is a “beacon of freedom”. Anyone paying attention though, will note that free speech has always been strongly restricted in the UK: far more so than in the United States, where it is constitutionally protected. Sadly, most British people seem to have a vague understanding of what free speech is, or why it is so important. This lack of love for free expression runs across the political spectrum; of the three large parties, only the Liberal Democrats show any real interest in protecting it.

But the rot isn’t just within the political parties. By demoting free speech behind “security”, “protecting children” or simply “protecting against offense”, our political leaders are merely reflecting the attitudes of their supporters. I’m regularly told, by both righties and lefties, that “free speech doesn’t mean all speech” or “free speech is all very well, but there must be lines in the sand”. Thus demonstrating they don’t understand the basic meaning of the word “free”. Protection of free speech must include “bad” speech, by definition. After all, the ideas that women should get the vote or that homosexuality should be decriminalised were once “dangerous” ideas.

Despite the regular self-congratulations about how free we are, Britain has always had a censorious, paternalistic culture towards “protecting” its citizens from the menace of genuinely free expression. Our television is the most censored in Europe, and our government regularly blocks bigoted loud-mouths from entering the country (as if we didn’t excel in creating our own bigoted loud-mouths). This situation was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of the consumer Internet around 20 years ago, which brought truly uncensored expression to British people for the first time. With the later appearance of Web 2.0 – meaning tools that allowed non-technical people to easily publish content – true free expression accelerated further.

So the powers that be – government, police and media corporations – have always had an unspoken desire to rein in online free speech; to take us back to the 1980s, when they could largely control the flow of information to the masses.

Twitter, a classic Web 2.0 creation, is quite probably the most free mass medium of them all. It represents America’s First Amendment distilled and productised. It allows people to publish what’s on their minds in an instant, and for popular ideas to be rapidly propagated. Twitter is the great leveller: it favours the unknown over the famous. Well-known individuals will always find themselves the butt of jokes and personal attacks, simply because they’re famous. On Twitter, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Needless to say, British authoritarians, control freaks and the fascist-minded hate Twitter. Our authorities have tried to keep American free speech at bay since the US Constitution was written, but now it has invaded our country: and we should be pleased of that. Since Twitter’s birth, it was only a matter of time before war was declared on the platform. The police have been flexing their muscles for some time. Since Paul Chambers went to court in the infamous Twitter Joke Trial in 2010, authorities have increasingly tried to take control of online speech. But Chambers attracted great public support; the authorities had chosen the wrong target.

The real War on Twitter began in mid-2013, when a well-orchestrated moral panic was launched. The clear aim of the panic is to create support for the idea that Twitter is a dangerous medium, and must be controlled. And sadly, many people – conservative and liberal – have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. The word “troll” – which originally referred to deliberately provocative posters in online chat forums – was appropriated by the media and redefined to mean “someone who is offensive online”. This now appears in a variety of contexts such as “abusive Twitter troll”, “misogynistic troll”, and so on.

Twitter has a block button, which easily hides future tweets from people one doesn’t want to see. I try not to ever use it (it would be pretty hard to watch morons if I did), but the mechanism works well for those who do. This means that the more delicate souls can forget that there are rude, foul-mouthed, abusive people on Twitter, if they want to.

The panic had clearly been primed and ready to go for some time. It found its perfect moment when a campaign was launched in 2013 to keep women on British banknotes, following the announcement of a new £5 note to be launched in 2016. A journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, tweeted in support of the campaign, and received a number of offensive tweets in response: some of the abuse reportedly featured rape threats. Criado-Perez is an attractive, middle-class, young, blonde woman; the War on Twitter had its perfect victim, and operations commenced.

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated. The tweets, from a handful of morons, became a “torrent”, and a “barrage”. A number of female journalists began an ironically patriarchal campaign, the subtext of which was that women are more delicate than men, and should not have to tolerate the nasty language that men do. Online death threats to men (of which I’ve received, and laughed off, many) are just boys being boys, but rape threats to women are beyond the pale.

Over the past six months, the campaign has been pumped up by the media on a regular basis. Learning from the Criado-Perez experience, the bulk of the coverage is dedicated to the online abuse of attractive young women. Feminists of the Women’s Lib generation might spot the misogynistic message being deployed here, but it appears not to have been widely noticed, with many self-declared feminists attacking “sexist Twitter trolls” rather than the sexist concept that women, unlike men, can’t handle nasty words being thrown in their direction.

Eventually, two young morons – a man and a woman, came to trial for abusing Criado-Perez. Yes, a total of two, despite the “torrent” of abuse reported at the time. The trial’s coverage was riddled with misogyny and class snobbery. Photographs of the overweight, unattractive pair were juxtaposed with the blonde demureness of Criado Perez. “Look at these oiks, abusing such a nice, middle class lady”, the news outlets (almost) screamed.

The hysterical coverage of “Twitter trolls” has set out to demonstrate that the problem of unregulated speech is real, harmful, and getting worse. The prosecution stated that:

“Caroline Criado-Perez has suffered life-changing psychological effects from the abuse which she received on Twitter”

The poor, delicate little thing (did I mention she’s blonde?)

I’m probably being unfair to Criado-Perez here; the Crown Prosecution Service were clearly desperate to get a conviction and extend British law into controlling what people can say in public. The prosecution may well have misrepresented and exaggerated her true feelings in their lust to increase their power over public discourse.

In my 25 or so years of online discussion, I’ve experienced far more abuse than I can remember. It includes threats of harm, anti-Semitic and racist comments, and endless personal attacks. And yet the idea of people being prosecuted for mere speech – however ugly the speech – horrifies me far more than the worst Holocaust joke I’ve seen. One of the preconditions for the Holocaust to take place was to silence Jews and other minorities. Free speech protects the most vulnerable in society. The idea that police should have any role in controlling expression is a horrific one, and can only have horrific consequences; and yet those who should be defending our free speech have fallen at the first hurdle because – shock horror – free speech means people might say nasty words to nice people.

It is tragic that, centuries after the Enlightenment, liberals still need educating in why free speech – even including nasty, bigoted, hateful speech – must be protected. Women, minorities and the poor are never protected by giving increased censorship powers to the state. In 1789, America’s founders recognised this and outlawed censorship in their Constitution. 235 years later, it’s about time Britain followed their example.

Online Free Speech: Sticks And Stones…

Barely a week goes by in which the British “left” doesn’t display its increasing disdain for free speech, but this past week has been especially troublesome. The idea that only free speech and rational thinking can allow civilisation to advance isn’t exactly new; it descends from the Enlightenment. And yet, however many times mankind has to relearn this lesson, it gets forgotten again.

The thing that much of the left can’t grasp is that free speech (in practise, encompassing free expression in any form) really means Free Speech. Including – brace yourself – speech that you might find offensive, disgusting or just plain unnecessary. As the Enlightenment thinkers explained, only in a truly free market of ideas can the good ideas be separated from the bad. Any attempt to coerce speech in any direction, by any means, even for the best of reasons, can only distort and suppress, and will crush good ideas along with the bad ones.

What’s even more annoying (to me, as an ex-tribal leftie) is that parts of the right grasp this concept better than the left. The Telegraph (which I’ve spent most of my life loathing) today defends free speech far more stridently than The Guardian (which I’ve spent most of my life reading). Free speech is a progressive idea – how dare those righties take it from us?! But then, the left doesn’t seem to want it any more.

So, for example, here is how I started last Sunday:

A little explanation: last week, idiots in the UK government and Home Office decided to send vans to immigrant areas carrying a pleasant message to illegal immigrants: “Go Home or Face Arrest”. How lovely. The vans were designed to appeal to the racist vote that might be shifting from the Conservatives to the even-more-racist UKIP. The word “wog” is pretty much extinct now, but was a favourite of racists in the 1970s, referring either to black people or all non-whites, depending on preference.

I had sent the tweet on Sunday because I was planning to spend the day at Jamaican independence parties, including one in Brixton, south London.

My tweet had two replies of any substance: a black follower kindly pointed out that Jamaican independence day was actually on Tuesday 6th, not Sunday; and a PC follower objected that the tweet was offensive. Yes, because it included the word “wog”.

Sigh. Let me just point out, again, that offence is taken, not given. Words are not offensive, or harmful, though they have the power to cause offence in some, especially in the more delicate souls among us, the poor fragile dears. And, as we all learned in school, “sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Easily offended Guardianistas are on the rampage against any form of expression that they consider to be offensive. “Free speech doesn’t mean you can cause offence”, they lecture. But yes, morons, it does! The legalisation of homosexuality required speech that offended many people. The abolition of slavery could not have been achieved without “offensive” speech. If you accept that offensive speech can be policed, then all speech is policed. And if you think minorities will actually benefit from such a system you truly are a moron. Censorship only benefits the powerful.

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter is the most tolerant of free speech. While my “wog” tweet remains on Twitter, Facebook not only removed it from my page, but banned me for 12 hours. Yes, a post satirising racism was considered racist because it contained a word considered (by the unthinking) to be offensive. What clearer illustration is needed that censorship is not the solution to racism, or any other nasty attitude?

Given Twitter’s defence of speech, it is no surprise therefore, that well-orchestrated outbursts of rage against Twitter are becoming frequent. The latest anti-Twitter panic also came last week, when some very nasty tweets, including rape threats, were sent to a number of high-profile women. Although I was raised with the feminist idea that women are just as capable as men of looking after themselves, modern-day feminists apparently agree with 1950s women’s magazines that women, like children, need special protection from their benevolent menfolk. Threats against men? No problem. Threats against women? SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

Threats of violence are as old as mankind, and I can testify that I’ve seen them online for over two decades, and indeed have received many myself. The beauty of free speech is that, left to itself, it allows the good to overcome the bad. High-profile female journalists with many Twitter followers have the perfect solution to abusive tweets: no, not the block button, but the retweet button. Transmit an idiotic comment about rape to 50,000 adoring fans, and the abusive tweeter will soon wish he had kept his mouth shut.

No black person was ever kicked in the balls by the word “wog”, although many black people have been kicked in the balls by police officers, who now (according to some morons) should be preventing people from being offended online. No Jew was ever gassed by a swastika, and no woman was ever raped by a tweet. The most dangerous enemies of free speech are those who argue persuasively that the world will be a better place if just these few words, these few symbols, these communication platforms were just a little more policed.

Of course, censorship advocates are a little more sophisticated, and try to prove that some speech is actually harmful. Rape tweets feed into “rape culture” (they tell us) which leads to actual rapes. Do they provide evidence of this process actually happening? Of course not. They ignore the fact that rape tweets can generate anti-rape tweets in far greater numbers. They forget the lesson, provided to us by Jimmy Savile, the Catholic Church and their supportive police forces, that the greatest victory for rapists is to suppress speech. Only the powerful benefit when some subjects are deemed unworthy of public discussion.

I find it a little annoying when I’m referred to as a “fucking Jew”, as has happened recently, and not for the first time; but I’ll get much more worried when the authorities ban the term in order to “protect” me from being offended. Minorities know better than to trust somebody else with our protection. So long as “offensive” words are allowed, I can defend myself. The moment they are banned, supposedly in order to protect my feelings, is the moment Jews and other minorities can really start to worry.

Under David Cameron’s new Internet filter (aka Internet censorship), this blog will probably find itself blocked to households that have chosen not to see “hate speech”, because it contains terms that the authorities consider hateful. Discussion of hate speech is being crushed under the banner of stopping hate speech. We need to go back and learn again the lessons of the Enlightenment, before we all live in a benign dictatorship that protects everybody’s feelings. Because there’s no such such thing as a benign dictatorship. Surrendering one’s right to free speech by attacking somebody else’s is about the dumbest thing any person can do.

NRA: National Rapist Association?

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association's new logo

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association’s new logo

Morons never seem to rest, especially on Twitter, and yesterday saw yet another surge of moronic activity as the hashtag
#LiberalTips2AvoidRape trended. In case you’re wondering, the gun lobby has found yet another way to sell guns to frightened people: the idea being that women should carry guns to prevent themselves being raped, and that in calling for gun control, those evil liberals are actually helping out the rapist.

The NRA, of course, has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a very long time – for example using school shootings as an excuse to sell even more guns – but if there was any bottom still left in the barrel, this latest ruse may have finally worn all the way through. In its hysteria, the pro-gun American right has left behind any sense of decency, but also any sense of reason.

To start with, if guns are freely available, who is more likely to be carrying one – a rapist who pre-meditated his crime, or a woman who didn’t expect it? And if the victim is carrying a gun, how much use is it to her (or him) if there’s already a gun pointed at her (or his) head? Only two weeks ago, let’s not forget, Spanish tourists were raped at gunpoint in Mexico. Rapes at gunpoint are sadly common (as a quick Google will reveal); stories of potential victims escaping because they (and not their attacker) far less so. Guns are, it seems, far more the friend of the rapist than of his victim. I therefore feel it fitting to give the NRA a new name: the National Rapist Association; because no doubt, any American who has ever used a legal gun to rape anyone is grateful to the NRA for their tireless campaigning work on his behalf.

But let’s look at some hard statistics. How do we determine whether gun availability makes rape more or less likely? As the NRA constantly whines, there are US states (typically Democrat-voting) which do implement gun controls, as well as states (typically Republican-voting) that do not. Luckily, I already produced some statistics for a post I wrote a year ago, breaking down rape statistics by red vs blue states. The statistics revealed as follows:

Rapes per 100,000:

  • Average in Republican-voting states: 34.96
  • Average in Democrat-voting states: 28.33
  • Average in marginal states: 29.47

(Full table is available here as a PDF).

Or, to put it another way, rapes are 23% more prevalent in Republican states than Democrat ones. Not only does the right to buy a gun not make women safer, but it appears to make them less safe.

As I’m not a lying, rape-loving, spokesman for the National Rapist Association, let me make clear that I have only revealed a correlation, not causation. We don’t know that the guns are making rape more likely – we only know that states with softer gun laws have more rapes, but not why.

It should also be pointed out that America, uniquely, has a huge prison rape problem. A quarter of the world’s prisoners are American, and the brutality of the system turns a blind eye to rape in prisons – both by prisoners and guards. Given the NRA’s insane position on guns (that guns always make things better), let’s not be too surprised if they start calling for prisons to be filled with guns. After all, if guns help prevent rape on the outside, surely that same approach will work behind bars as well?

Yes, we live in a strange world where many people seem to be convinced that violence of all sorts can be solved by more guns. And then more guns. And then guns, guns, guns, guns, guns. The fact that America has both the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest violence of any developed nation doesn’t seem to stop morons from taking this plainly idiotic position.

And if you’re worried about being raped? Well, in gun-loving Alaska, you are around seven times more likely to be raped than in gun-restricting New Jersey. Take your pick. And if you’re an aspiring rapist? Buy a gun, and send a thank-you donation to your friends at the National Rapist Association.

“But The Climate Has Always Been Changing”

2000 Year Temperatures (courtesy Wikipedia)

2000 Year Temperatures (courtesy Wikipedia)

One of my “fans” on Twitter is a fairly deluded Republican known as @gopthinking (I do try to maintain a level of objectivity here – if you feel that “fairly deluded” doesn’t sound objective, I invite you to read his timeline). If I admire @gopthinking at all, it is for a) his tenacity, and refusal to back down from insane positions in the face of mere facts, and b) the fact that he does engage, and has never blocked me. This second point is a serious one – I do respect those who allow themselves to hear alternative viewpoints, even if (as in this case) they seem incapable of comprehending them.

So, this week, we returned to discussion of a favourite MoronWatch topic: climate change. Mr (I’m assuming he’s a he) @gopthinking produced the following “facts”:

  1. The temperature on Mars is changing in line with that on Earth.
  2. The global climate has “only” warmed by one degree Celsius.
  3. A Nordic farm has been found buried under a glacier in Greenland.

Point 1) ranks high among the moronic “facts” that I encounter daily. The main question it raises for me (other than WTF?!) is “How do you know?”; given that many climate change skeptics claim it’s impossible to accurately measure the average global temperature on Earth, despite us living here n all, it’s a surprise to find they can accurately measure Mars’s average global temperature. Moving on…

Point 2) is an acceptance that we have recently seen a global rise in temperature. While running your bath one degree warmer than usual is unlikely to significantly change your life, one degree on average, globally, is a pretty big deal. Add to that, that the people who predicted this rise are predicting a rise of four degrees or more by the end of this century, and that models show this will make it difficult or impossible to sustain the current human population, and one degree looks significant. But it’s the next point that’s of most interest.

Point 3) is about a farm, built by Norse settlers in Greenland and subsequently abandoned and covered with glacial ice. By chance, I recently read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, looking at why some societies “choose to” collapse while other don’t, and whether our societies today are heading for collapse (if you haven’t encountered Diamond before, I’d recommend all his books, starting with Guns, Germs and Steel). Among the collapsed societies he examines is the Norse colony on Greenland, which lasted from around 1000AD for five centuries before vanishing. The Norse colony died off for a number of reasons; its existence had always been marginal, and was supported by trade with mainland Scandinavia. But perhaps the killer blow was that the climate cooled, as the Medieval Warm Period gave way to the Little Ice Age.

It’s at this point in the discussion that climate morons get excited and declare victory. “You see!” they yell, “The climate has ALWAYS been changing!!” This argument is impossible to deal with on Twitter, because it contains misunderstandings at so many levels. At its core, this idea lacks any logical basis at all; it’s one of the most moronic examples of thinking in modern political discourse. It’s equivalent to a murderer denying that he shot someone by saying: “But look – people die every day! Someone was run over by a bus only this morning! So how can you blame ME for that corpse in my living room with its face missing?”

Yes, the climate has always been changing; that doesn’t constitute proof that we’re not changing it now. All it demonstrates is that the climate is a delicate and complicated thing, and probably shouldn’t be fucked with.

Regarding the buried farms: the Norse had the luck (good or bad) to settle Greenland when temperatures in the North Atlantic (not globally) had pushed slightly upwards, making survival there a little less marginal. Three centuries later, and temperatures started to fall again; at the same time, other factors also turned against the Norse settlers – in particular, their valuable exports of walrus ivory had found new competition from African elephant ivory. Their settlements became unviable, and they died or left.

And, by the way, the Medieval Warm Period wasn’t that warm; it was cooler than temperatures are today, and far cooler than they will be in a few decades. Yes, the climate has always been changing; but it has never changed so drastically during the short time (10,000 years or so) that human civilisation has existed. We rely for our delicate existence on a whole series of factors, primarily that we can produce enough carbohydrates and protein to feed a population of seven billion (and that’s projected to reach ten billion soon). Climate change factors that we are seeing today already challenge our ability to maintain existing food production levels. We saw, when Bush began his moronic experiment with turning food into biofuel, that even a small impact on food production causes big impacts on human societies. The idea that we can rest easy, because 800 years ago it got a little colder in Greenland, is a masterpiece of wishful thinking.

Climate Change Morons Dissected

Hot Earth

It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here

My policy with regard to climate-denying morons on Twitter is usually to steer clear. Trying to discuss science with adults whose level of science understanding wouldn’t even win them a GCSE (UK 16-year-old qualification), and within 140 characters, seems a little pointless. But for some reason I did engage today… well, it’s warm and sunny (for a change) in London, and I felt generous. The conversation went very much as you’d expect, and rather than waste the rest of my day in Twitter shouting, I decided it would be easier to deal with the issues in a blog post, and help educate these poor folks at the same time.

Here’s a wonderful starter from @DixieSportsman: if you believe in climate-change, you’re guilty of  “child-like naïveté” (look, he’s got all the accents in it n everything)!

To be honest, I’m happy to share in the “naïveté” of climate scientists, rather than join the “hard-headed reality” of those who believe propaganda pumped out by the fossil-fuels industry. To join the party, check out the wonderful New Scientist guide for the perplexed, which pretty much answers every nonsensical climate change-denial myth. In fact, if you’re going to engage with climate morons on Twitter, at least insist they read this before wasting time repeating myths that were discredited years ago.

Next, we find one of the many common climate myths, repeated by @ndgc12dx. This is one of the most frustrating things about dealing with science-illiterate morons who think they understand science. All they need to do is go and read a book. Or even Google! But they’d rather repeat their favourite myth – in this case, claiming that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today:

First of all, note the use of “Historians”. What he actually means is “climate scientists”, which is weird, because he doesn’t seem to believe anything climate scientists say. He’s wrong anyway: the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the previous and subsequent centuries, but cooler than today. Here’s a page with a nice graph showing that current temperatures are warmer than they’ve been for at least 2000 years (including, of course, the Medieval Warm Period).

Next, @ndgc12dx entertains us with the fascinating information that there’s “very little CO2″ in the atmosphere:

Now, “very little” is a relative thing. I could offer to anally fist @ndgc12dx “very little”. Like, for only five minutes. Now, if @ndgc12dx lives for 80 years, the time I spend anally fisting him is less than one eight-millionth of his entire life, or to put it another way, around one hundred-thousandth of one percent! Which is very little indeed, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the fisting at all, or perhaps even notice.

For a more scientific comparison, consider this: a typical dose of the hallucinogen LSD (around 100 micrograms) is around one-hundred-billionth the weight of a typical man (a far smaller proportion than CO2 in the atmosphere). By @ndgc12dx’s logic, taking a regular dose of LSD will have no effect on him whatsoever. I suggest he goes and tries it out.

Back to CO2: this increased from around 280 parts-per-million (ppm) in pre-industrial times to around 392ppm in 2011, representing a 40% increase just in the past couple of centuries. 40% is a large increase, but in @ndgc12dx’s terms, it’s an increase from one very small number to a different very small number. The issue @ndgc12dx is failing to understand is that small things can, and often do, have big effects. Almost all climate models show that around 450ppm is a level beyond which life on the planet will change drastically for humans and many other species (and the increase from 392ppm to 450ppm is very small indeed).

On the same subject, he displays an appalling grasp of mathematics in the next tweet:

The CO2 proportion in the atmosphere is rising around 2ppm at the moment, which equates to an increase of around 1.5% over three years, not .005% – he seems to be calculating the increase as a proportion of the total atmosphere rather than the proportion of CO2. As we saw above, he thinks (wrongly) that small changes are insignificant. And he repeats the ignorance here:

Because 0.03% is a small number to a moron. You can’t buy 0.03% of an egg can you? Well then.

Then we come to a moronic old favourite, again from @ndgc12dx:

Firstly, he’s getting “proof” confused with “evidence” – a sure sign that his science education was strangled at birth. This claim is one of the most moronic climate-denial statements possible, as the “greenhouse effect” link between warming and atmospheric CO2 has been well-known for a long time. To quote from New Scientist:

We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs and emits certain frequencies of infrared radiation. Basic physics tells us that gases with this property trap heat radiating from the Earth, that the planet would be a lot colder if this effect was not real and that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will trap even more heat.

As they say, the Greenhouse Effect is just basic physics – denying it is akin to denying gravity.

Finally we return to an old climate myth, repeated by one of our favourite tweeters:

This is a straw man argument: it claims (falsely) that people who believe in man-made climate change don’t believe in other climate change. This is hugely moronic, largely because it’s not true. Anyone who has studied the climate to any level at all will know that it has been changing forever. The climate changes continuously for many reasons, one of which is the presence/absence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We know that when CO2 levels were much higher, tens of millions of years ago, the climate was warmer. Land was covered by immense forests, and as they died, they grew on top of old dead forests, one layer after another. Bit by bit, carbon was trapped in the ground as “dead forest”, and the climate cooled. Then along came humans, who started extracting “dead forest” from the ground and burning it, thus restoring more CO2 to the atmosphere. The correct name for “dead forest” of course is “fossil fuel”.

The funniest part of this argument (that the climate has always been changing) is that it relies on the work and expertise of climate scientists; the same people who climate morons love to ignore when they warn us to stop burning fossil fuels.

The Moronic Right and Attacks on Bill Maher

Michelle Malkin Moron

Michelle Malkin, Moron-Puppeteer

Being the product of an inner-London state education, I have to admit my Latin ain’t what it should be. When I first encountered the term ad-hominem, used frequently enough in online debate, I had to go and Google it. It means an attack on the person rather than the idea – a simple enough concept, but the use of the neat Latin phrase is understandable, given Twitter’s 140 character limit. It’s a useful term as it describes much of the discourse of morons both online and in the mass media, and especially on the right. Given the sheep-like behaviour of right-wing morons, when an ad-hominem attack is begun in the moron media, I usually see it echoed a thousand-fold on Twitter.

This week’s example is an attack on the satirist, Bill Maher. Maher didn’t actually have to do anything to warrant the attack; what happened was a textbook exercise in the manipulation of morons. The starting point was Rush Limbaugh’s hysterical attack on Sandra Fluke, who he used as a proxy to label women who enjoy sex as sluts. Limbaugh’s attack exposed not only his hatred of women, and of female sexuality, but in the wave of support it created for him, it exposed the American Taliban’s war on sex.

While it’s easy for the truly moronic to scream about sluts, the moron-puppeteers – those who make a living winding up morons – had to be more circumspect. After all, Rush got a kicking from his advertisers; and other right-wing moron commentators, such as Michelle Malkin, didn’t want to follow that example. So the strategy was to use the right-wing staple, ad-hominem. Rather than defend the indefensible, attack someone else as a smoke screen. They chose Maher, labelling him misogynistic for attacks he’s made on Sarah Palin and others. “The liberal war on conservative women!” they screamed.

From the little coverage I looked at, Maher isn’t a misogynist. The Malkin trick is simply to label any attack on a woman, however well founded, as sexist. Who’d fall for that? Morons of course. But the point is, it’s not relevant – morons are screaming at Maher, not because he’s said anything wrong, but to try to balance out the obvious Republican hatred of women, and make it look like it exists on both ends of the political spectrum. Of course, hidden in this strategy is an admission of guilt: the Republican Party has undoubtedly declared war on female sexuality, via abortion, contraception, and simple slut-shaming. The attacks on Maher only serve to underline the lack of a defence.

The use of ad-hominem attacks by morons is frequent and entertaining. The key antidote is to not get distracted by them. Laugh, ignore and move on. After all, if the only attack you can make on Richard Dawkins’ wonderful work on promoting atheism is that his ancestor may have owned slaves, you’ve lost the argument. The fact that Obama-haters have exhausted themselves trying to prove he wasn’t born in the US is a sign of desperation. And I myself have been labelled an Alinskyite so frequently, I had to Google it to find out what it meant.

We should be heartened by the sheer stupidity of right-wing debating tactics. They’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel – where can they go next? In fact, don’t answer that – the truth could be scary.

A Neat Way To Attack Bigotry

I spend plenty of time ridiculing bigots on Twitter. Sometimes it works and makes them modify their behaviour, but some are just so thick-skinned they just won’t be deflected. Some of the worst bigots are those who believe they’re hating in God’s name – they equate the backlash on Twitter with Jesus’ suffering, and are spurred to ever-greater heights of nastiness.
One such hate-filled moron is a young woman called Raissa Nkuba, better known to Twitter users as @MissRaissa. She’s a deeply religious woman (she says) but she’s primarily obsessed with the parts of the Bible related to sex. In particular (it may come as no surprise to discover) she’s obsessed with the “sin” of homosexuality.
Debating Raissa is repetitive, and a pastime I’ve largely given up (though many brave souls still try). When picked up on a homophobic comment, she’ll quickly fall back on explaining how she “hates the sin, not the sinner”, while making it perfectly clear that she loathes both sin and sinner.
So how do you tackle someone so certain in their God-inspired bigotry without getting bored (or boring), or looking like a bully? Tweeter @Inrodeo has come up with a cunning plan: he’s set up a fund-raising page where people can donate to an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender) cause in protest at Raissa’s homophobia. The more she hates gays, the more money can be raised for a good cause.
So next time Raissa or one of her homophobic friends annoys you, please consider donating to the Miss Raissa Help A Homo fund (OK, it’s not actually called that). Click here to see the page and donate.
Miss Raissa herself has responded to the fundraiser with the following tweet: