Guardian columnist Rafael Behr is fearful.
He is frightened by little blue birds pecking at the media bubble.
He is absolutely terrified of the success of twitter as a tool used to organise political action and to share political analysis, views and information.
He expressed his fears in Twitter poison.
Phrases of doom
Behr decided to write in a cod emotional style that oozed despair and exasperation. Behr’s fear needed to be displayed with childlike horror.
Like a vicar delivering a sermon who noticed a few eyes closing and heads nodding, Behr had to keep interrupting his aimless concocted narrative with phrases of doom to maintain the interest of his congregation. All phrases of doom below were taken directly from his blog with no concern about any phrase being taken out of context because there was no context.
“super-accelerated online frenzy“
“sparks ignite partisan wildfires that rage intensely“
“they scorch a little more of the earth“
“24/7 production line of grievance and indignation“
“twitter’s dark gravity“
“conformity to tribal ethics“
“swarms of loyal adherents“
“mesmerising chain reaction of micro-controversies“
“this is to a healthy interest in news what junk food is to a healthy appetite“
“hurling snark into the void“
“rage appears endemic to the platform“
“disciples of radical ideologies express themselves ferociously“
“virtual stone-throwing yobs“
“the website is a vast polarising machine“
“twitter turns us into quasi-religious cults“
“online disinhibition effect, a behavioural distortion“
“cause people to lose impulse control“
“turns ordinary users into caricatures of the worst kind of politician“
“looks like a weapon of civic destruction“
“superficial and sinister“
The phrases of doom and the emotionally expressed despair were just the cover story for Behr’s blog. Tossing the cover story aside revealed his intent.
The plebs are revolting
Like all professional centrist hacks – Cohen, Hyde, Dunt, etc. – Behr’s role is to pretend to object to right-wing ideology as a ruse to hoover up column inches and media airtime in favour of useless, vacant, invented centrist tripe to keep socialist views marginalised. In newspapers and on TV and radio, this occupation of debate time is easy to do due to the compliance of the hosts. However, on social media platforms such as twitter the public has equal access.
Behr noted the equality of access. “Twitter appears to give broadly equal value to every tweet.” His observation was in the context of the veracity or otherwise of an opinion in a tweet. Did he expect every tweet to be absolute truth? His own contributions show that he didn’t. His real objection was to the equal value as a public voice given to each tweeter.
Understandably, Behr expressed his objection to twitter voice equality from the perspective of a professional hack trying to earn a living. “[Twitter is] a method for mass communication that bypassed the editorial filters of conventional media.”
So-called “conventional media,” particularly newspapers, employs editors whose job is to ensure that the copy directs and distracts the reader, obscures the truth, creates vitriolic false politically charged narratives and offers no balanced informative analysis.
Behr wanted to depict “conventional media” as superior to social media communication. “Reuters, PA, Bloomberg, AP—specialise in dry, fact-driven stories crafted to an orthodox journalistic template.”
Behr was deeply troubled by the ease and speed with which users of twitter can state an opinion, discuss their opinion with others and then, deliberately or not, set the online narrative for a particular issue. How dare the public have the intelligence to quickly assess, analyse and offer a retort! Behr’s hypothetical example (quoted below) stupefied his point.
“Theresa May’s conference speech, for example, will be so thoroughly picked over in real-time on Twitter that settled views on whether it is a success or not will be formed before the prime minister has finished speaking.”
As all who have ever heard a speech by Theresa May are fully aware, she has had nothing to offer but hollow platitudes, dead cats and blatant lies. As soon as she has started speaking it has always been correct to respond immediately with snorts of derision, peremptory vitriol and sharp breaks of wind. But, Behr demanded respect and circumspection. An informed aware public, capable of recognising a charlatan and responding appropriately, is something that he wants to muzzle.
Behr demonstrated his knowledge of directional word choice and his contempt for people with the sentence
“The system [use of twitter] can be gamed by organised campaigners.”
System: Evocative description designed to imply badminded control
Gamed: Used to imply dishonest acts
Organised: Belittling free thought and personal intelligence
Campaigners: Used to imply that opinions expressed are done so as part of restricted political perspective rather than balanced intelligent individual views
Mutual worldwide solidarity is scary
Like many other gatekeepers of obedience to established (spurious) authority and control, Rafael Behr objected to the power of twitter to allow people around the world to express solidarity with one another and to share ideas and plans.
“Through the mechanism of choosing who to follow and which voices to exclude, users construct opinion silos—deep but narrow, socially homogenous echo chambers, held together by shared political assumptions.”
“Shared political assumptions” insulted the intellectual capacity of people to understand political issues and to be able to analyse. Behr depicted people as sheep.
His objection to what he called “silos” and “echo chambers” was a desperate plea for people to not possess a shared thorough understanding of a political issue and a demand that they should allow themselves to be distracted and misled by charlatans. Behr objected to knowledge of cohesive, exhaustive political analysis because he prefers everyone to be numbed by centrist woolliness.
“Inside these echo chambers we are all susceptible to common, powerful cognitive errors: confirmation bias—believing things because they support what we want to believe; selection bias—privileging data that supports our conclusions; availability bias—presuming that whatever is most recently seen is also most important.”
Behr’s use of “we” above – including himself in his criticism – was just a clumsy attempt to persuade by pretending to not be the supercilious observer that he was. The silly psychological phraseology about biases had no meaning except as purposeful deception.
Twitter and other social media networks have been hugely useful in sharing political information, encouraging constructive political debate and organising political action. Such uses of twitter have occurred across the political spectrum but have been most strongly visible in left-of-centre political activism.
This use of twitter for radical politics has been seen worldwide. The global nature of the information-sharing and communication has helped to enhance understanding of different political cultures and priorities but, crucially, it has shown how many similarities there are, politically, around the world. These similarities have been observed in the behaviour of governments, their use of military and police, the connection between governments and the global financial hegemony, the lies thrown at the public during elections, the attempt by governments to divide the population via use of prejudice and othering, etc.
One outcome of the sharing of information, opinions and stories has been mutual worldwide solidarity. This solidarity has not been filtered through political parties or traditional media.
Mutual worldwide solidarity has exposed who the real enemies are and it has exposed who the real enemies aren’t. Such solidarity scares the hell out of those who work to exploit the majority, and their PR team members like Behr.
Behr’s depiction of twitter users who have developed political solidarity was not pleasant. He spouted some more amateur psychology that tried to reduce the behaviour of people to that of automatons or animals.
“Conformity to tribal ethics is rewarded with retweets and approving replies; contrary opinion can be treated as heresy. And so everyone bids everyone else up in a currency of implacability and indignation.”
His fear reeks.
Diametrically opposed political views are scary
Two of the dirtiest words in political lexicon are ‘cross party’ and ‘consensus.’ Both are appeals to submission to compromise. Of course, the centrist world needs the intent behind such language to prevail.
Behr declared his desire to protect “the ethos of compromise without which a pluralist democracy cannot thrive.” There is no such thing as a “pluralist democracy.” If Behr meant a democracy where the majority are happy, then to create such a society would require the removal of the wealth terrorist elite; in other words, socialism. However, Behr meant a democracy where everyone is fooled a little bit to con them into supporting exploitative status quo.
Behr compared twitter discourse unfavourably to “civilised, multi-party politics.”
“A structure that accelerates and promotes conflict is inimical to the conduct of democratic pluralism.”
Two obvious problems with his axiom: 1) See aforesaid dismissal of “democratic pluralism” and 2) conflict is an absolute necessity to defeat an enemy and this conflict should not be “civilised.”
The blog’s political intent glared brightly in Behr’s discussion of “civility.” “A subtle thread connects manners and democracy” was an indictment of his plea that everyone submits. “Those social codes are as much part of the democratic eco-system as free elections and independent courts” was an admittance that democracy is severely restricted.
Behr, rightly in the context of his “civility” discussion, mentioned “unparliamentary language.”
“The protocols of the Commons, including prohibitions against ‘unparliamentary language,’ exist for a reason. The code reflects a recognition that political debate is a form of verbal combat and needs rules of engagement. When a political culture is bleached of civility, when the public realm becomes pathologically ill-mannered, it loses its capacity to mediate between competing interest groups.”
The parliamentary code against “unparliamentary language” is a problem. It disallows accurate descriptions of corrupt, dishonest MPs. Tories, DUP and others are professional liars, con artists and confidence tricksters who work for wealth terrorists. Those characteristics define those MPs. Without such characteristics they would not be who they are, politically. It is entirely undemocratic to prohibit accurate descriptions of their intrinsic venal faults.
Behr’s description of parliament as just “competing interest groups” revealed his hope that parliament never becomes a true democratic environment where the gimps of financial gangsters are dealt with by real representatives of the people.
He regretted what he thought were “polarised” political votes
“There have been a run of fiercely contested ballots: the 2014 Scottish independence referendum; the 2015 general election, followed by a bitter Labour leadership contest; the 2016 EU referendum, followed by another bitter Labour leadership contest; the 2017 general election. Wounds opened in those battles that haven’t yet healed. Polarised politics curdled the mood on Twitter.”
“Fiercely contested ballots” are a necessity. Otherwise, what is the point? The “wounds opened in those battles” need to grow, fester and ultimately prove fatal. Again, by objecting to the ferocity and to the wounds, Behr displayed his opposition to challenging politics and his support for a submissive population made catatonic by false choices between centrist charlatans.
Behr was worried that there will be “no scope for the kind of compromises and consensus-building that are necessary for stable government.” “Stable government” is a euphemism for ineffective and neutered government.
The centrist comfort blanket is on fire
Almost everything that caused Rafael Behr’s dismay is something that is positive. The growing divides between political perspectives on offer to the electorate, the increase in the ferocity of criticism aimed at the defenders of and apologists for exploitation, the pooling of shared ideologies and the confidence of activists to speak, challenge and attack are all welcome progressive facets of political activism and knowledge.
Social media interaction has assisted the positive developments listed above. That is why right-wingers and centrists are so afraid. It is why the Tory government has plans to censor online communications – (see links below) – and it is why the self-described ‘moderates’ are so desperate to talk about “civility” and “good manners.”
Behr wrote a very political blog. The twitter theme was just a hook to hang his polemic onto. His intent was transparent from the start. His type is losing. They are being squeezed out of existence. The centrist comfort blanket has caught fire. This was predicted 150 years ago.