Monday, 4 January 2016

Anger and hejt have no place in political discourse

For Krzysztof

It's coming up to the tenth anniversary of the birth of Twitter. A faster, more direct yet far less measured form of social media that blogging, the 140 character-long tweet has become a powerful tool in the armoury of political parties. The general elections in the UK and Poland last year were the first in which Twitter and Facebook* - the most powerful of the social media - were visibly making a difference to the outcome. It was clear in Poland that PiS was better at Twitter than PO - and so was able to convince younger voters that it had somehow changed its 'wąsy i berety' image. And .Nowoczesna was far better at Twitter than PO. And in the UK, the Tories' grasp of social media helped the edge to win an outright majority.

However, in Poland as in other countries, online hejt (hate) is poured out into the social media by the bucketload. Users' kneejerk reactions - typing the first obscenity that comes to mind - is understandable. Because social media users are reasonably anonymous behind the web, using foul language or threats of violence come easily.

Tweeters - and bloggers - have a responsibility to their readers and to society to weigh their words carefully, to avoid empty slogans, obscenities and inflammatory, aggressive language.

I am prey to this instinct myself, having just now seen a picture of a politician I've come to dislike in recent months on Twitter - the first reaction is to press the 'reply' or 'retweet' button and write something amusingly spiteful. I must restrain myself... not doing so is bad.

This, of course, is the reptilian brain at work, an instinct that we must all learn to curb. It is juvenile behaviour, it adds nothing to the substantive discourse of social dialogue. Calling someone you take issue with a rude name, or telling them to go away in no uncertain terms, is a waste of time and creates an atmosphere of aggression that spills into other aspects of human life. Heightened levels of cortisol. Bad for the heart. Bad for the brain. Chill - let's discuss, in a polite and constructive manner, seeking consensus. Political hatred and aggression led to the bloodbath that was the Spanish Civil War. Quarter of a million people slain by both sides for the worldview they held.

It is difficult when a new government comes to power that you disagree with, especially when it commits faux pas after faux pas to sit silent. Some people will turn out in the streets. Others will blog or Tweet. Will it change anything? The next election is not scheduled until October 2019. For the next three years and ten months then, Poland has to continue moving forward, its government must keep the running the country, growing it economically.

I sincerely wish this government well in getting to grips with the complexity of the task ahead of it. For Poland to be prosperous, strong and safe, many difficult decisions need to be taken, ones that will require meticulous analysis rather than ideologically inspired solutions that are (to quote H.L. Mencken) 'clear, simple and wrong'. And getting it wrong has awful economic consequences - see Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela for text-book examples.

The nitty-gritty detail of government, issues of governance and public policy, boring stuff like taxation, public procurement, healthcare and infrastructure, are far more complex than the 140 characters that Twitter allows. Which is why I see Twitter merely as an adjunct to blogging and a signpost to meatier articles.

Talking things through over a beer and setting out the complex arguments with the goal or reaching a shared view (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) is far better than a ping-pong of increasingly aggressive tweets that only serve to entrench both parties as to the rightness of their argument.

I have to rein in my reptilian brain, pull back from that first 'fight-or-flight' reaction, and return to the high-minded civilised tone that gets things done. Finally to quote Margaret Thatcher, on the steps of 10 Downing Street on 4 May 1979: "And I would just like to remember some words of St. Francis of Assisi which I think are really just particularly apt at the moment. ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony... " Hejt is bad, we should all try hard to avoid it.

*I'm not returning to Facebook until it publishes on its Investor Relations page what its policy is towards the payment (or not) of corporate tax in the various jurisdictions in which it operates.

This time two years ago:
Is Conservatism rural or urban in its nature?

This time three years ago:
Poland's roads get slightly less deadly

This time four years ago:
It's expensive being rich in Warsaw

This time six years:
Winter commuting in colour and black & white

This time seven years ago:
Zamienie in winter

This time eight years ago:
Really cold (-12C at night)

1 comment:

toyah said...

‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony...’ Hejt is bad, we should all try hard to avoid it.
Confirmed. Thanks.