Anyone who had a heart


I love a good murder mystery on television, and the Brits make the best ones. From George Gently to Inspector Frost, from Cadfael to Christie, and the incomparable Sherlock Homes and Inspector Morse, these shows are entertaining and informative. I now know what various symptoms indicate about the cause of death, a very useful talent in the real world no doubt. But the really interesting aspect of all this is the way in which it shows how important it is that we can recognise symptoms and what they indicate, and there is a real world application to that.

I’ve been having trouble trying to log in to my Facebook account, and I’m seriously thinking of dropping the whole thing anyway. When it started, Facebook, and other social media platforms, were just a nice way to stay in touch with friends and family, or to find people interested in the same hobbies or topics as you were. Yes, it was often strange to see how much time, and how much personal information, people were prepared to share on-line with complete strangers. For a long time, having a large number of “Friends” was almost a sign of social status in a rather contrived and artificial world.

But Facebook has become increasingly toxic. It has been used by groups to organise violent activity, criminal enterprises, political conspiracies, and so many other anti-social activities. But that is not the really dangerous element. We can recognise the dangers inherent in that kind of thing. People seem to find it an acceptable forum for really unacceptable behaviour, making statements and accusations which would never be considered proper in real life.

Many decades ago, Irish playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, wrote a satirical play called “School for Scandal”, and it seems to me that that would make a perfect logo for many Facebook users. We’ve always had those who love nothing better than gossip, and the latest nasty titbit about a neighbour, or even some stranger, is welcomed and devoured with glee. It is a sad reflection of who we can be as people that such is the case, and perhaps we all have that leaning to some degree. Now, I’m certainly not saying that there’s no room for fun and games when it comes to discussing some in our society. Politicians, lawyers, accountants, journalists, academics, and so many other professions are fair game for the occasional piece of ridicule. This is especially true for the pompous, arrogant, or just plain idiotic members of those fields of endeavour.

It would be really hypocritical of me to condemn satire and sarcasm in others when I do have a tendency to employ it myself on occasion. That is not my point. And I most sincerely believe that free speech is something that has to be guarded assiduously, especially these days. A glance at the Letters to the Editor proves that, I hope. Everyone should have a voice to speak their minds (as long as they are not out of theirs), and the best way to deal with disagreements, whether in politics, religion, sports, or any area of life in a free society is to have it talked about, openly discussed and debated. That, too, is the business of journalism, and a healthy democracy can only thrive if that freedom is upheld.

No, what is really dangerous, in my mind, what is a symptom of a disease that is spreading through society in general, is the desire of so many in on-line platforms to destroy others, to cut and wound and hurt, wherever possible, those they disagree with on anything. It is not enough to discuss, it has become a zero sum battle: one side is completely right and honourable and obviously on the side of good, while the other side is not only wrong, but deliberately lying, blind, lacking in integrity, and should be silenced.

The motto I have applied to companies like Air Canada can also be attached to these gossips: “we’re not happy until you’re not happy”. That way is factionalism, division, and the destruction of anything resembling a civilised society. History shows us that when a society silences critics, or those who just disagree with the ideas, attitudes, or beliefs of others, it is a slippery slope which ends in persecution, oppression and even violence against “the other”. Self-righteous people can be the most evil in the end.

Why does this matter right now? Because we live in a time when people are feeling very sensitive, vulnerable, very aware of the ease with which life can be radically change for the worse. We are coming up to a municipal election, and I am deeply concerned that it will become really nasty. The way things are these days, especially online, this may be an election campaign that will be more personal, and less policy oriented, than any before now. Already, the tendency is not to oppose the actions of an individual, in whatever sphere of activity it may be, but to assign malicious intent, moral failing, and even evil ambition to whomever one may disagree with.

That kind of election will scar this community for decades to come, as it has in other places and at other times. North Grenville has always had a reputation for decency and a great community spirit. That has been assailed in recent times through social media posts that make ad hominem attacks on people. That means that attacks are made “in a way that is directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining”. It can be argued that such a tactic says more about the weakness of the attacker’s arguments than it does about the one attacked. Be that as it may, no-one benefits from this kind of toxic atmosphere. The damage lasts far beyond the immediate situation, it has a lasting effect on all those involved.

I hope I’m being needlessly concerned here, and that this isn’t just an over-reaction to what has been seen on-line in recent months. Sadly, I don’t believe it is, and I am afraid that our community will tear itself apart over an election for a local government position that doesn’t deserve, or require that kind of animosity. And for those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, who don’t spend time on Facebook or Twitter, just be thankful. Sometimes, ignorance of that kind really is bliss.


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