We live in an age in which irreversible character assassination is a public entertainment, the slanderers being for the most part well-bred, well-paid, intelligent and enjoying the tacit backing of social-media giants Facebook and Twitter. They raise lynch mobs in 140 characters and have established a worldwide Reich wholly antithetical to the freedoms of speech, thought and association
There is no such thing as bad publicity, the showman Phineas T. Barnum used to declare about his invention, the “publicity stunt”. His logic was simple: the adhesiveness of the person’s name would cling to the public’s memory-cells long after the event that originally lodged it there had vanished. That, however, was before the conjuncture of social media and the internet had rendered the concept of forgetfulness as extinct as the toeless sloth. Together, the venom of Twitter/Facebook and the utter eternity of the web can today destroy a person’s good name as long as Halley’s Comet circles the Milky Way. Anyone caught in the jaws of social media’s 3 a.m. drunken abuse and the perpetual ubiquity of the internet is henceforth forever vulnerable, beyond the protections of memory loss, statutes of limitations or libel laws.
There are a couple of other ingredients to this mix that increase its lethality. The first is that the victim should be a foe of the liberal-left nexus of doctrinaire feminism, pseudo-egalitarianism and liberal-leftism. The second is that it helps if the proposed victim inadvertently steps a little out of line.
Believe me, I know.
This essay appeared in a recent Quadrant.
Subscribers read it over a month ago.
Just over a year ago, my editors of the Irish edition of the Sunday Times of London asked me to write a piece about the pay differential between men and women in the BBC. Doing a background check, I noted that the two best-paid women in the BBC were Jewish. I was (and remain) one of the most fervent supporters of Israel in the Irish media, and I have long been both an admirer of the Jewish people and an amateur student of their many achievements. (These, by the way, include the first tank, Dassault aircraft, independent suspension, penicillin, streptomycin, the anti-polio jab, oh yes, and the Old Testament.) I admit that I clumsily strayed into what others might regard as anti-Semitic territory when I genuinely congratulated these two women:
Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity. I wonder: who are their agents? If they’re the same ones that negotiated the pay for the women on the lower scales, then maybe the latter have found their true value in the market place.
The only query that my column elicited from the Sunday Times was whether I was certain they were Jewish. I replied I was.
Shortly after midnight, just minutes after my column appeared, someone in London began to tweet about my “anti-Semitic rant” through the sewer that is social media, and this gathered pace exponentially. While I slept, my career was effectively ended, and shortly after I woke I was publicly sacked by the Sunday Times editor without him even speaking to me. Over the next twenty-four hours, my reputation as perhaps the most stalwart friend of Israel in the Irish media and a repeated attester to the full horrors of the Final Solution was completely turned on its head.
Someone burrowing through the archive found a headline over a column of mine from nine years earlier declaring “I am a Holocaust Denier”. I was not responsible for the headline (columnists never are, and we are often enraged by what we see attached to our name). My point was simple. “Holocaust” really means one thing in the public mind: Auschwitz. However, the “Final Solution” (or Endlosung in German) was far worse than just Auschwitz, though with over a million gassed, murdered and incinerated there that was bad enough.
But the Nazi program also involved many tens of thousands of German, Austrian and Romanian soldiers personally massacring Jews across the Eastern front, for year after bloody year: shooting them, burning them in locked synagogues, burying them alive in pits, killing them on forced marches, working and flogging them to death by the many hundreds of thousands. This was a crime unique in the history of civilisation, combining the evil technology of Auschwitz and Sobibor with the violent anti-Semitism of vast masses of Axis soldiery and their Christian allies across Europe.
But the headline was the only bit that re-tweeted and re-Facebooked around the world, and globally I became the number one news story in every bulletin. Even though the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland denounced the attacks on me as utterly wrong and “a gross distortion of the truth”, the lies about me continued to circle the globe. The liberal-left media of Ireland (most of which detest both me and Israel) and of Britain joined in the fray, joyously kicking a demon of their own devising to death, on the wholly spurious grounds of anti-Semitism and misogyny. Naturally, the newly appointed Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, who is high in the hierarchy of the blessed, being both gay and of mixed race, roundly denounced me, the first time in the history of independent Ireland that its first minister has sided with a multinational against an Irish citizen. Even a North Korean missile over Guam failed to shift me from the top spot in the news headlines everywhere, except perhaps in Guam itself, where Pyongyang rocketry can serve as a useful corrective to the joyously poisonous hysteria of the internet.
The Irish Jews were so disgusted at how I was treated that they have since invited me to every major event they have organised, including getting me to chair the centenary commemoration of the Balfour Declaration. Similarly appalled, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland took me out to lunch and later invited me to his private farewell party.
Otherwise, I was just another victim of the internet lynch-mob. For the past decade, the world has had an almost daily diet of the destruction of those who offend the PC rules. As I write this, I see that a young CNN reporter named Kaitlan Collins is being twitter-trolled for privately using the word fag about a lesbian nearly eight years ago. She’s young, and I hope the hate-mongers will find another older target (but not me, please) before they destroy her career, her life and her livelihood, as they did in my case.
We live in an age in which irreversible character assassination is a public entertainment, rather like bull-baiting in the Middle Ages. The difference today is that the assassins are well-bred, well-paid, intelligent. And what inspirations they get for how to deal with dissent! Consider Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, who sacked his subordinate James Damore for being so insubordinate as to speak his mind about why relatively few women become engineers. That Damore’s opinions had actually been solicited by his boss (as had mine and then read by at least five individuals in the Sunday Times) apparently made no difference. He was summarily executed according to the merciless rulebook of the new Witchfinder General.
Moreover, politically correct dogmas seem to have attached themselves to the English language like a virus. The Indian company Tech Mahindra recently sacked its Chief Diversity Officer for making “homophobic slurs”, which suggests that she—yes, a woman—was not fully on the PC message. (Slur, by the way, is very much the noun of the hour, especially when yoked to PC’s favourite adjective, vile: they are enough to merit a metaphorical transportation to the Botany Bay of the PC world, an internal exile of exclusion, unemployment and unpersonhood.)
One problem for those of us outside the PC dispensation is that we don’t know the rules. Lifelong ruin awaits those of us who might have had a frivolous sexual escapade deep in our past. Bill Clinton, meanwhile, who uninhibitedly festooned the landscape with his seed, rather like a drunken Kansas farmer sowing wheat in a gale, remains the hero of feminists and the liberal Left, and sports America’s greatest honour, the Medal of Freedom. Why? How? No idea.
In this quasi-egalitarian world, gay is more equal than straight, black is more equal than white, woman more equal than man, Muslim more equal than Christian, and trumping the lot—for the moment anyway—is transgender, the equallest of them all. This is no longer a micro-minority condition that requires compassion, but a global ideology compelling medical intervention, re-designed language, re-education of teachers and parents and, wherever necessary, the elimination of all sex barriers without regard to the feelings of the majority. Twelve-year-old Girl Guides in England have been ordered to accept trans-boys as their equals, even in their toilets. Thus, almost the moment feminism became politically triumphant, it was eclipsed by the trans-power of the male pseudo-female.
The new rulebook doesn’t just govern the present and future, but the past also. Incidents that might—or might not—have happened over the event horizon of the teen years, when no memories may reasonably be expected to recall very much, especially if beer was the guest of honour, can be used to try to destroy a person’s career, as in the—happily unsuccessful—case of Brett Kavanaugh.
But this case didn’t “divide” America, any more than Trump did, any more than Brexit divided Britain, and so on. Yawning divisions were already present, between the governors and the governed. White, post-Christian secularised societies have—at the behest of their elites—been behaving in bizarre, historically unprecedented ways that are not mirrored by other societies. China doesn’t take in hordes of refugees who have no cultural or racial connection with it. Nor does India, or Japan, or Indonesia, or Mongolia or Nigeria. Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam, doesn’t take anyone in, Muslim or not, but is simply happy to build mosques in those white Christian countries that do admit its adherents. The emerging Trojans find a Trojan temple awaiting them: how handy.
Yet even to wonder about such vast, almost uncontrolled admissions is utterly taboo. So too is any contemplation of identity: what it is composed of, how it came about, the respective roles of race, folk memory and culture in its creation, and what its virtues might be. Such speculations are now forbidden. The only areas of identity inquiry that are tolerated are examinations of how flawed, racist and bigoted European-based societies (including Australasia, South Africa and North America) have historically been; and just as one is encouraged to condemn these, one is also expected to applaud the new mega-virtue, “diversity”.
This is not some volitional, benign abstraction but a dogma as binding as dialectical materialism was for the adherents of Marxism-Leninism. As with the purges in the USSR, the victims of this new draconian order are only too ready to blame themselves for their thought/speech crimes. Jonathan Friedland, head of communications in Netflix, used the word nigger to his staff as an example of the use of offensive words in comedy. He was then, naturally, sacked. His penitence—not his anger, mind—at this action was worthy of a Moscow show trial. “Leaders have to be beyond reproach in the example we set and unfortunately I fell short of that standard when I was speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy,” he whimpered, to the sound of a self-held flail prising bloodied bootlaces of flesh from his back. “I feel awful about the distress this lapse has caused to people at the company I love and where I want everyone to feel included and appreciated.” Everyone except himself, of course.
And this was at Netflix, which regularly shows Eddie Murphy films in which nigger is used every second sentence. What happens to the Netflix staff when they hear that word? Do some swoon, does the company have smelling salts and counselling sessions to cope with their distress, and are traumatised victims excused work for a week?
One of the more curious aspects of this dystopian world is the enthusiasm with which the mainstream media follow the ephemeral rages and incontinent tantrums of social media, thereby bestowing upon it a cultural authority and historical significance it would never otherwise possess. This is rather like French aristocrats oiling the winding-mechanisms of the guillotine, or needle-wielding sailmakers carolling shanties about the virtues of steam—namely, not rational behaviour.
But what is rational in this new order? Two years ago, Ireland not merely legally authorised gay marriage, but also made it constitutionally equal to heterosexual marriage. Fine: but just what is the act that legally consummates a gay marriage? Whatever it is—and we can safely leave the details to the reader—it cannot be the same as the heterosexual deed that transforms the written promise of a civil contract into a legally binding union. This is why an unconsummated heterosexual marriage does not merit a divorce, but a simple annulment. What is the legal difference between a consummated and an unconsummated gay marriage? And more to the point, why has not one single Irish judge or law expert yet raised that vital question?
Ireland is thus left with a legal clew that can only be disentangled by those jurisprudential platypuses, constitutional lawyers. These might nibble at the issue with their strange beaks, unleash a baffled poisonous blade, paddle off into the sunset to think about it, or prudently lay an egg or two and leave it to the next generation.
Meanwhile, the internet echoes to silent jackboots and the byways of social media are darkened by the flickering torchlights of the mob. The Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, the husband of that anti-Islamist hero of our times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, recently wrote that he had only just realised (through his own torrid and almost friendless personal experiences at the hands of the mob) that one of the great forces of history has always been cowardice. Cowardice is tyranny’s great handmaiden, and far from this causing its current hosts to hide in silence as they did in previous totalitarian regimes, they now strut the Unter den Linden of the web, seething with pseudo-indignation.
In the past decade a worldwide Reich has emerged that is wholly antithetical to the great common-law freedoms of speech, thought and association, which for centuries largely defined and protected the liberties of the English-speaking peoples. We are now living in the era of the Empowered Coward, a Reichskommissar or Obergruppenfuehrer-in-waiting, and all he or she needs is the arrival of some fuehrer of political correctness to transform our abject subjugation into unmitigated slavery. As for any coherent international political will to resist this impending despotism—why, it simply does not exist.
Kevin Myers lives in Ireland. Among his books is the memoir Watching the Door: Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast.