A penny for ’em…

Posted: 3 November 2011 in internet, media, writing
Tags: , , ,

I can’t remember when I first became aware of Laurie Penny as a writer – certainly it was some time before I met her in person and discovered that she’s as bright, intelligent, funny and passionate about her beliefs in person as in her writing for the New Statesman and The Guardian among others.

In all honesty, I should say that when we did meet, at a drink up with several other people, organised by mutual friends, it wasn’t an entirely delightful experience: after telling me that accountants in companies only cared about exploiting the staff, she was less than amused when I told her my job. An awkward few minutes followed, after which we chatted about something less… volatile.

I don’t always agree with her writings – let’s be fair, we were unlikely to agree if only because we hold vastly different political views – and there are times I think she’s naïve, to be blunt, and over romanticises “the struggle”. But as a general rule, I like how she writes, and she makes me think, something I can’t say about that many columnists. Her columns almost always make me revisit my own views and sometimes, rarely, she changes my mind on an issue.

I mentioned a week or so ago

Now I know that there are numbered rules of the Internet, but I’ve come to think there are only two that really matter: (1) Wil Wheaton’s “Don’t be a dick.” and (2) “Never read the comments.”

A look at the comments (or indeed twitter responses) after many of Laurie’s pieces will demonstrate the wisdom of rule (2) above. Rather than attacking her arguments (a valid form of discourse, I think you’d agree), so many of the comments tend to attack her personally, revelling in the insults, to the point where I begin to wonder whether ad hominem comments have become these writers’ first option rather than a last resort.

A piece she wrote in 2010, and reposted online this week, serves to illustrate the point. Laurie wrote about why she doesn’t wear a poppy. She didn’t say in the piece, but did say online later, that she donates to The British Legion, but I think that’s irrelevant.

Going back to my own writings for a moment, I also wrote that I loathe online emotional guilt-tripping, and the belief held by many that if you don’t positively protest against something, that inherently means you actively support it. I don’t think it’s too far a step to extend that to say that you can support something without explicitly saying so. Of course, if you don’t explicitly state that, you can’t expect people to guess that you support it. However, neither should anyone – as some with no justification often do – assume that you are opposed to “it”, whatever “it” happens to be.

In the case of Laurie’s article, I don’t for one moment believe that she has no respect for those who fought on behalf of this country; she just doesn’t believe that wearing a poppy is necessary, and indeed she believes (or so I infer) that it’s become a political necessity to wear one, and the hypocrisy of government ministers wearing poppies whilst continuing to treat the armed forces and those who serve with little or no respect demeans the respect held by others, and is sickening. And she does not wish to add to that.

Fair enough, that’s her view. As I said, I don’t always agree with her.

As it happens, I don’t wear a poppy either; however, unlike her, I’m not about to state whether or not I donate to The British Legion. That’s my choice, and I choose to keep my charitable donations to myself. I’m sorry, but you have no automatic right to know. However, I don’t feel it necessary to wear a poppy to respect those who served. Again, that’s my choice, and while I wouldn’t be trite and say “they fought so I could have the choice”, I still believe that I have every right to hold that opinion, and you have every right to criticise that opinion; however, you do not get to criticise me personally. Not and still maintain any self-respect. You don’t get to state that you wish nazis had bayoneted me, and you’d want to watch it. You don’t any justifiable defence when you write that I’m a hitlerite, or suggest that my face and my arse are interchangeable, or to describe me personally using short hand descriptions of the female genitalia.

But you know what? All of those were said about, and to, Laurie.

I wish I could believe that had the column been written by a male columnist, those who attacked her personally would have written the same responses, but you know what? I don’t believe it. Not for a moment. Oh, sure, the article would have been attacked, and possibly some people would have attacked the writer, but I don’t believe that the same level of vileness, of sheer unfettered nastiness would have been the result.

I don’t always agree with Laurie, but far more often then not, she makes me seriously think. And no one who steps forward with their opinions should be attacked personally. Attack the opinions, certainly, but not the person.

And even if there were no other reasons, for those reasons alone, Laurie Penny is worth supporting.

  1. I don’t yet know what I think of Laurie Penny. But you’re right about the cruelty of the written and posted attacks on her. It’s no more than bullying, and about as honourable.

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