2016 minus 23: i don’t agree…

Posted: 9 December 2015 in 2016minus, politics, social media
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to popular culture, particularly television, I’m somewhat at odds with my friends. Many shows they like, I don’t, and sometimes – rarely – I enormously enjoy a show which those people kind enough to good-naturedly  tolerate my eccentricities and foibles  find tiresome at best and at worst just plain boring.

But that’s fine, that’s what friends do. We differ about things; some are trivial, some rather more important. A friend of mine maintains his belief that male circumcision is child abuse; we long ago decided never to discuss the matter. Another friend of Irish heritage and I similarly decided many years back never under any circumstances to discuss Oliver Cromwell. To him, whatever else the Lord Protector did, Cromwell determinedly, and with great effect, attempted genocide of the Irish people. To me, whatever else Cromwell did, he’s the bloke who let the Jews back into England 365 years after they’d been expelled by Edward I in 1290. It’s perhaps understandable that we don’t debate the matter.

(Sidebar: a friend once said that one reason why her and her partner ‘worked’ was because they agreed on all the important stuff. Have to say that on many things, important and otherwise, I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual disagreements me and my friends, me and my partners, have had.)

But as I say, that’s with friends. Online, it’s a different matter. I follow just over 300 people on Twitter. I used to follow more, but did a cull a while back to about 200; it’s slowly crept up again organically, which is how it should be. When it gets too many for me to keep up with, I’ll do another cull, I imagine. 

But as to who I follow, well, I’ve only a couple of indicatory rules that guide me; they’re not conclusive, but they operate as a kind of working guide. If I know you, if you’re interesting, if you tweet about things in which I’m interested… odds are I’ll follow you. If I don’t know you, it gets a tad more complicated but not much. Again, if you’re interesting, if you tweet about things in which I’m interested… and especially if you’re recommended by someone whose judgement I trust, yeah again, odds are you’ll get a follow from me. Of course that doesn’t mean that if I don’t follow someone, they’re uninteresting; as often as not, it’s just because they tweet about things in which I’ve little or no interest. 

(In the wee small hours of the morning, that’s what I tell myself to explain why people I’d expect to follow me… don’t. But then again, that’s one of the first rules to follow on Twitter if you want to remain even relatively sane: never wonder why people you’d expect to follow you… don’t, while people you’d never expect to follow you… do.)

Rarely, very rarely, I’ll follow someone who never interacts with their followers. They’re probably the rarest of accounts I follow. The one that immediately springs to mind is Rachel Maddow’s ‘official’ account. As far as I know, she doesn’t type the tweets herself; it’s used solely to promote her show and to link to information about political stories that her show covers.

But mostly, I follow people who interact with their followers. Not to the point of never tweeting original material, but folks who at least acknowledge their followers exist.

Note that at no point in this piece have I suggested that they need to have the same views as me. Sure, you’d probably anticipate that in many cases they do, but not always. Not evemn close to always. The to and fro of Twitter, the cut and thrust of genuine debate* that occurs means that if I want to learn new things, there’s absolutely no point in just following the people with whom I agree.

(Nothing about non-tweeters’ commentary on Twitter annoys me than the suggestion that serious debates don’t happen on Twitter; they do… they happen all the time.)

There are a number of atheists I follow and also a few religious people. I doubt I’d agree with any of them, especially since my personal views vary on a day to day basis. I’ve already mentioned popular culture – and yes, that Doctor Who post is coming, I promise – but let’s just take three things about which it’s astonishingly easy to disagree online: politics, politics and politics… By which I mean global politics, domestic politics, and party politics.

Global politics: Despite long dead Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill’s protestation and mission statement that “all politics is local”, it isn’t. I’ve never hidden my support for Israel as long as that support is understood to mean, and is limited to, the continuance of the State of Israel as a political entity. That’s it; everything else is up for negotiation as far as I’m concerned. And despite some seeming to think that all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic in motive and nature, that’s as stupid and wrong an assertion as stating that none of it is. The metonym of using a country’s name to mean the government of that country may be a useful shorthand but it confuses as much as it helps, if it helps at all.  I’ve said in the past and for the avoidance of doubt now restate that I think the current Prime Minister of Israel is a thug, a bully and brings shame to his country on a regular, a depressingly regular, basis. And some of Cabinet go further, making statements that I believe are not only despicable and racist but should forever bar them from office. Of course criticising a government of Israel, a policy, a military action, individual Israelis isn’t inherently anti-Semitic’ nor does criticising any of those make you ‘anti-Israel’ any more than criticising David Cameron, the bedroom tax or the extension of bombing into Syria makes you ‘anti-British’. BUT if you use anti-Semitic imagery and tropes to criticise Israel, it doesn’t stop being anti-semitism just because you slap “Israel” or “Zionism” on the image instead of “Jew”.

OK – take a breath, budgie…

You might imagine that given the views expressed above, there are some people who disagree with me. And you’d be right. The only dealbreaker for me is the support to which I referred to above. If someone wants the State of Israel destroyed as an entity, someone wants the country obliterated, abolished… removed… Then yeah, I’m not interested in anything else they have to say. And not only will I not follow them, they’re likely to be blocked from following me. (Amusingly, on another subject, someone made the comment the other day to me that blocking people was a personal attack. Yes, seriously. They didn’t seem to understand that their freedom of speech carries with it my freedom not to listen. Similarly, as I learned from the sage that is Kurt Busiek a long time back: restriction of venue is not restriction of speech.)   

But leaving Israel aside, there are plenty of things going on in the world that I’m going to disagree with people about. As long as they have a case to make (i.e. they’re not just spray painting slogans) and are not abusive or liars, I’ll listen. And if they’re interesting while they make this case, they’ll often get a follow. Doesn’t matter which country they’re from, which subjects are their own personal interests. Whether I stay following of course is a different matter. 

Domestic Politics: I’ll leave aside the individual coalitions we call political parties for a moment; I’ll address them in a moment. I’m more concerned here about the Big Picture: the processes of our politics, the cross-party subjects and the media. I know – and follow – at least a couple of people who think that parliamentary democracy is the wrong ideal way to govern our country. I disagree, but I’m always interested in what they have to say. I follow people who condemn our constitutional monarchy as an institution and also those who regard it as an essential and irreplaceable part of the British system. I follow some who while they think think the House of Lords isn’t perfect, it’s better than anything else that would replace it, while other people I follow would abolish it tomorrow if they could. I follow people who read the Daily Mail, while others wouldn’t use it as toilet paper (on the grounds you’d wipe on more shit than you’d remove.) I can’t stand talent shows, celebrity based or otherwise, nor so-called reality television, and I thank whatever deities there may or may not be for the ability to mute hashtags relating to either. Doesn’t mean I don’t value the tweets and opinions on other matters of people who do like them.

Again, my point is that as long as you have a case to make, and do so without abuse nor lies, odds are I’ll follow you or at least I won’t mute or block you.

Party Politics: For most of my adult life, as I’ve related elsewhere, if I’d have had to have placed myself somewhere on the party political spectrum, I’d probably have lumped myself in with that particular area of politics occupied by Kenneth Clarke, and Michael Heseltine, and back in history a bit, that similarly occupied by Peter Walker and Francys Pym, by Jim Prior and Anthony Barber. But over the past ten years or so, I’m genuinely unsure whether I moved politically or the parties moved politically and I stayed where I was. Certainly during the last five years, I found myself more and more attracted to the Labour Party, despite their leader who I believed was well intentioned, but suffered from what was once called “the Kinnock Effect”, i.e. you just couldn’t see him as Prime Minister. Well, I couldn’t anyway. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Labour didn’t stand a chance in my constituency (seriously – at the 2010 election, the candidate got about 10% of the vote) so in 2015, I voted for the candidate with the best chance (as far as I saw it, anyway) of unseating him. More fool me; the Conservative candidate – on a static turnout of 76% – increased his vote, his vote-share, and inevitably his majority; from just over 4,000 to a shade over 23,000. My MP is Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative Party’s candidate for mayor.

However, as I’ve previously related, when the results of the general election came in, I was so sickened that I was determined not to allow my future inaction to be one reason why the conservatives won again in five years. So I joined the Labour Party. And we all know how that went.   

Anyway, my point is that before I joined, during the time in which I was a member, and afterwards, I’ve always followed people on Twitter from the left, and for most of the time, hell for almost the entire time, I’ve disagreed with them and vice versa. A couple of names are worth mentioning. If you peruse the comments to this blog, one name will come up repeatedly in reply to many of the political entries I’ve written. His name’s Steve Townsley and twenty-off (twenty very odd) years back, he ran the first politics message board in which I participated, first as a member and then later helping Steve and his successor run it. In twenty years, I don’t think we’ve agreed on much about anything politically. But I wouldn’t pass up reading his views for a moment. I don’t think that either of us doubt the other’s sincerity on holding our respective views, and I would suggest with equal certainty that neither of us think any less of the other when we disagree. (By the way, Steve, after twenty years, I think I get to say at least once that “you’re wrong and I’m right.” Let me know when’s good for you.)

Owen Jones is a writer, opinion columnist and journalist (he’s very specific though: he’s not a news reporter; his pieces appear in the opinion pages) with whom I suspect we would agree a lot about trivial things and disagree fundamentally about some pretty major ones. But I like how he writes, I like how he argues a case, and I’d very much like to meet him one day so we can agree how wrong I am. I genuinely cannot imagine unfollowing Owen on Twitter; he’s one of the few pundits I regard as essential reading.

There are plenty of other people I like enormously online (and hope that we’d like each other were we to meet, which is not beyond the realms of possibility since we have in each case mutual friends) and who are far to the left politically of me. I rarely agree with them. They rarely agree with me. We occasionally go at it, arguing about this or that. But they’re always polite, always courtesy, always have a case to make, and always make it. And that’s why I carry on following them, because I like to read well made arguments.


There’s one final comment I should make regarding muting and blocking, and it’s an admission of cowardice on my part. There’s one person who through no fault whatsoever of their own tweets about a subject that I find genuinely difficult to deal with; that’s solely down to me and my own hangups. This is a person I genuinely don’t want to offend, and it’s pure cowardice on my part that stops me unfollowing them. So they’re muted.

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Comments
  1. […] here as children with their parents. leaving aside the bullshit about Cromwell and the Jews, to which I referred in a recent post, I’m only third generation British via one grandparent (whose family had been here for […]

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