THE BEST LACK ALL CONVICTION – While the worst are full of passionate intensity. Or insist that others around them maintain a stoic silence at dastardly goings-on in a whispered-about state…– Courtesy: DAILYSIGNAL
There is only one thing worse than being talked about. And that is not being talked about. That a few gifted individuals manage to have both of these being true about themselves, at the same time, speaks volumes for their genius.
When a former opposition leader tweeted using what a generally lazy readership is pleased to call ‘big words’, the Twitterati came down on him like a ton of bricks. He was accused of everything from venal politicking to naive pretentiousness. Those who defended him on the ground that he had something to say under all that bombast were similarly thrashed.
The lamentable reality is that humankind cannot bear too much reality. It is the easy route out of ignorant boredom and can’t-be-bothered self-indulgence to shoot the messenger and eschew the message. In this case, that all beings are created equal in a democratic republic. But that some beings seem to be treated as more equal than others. Our ethos is such.
In a former avatar, I would have essayed: ‘O tempora, O mores!’ But should the hoi polloi – I could say ‘kos polos’ from now on – have no dictionary handy, I’d be accused of deliberate vagueness at best or diabolical showing off at worst. Is it a sign of the times that the best lack all conviction about issues that matter while the worst are full of passionate intensity over trivialities?
When a former opposition leader tweeted using what a generally lazy readership is pleased to call ‘big words’, the Twitterati came down on him like a ton of bricks. He was accused of everything from venal politicking to naive pretentiousness. Those who defended him on the ground that he had something to say under all that bombast were similarly thrashed. The lamentable reality is that humankind cannot bear too much reality. It is the easy route out of ignorant boredom and can’t-be-bothered self-indulgence to shoot the messenger and eschew the message. In this case, that all beings are created equal in a democratic republic. But that some beings seem to be treated as more equal than others. Our ethos is such
So suffice it to say that the culture (the word is chosen carefully) we live in, like irritable bacteria in a Petri dish, is one where we don’t live and let live. Or even live and let die. But thrive, by not allowing those with ideas other than our own cosy, safe, comfortable convictions – or lack of ’em – to express the same on Facebook or Twitter.
It is not only social media trolls who tend to verbally thrash the living daylights out of those who dare to be different or difficult in these extraordinary times. Press barons whose execrable media practices are shown up for the chauvinistic buffoonery they are get shirty and sit down to dash off letters of demand that result in grovelling apologies by the alleged offender in two shakes of a pig’s tail. Vitriol factories masquerading as news outlets habitually get away by being under the radar of the powers that be in a milieu where strict action has been taken – after being threatened – against the mildest of social agitators.
The Acting IGP no less tends to lose his shirt when, casting about for pearls beyond price among (not newspaper columnists but) online commentators, he finds that the latter writers have cast pearls before swine. He acts without fear of censure or sanction by his superiors in a state where freedom of speech is guaranteed by manifesto but curtailed by manifest censorship and self-censorship.
That government itself is notoriously sensitive to nasty but true things being said about it to its face – perhaps preferring that calumny is heaped on its head behind its back – is par for the course under pandemic civics. All previous administrations with the possible exception of one had this Achilles’ heel. There is only satire left for those who would subvert the racist praxis of certain governors today in a political vacuum. However who gets satire, except for a polite chuckle at NewsCurry, or a knowing nod at one or more our insightful cartoonists?
O tempora, O mores. No, no, put that Latin dic down, dears.
It is the fault of the coronavirus, of course – or so we’d like to think. If only to salve the insistent voice in the head we can’t turn off, which hints that our motives may be less than straightforward or salutary when we take to task the socio-political gadflies amongst us.
Q: We all talked freely and fairly about issues/matters/others before the advent of COVID-19, didn’t we?
A: In words of a number of syllables that would make Sajith P shrink from his stern duty, ‘No.’
In the aftermath of SARS-CoV-2, though, we’ve all become a little less wordy and more edgy. And we’re more likely to be intolerant of social commentators who challenge the status quo to our detriment by rocking the boat. Or to our chagrin by stirring our consciences! It has been human nature from the time of our sojourn in the savannah to be safe than sorry. And the virtual jungle of social media in our modern incarnation as political and religious animals has not improved our sense of identity or integrity.
Being bombarded by the plague of ‘other minds’ has only heightened our sense of insecurity – to the point where a sort of reverse social Darwinism is at work. The clever or smarter or lighter of fingertip you are, the more you’re likely to be turned on by your fellows. True, o king, we may mutter under our breath; but in the very next act condemn that troublesome tweep out of hand because we want the unpalatable truth out of mind. It is, as that hapless politico found out of late, the survival of the fleetest. Run from a truth as fast as you can. Stay put at a safer social distance. Reality bites.
In happier times past, clichés such as this held true: ‘The small mind talks about people, the average mind about events, and the great minds about ideas.’ You’d agree that we’re all commonly varying between small and average. The minute someone has an idea – that dangerous concept in times where public silence is equal to public safety and security – why, then, he or she must be shot down. If they’ve expressed themselves pointedly (in your face) or pompously (in your opinion), then they must be shot down in staccato bursts of spiteful invective reserved for purple prose (in your lack of appreciation, you philistine).
That trying nature of the maverick beast – the one who swims against the current or clenches its fist in the pack’s face – is best left alone. Or so say they who would like the status quo to continue to their advantage, or are too lazy to attempt anything remotely resembling critical engagement. Not to be facile. But this results in calumny being heaped on the head of the classical scholar who can see from history that we’re repeating its direst lessons. And the crass social media commentator who can’t leave ‘well enough for us’ alone.
The public cannot understand the journalist. The journalist cannot bear to leave even the most boorish of politicos’ sensible ideas go to waste (even though good wine needs no bush, it still requires a dollop of water, soil and sunshine now and then for that lovely vintage everyone raves about). The result is the criticism of the journalist, and carping and cavilling about that politico.
To understand that all of this comes at a social cost is the duty and the burden of the civic-minded citizen. We focus on soft targets like wordy tweeters while foul mouths spewing murderous invective go scot-free. The low-hanging fruit such as naïve and sentimental idealists are easily plucked, while baboons revealing the ugliness of their racist underbelly climb higher on the branches of chauvinism and ethno-nationalism.
Alas the state threatens the moderates while tolerating, ignoring/neglecting or even encouraging the extremist! There are champions of democracy and its attendant liberties languishing in a cell… while loud, brash, inflammatory churls are at large. And mobilising horrific public sentiments against minorities to boot…
The final word
If I speak in the tongues of angels – and some demagogues in our day do – but have no love towards my neighbour, I am no more than a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.
There is only one thing worse than not being talked about. And that is not being allowed to talk about the things that truly matter. That these today include why our government has grown more grimly militaristic with no space to challenge its praxis short of physical harm to self; why ministering angels and their media flunkeys get away with hate speech, while moderates and liberals are arrested and detained; why a minority community continues to take flak for no fault of their own but their faith, and the chink in the soul of their chauvinistic foes – these speak volumes for the genius of our island-race.
(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | Writer trying to keep at least his tweets short and sweet @WijDeC)