The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue

Happy talk, keep talking happy talk
Talk about things you like to do
You got to have a dream, if you don't have a dream
How you come not have a dream come true?
If you don't talk happy, and you never have dream
Then you'll never have a dream come true!
- Captain Sensible

Marc Kerr • 4 November 2005

There is an old and wise law pertaining to internet discussions, Godwin's Law. It goes like:

As an online discussion grows longer the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

Anyone who has spent any time online on any political board will be aware of this, whether stated as an actual bone fide law, or just through their own observations.

I wish, with special reference to Northern Ireland political discussions (though not wholly a phenomena related to the NI/Ulster/the occupied six counties/the unoccupied 26 counties/The North/repeat ad inifnitum), to propose a new law, named for one of the more well-know blog-lead discussion boards:

The Slugger O'Troll Law: If one side in a discussion invariably ignores the argument and can only put up 'whataboutery' or 'usuns and themuns', they themselves should be ignored.

or its corollary:

As an online discussion on Northern Ireland grows longer the probability of it descending into 'whataboutery' and 'usuns and themuns' approaches 1.

Take an imaginary thread on Slugger O'Toole. It might run something like this:

In the news today, there was some Republican paramilitary beatings...

To which, there being the facilities to discuss this topic, we get the usual responses:

  1. Commentor A: Sure isn't it awful, why doesn't anyone do anything?
  2. Commentor B: But they are beating their own, so we should leave them to it
  3. Commentor C: Nothing is done about the Loyalists beatings, so why should we pick on the noble Provos?
And so it begins. There is no discussion anymore, it is down to who can bring the most grievances to the bout, who can show that their side has been picked on the most. And this saddens me. There is no debate here. It isn't as if they participants needed to bring their points up. You can't discuss one facet of Northern Irish society without recourse to the other. Why? Haven't we defined ourselves in terms of 'themuns' for long enough? Isn't there the nous to be able to distinguish between the current discussion and our own situation? No one talks exclusively about one topic. Of course, there is a context, I know that. By all means, draw it into the discourse at the appropriate juncture, then use it to make a valid and coherent addition to the debate. Don't just jump up and down seeing red mist because we happen to be talking about your opposites. We will get to your side soon enough, we all have a great sideline in MOPEry.

I love debates. I love debating. I like arguing with those cleverer than myself, that way I learn things, see how they construct their arguments, and how they draw their conclusions. But we have little of that on any online political forum, and less from our political representitives. I don't even need to include links to this from our political class, I don't doubt that you have already examples in your head. Unionist spokesperson demands to know why Republicans got X under the terms of the Belfast Agreement whereas Y hasn't happened yet. And the Republicans demand that..oh, you know the story.

It would be stupid of me to think that this would, and should, change. Inequalities need to be pointed out, imbalances need to be redressed. But when you can't discuss a single topic without veering off to try and assuage the sensibilities of the morally outraged themun, you can't get any discussion at all. None. It ends up as self-justification, or worse, overlooking beams in your own eyes. But you shouldn't have to look to your own house. It is a slight-of-hand by the other, distraction, smoke, mirrors. Perhaps I am being too purist in what I think a debate should be. Perhaps dragging the past 400 years' wrong-doings by the other side is the correct way forward, to make sure they understand our position. But I can't help the feeling that it is wrong. If we were talking about music, and someone was pointing out (wrongly) that Loveless was simply organised noise, you wouldn't suddenly start talking about how California Uber Alles still sounds great today, would you? But we can get away with avoiding discussion about our own affairs if we jump and stomp and shout louder about themmuns.

There is nothing in any of the online forums that gives me any hope that this will change any time soon. This esteemed organ doesn't count, as it has its viewpoints laid out like a Victorian pamphleteer's portfolio, with the letters page being the input from the readers. A world apart from the fora attached to various internet sites. But even in the Blanket's letters page, the tribal antics are easily spotted. Well, he said that, but he hasn't tried being here, where we etcetc ad nauseum. I am not wanting this to be some sort of Won't someone think of the children rant espousing that we all get along. That isn't going to happen any time soon, and that is as it should be. I am merely saying that there is no understanding of the finer points of debating when you just holler over the top of someone else about their faults to distract from any slur you feel they are making towards usuns.

Safe in my middleclass smug intellectual hideaway, I suppose it is easy for me to compartmentalise all this, because I don't know what it is like on the sharp end. Evidently this precludes me from pointing out the inane way that arguments spring up across the interweb regarding the country of my birth. Obviously since I feel secure and sound in my viewpoints, I should be listening to the fringe elements and meeting them in their views. Fine, no problem, when we are talking about their situation. If we are talking about something else, we are talking about something else. Leave other issues at the door. Learn some new skills, as all this whataboutery is just depressing. The whole rest of the world can see it, why can't you? And worse, invariably the original commentator will rise to the bait, raising the temperature towards flame war territory. (I have great admiration for the Slugger O'Toole moderators. Who would be bothered chomping through the bigots and trolls? Certainly not me.) Is it really so hard to hold a proper exchange of views? And sure, if it gets dragged out for a while, and the chance arises, then bring your own petty prejudices into it, but only when appropriate. And, I think, that is the crux of it all. 'Whataboutery' and 'usuns and themuns' is never appropriate. Woe is you, for you are undone, you are a man of unclean lips and live among people with unclean lips.

Next time you are reading through some comments section somewhere, and the topic is about the misdeeds of one of our ethnic groupings, see for yourself if there is such a thing as 'The Law of Slugger O'Trolls'. Not so much seven degrees of separation as two hops to pointing out oppression. I live in hope that this will change. Though I am not filling my lungs in anticipation.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

7 November 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Mary McGurk — Giving Voice to the Abandoned
Anthony McIntyre

It Is Only the Intellectually Lost Who Ever Argue
Marc Kerr

Prospects for the Left in Ireland
Eugene Mc Cartan

Bartering the Infinities
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

The Political Police
Anthony McIntyre

Herrema's Kidnapper Explains Motive
Eamonn McCann

Revenge is a Dish Served Cold
Dr John Coulter

Causes and Effects
Mick Hall

Speaking Truth to Power
Fred Wilcox

The Bush SATaff Goes to Morals School
Mary La Rosa

A View of the H-Blocks
Anthony McIntyre

23 October 2005

Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges
Mags Glennon

A Long Way Down
Anthony McIntyre

A Party of Their Own
Mick Hall

Reid's Sectarian Slur
Eamon McCann

Repeal Anti-Catholic Section of Act of Settlement 1701
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Nicola McCartney & the Facts About Irish History
Seaghán Ó Murchu

Usual Suspects
Anthony McIntyre

Socialism in Ireland
Francis McDonnell

Turning "Smoke ban" thing into ANTI-DIOXIN movement
John Jonik

From the Classroom to the Grave
Anthony McIntyre

Yet More Voices Against Censorship
Davy Carlin

The Death Fast Enters its 6th Year
Tayad Committee

Setting Up Abbas
Jeff Halper



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