Of Anger in Rhetoric

The common opinions concerning anger are therefore such as follow. They are easily angry, that think they are neglected. That think they excel others; as the rich with the poor; the noble with the obscure,&c. And such as think they deserve well. And such as grieve to be.. hindered, opposed, or not assisted; and therefore sick men, poor men, lovers, and generally all that desire and attain not, are angry with those that, standing by, are not moved by their wants. And such as having expected good, find evil.

Those that men are angry with, are: such as mock, deride, or jest at them.
And such as shew any kind of contumely towards them.
And such as despise those things which we spend most labour and study upon; and the more, by how much we seem the less advanced therein.
And our friends, rather than those that are not our friends.
And such as have honoured us, if they continue not.
And such as requite not our courtesy.
And such as follow contrary courses, if they be our inferiors.
And our friends, if they have said or done us evil, or not good.
And such as give not ear to our entreaty.
And such as are joyful or calm in our distress.
And such as troubling us, are not themselves troubled.
And such as willingly hear or see our disgraces.
And such as neglect us in the presence of our competitors, of those we admire, of those we would have admire us, of those we reverence, and of those that reverence us.
And such as should help us, and neglect it.
And such as are in jest, when we are in earnest.
And such as forget us, or our names.

An orator therefore must so frame his judge or auditor by his oration, as to make him apt to anger: and then make his adversary appear such as men use to be angry withal.

– Thomas Hobbes:  The Art of Rhetoric

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Books

Twit twit To-where?

A company takeover rarely hits the front page, but for Twitter, the biggest celebrity social media site and Elon Musk, the biggest celebrity tech entrepreneur, it fills volumes. (Wondering why does little good in the fervent political atmosphere, but that stifling atmosphere has something to do with it.)

Tesla and SpaceX are utterly brilliant: we have to ask then whether Twitter can become as brilliant too.

The gossip has concentrated on how freely one may speak on the platform. It is a private company and can make its own rules.  I know that if I ran a social media platform I would be worried about what people were saying on my site, effectively (to my mind) in my name. I would want it to be respectable, and to ban way-out material like Holocaust-denial, race-hatred, loony conspiracy theories and socialism.

My forum, I think, would not last long, turning away so much custom

The value of Twitter, financially, is in the volume and variety of commentary and bile spewed out on it, which produces data which can be sold. In the old days, a company with a product to sell might hire a marketing consultant to go round knocking on a hundred doors: now fora like Twitter have the unfiltered brainspills of millions of customers available to analyse. In a decade or so, marketing departments might learn how to read the data properly. Bans and threats of bans will skew the data. Liberating speech is a most noble motive: it should also be a profitable one.

The new owner might just leave Twitter ticking along with a few adjustments to its policies, and commentaries have made that assumption, with perhaps too a few tweaks like adding an an ‘edit’ button. It works as a business model at the moment. That is thinking very small though, and Twitter is shrinking so business-as-usual means decline.

At the moment it works on the surface with simplicity. You might think that no revenue stream goes untapped, but it looks flat, suggesting that there is more that could be done to expand the Twitworld in more dimensions and bring in more facets than ever before. I would not know where to start, but I am not Elon. It is only a petty sideshow for him, but if he shows that vision for which he is famed, his new sideshow may become something so good that even I might be interested in it.

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Books

Closing the web – 2

The Online Safety Bill causes more despair as I plough through it. The thing is, I actually want to see a workable law against online harms; but this is not it. It means well and it tries, but whoever wrote it was not up to the task.

I wrote before that the Bill is badly written tortuous, self-contradictory, tautologous and recursive. If this were resolved, it might become legible and so be considered properly. (This could be done by handing it to a half-decent commercial lawyer: they produce water-tight documents that are more complicated in concept every day.)

It cannot even agree with itself on what that key concept, “harm” means: at one point it is “psychological harm amounting to at least serious distress” (Clause 150, about a new offence of “Harmful communications”) and at another it is “physical or psychological harm”, followed by a tangle of subjective provisos (Clause 187).

Part 3 and 4 contain duties of care, which are not actually too bad – impossible day to day for anyone but a major company, but that is whom it is aimed at, and it cuts two ways – protecting vulnerable users, but also protecting free, democratic engagement, and user empowerment. That will be interesting.

The proposed offence of “harmful communication” in Clause 150 should be struck out at once.  Nadine Dorries has expressed repeatedly her opposition to the cancel culture and wokeist attacks on free speech, but she is now giving them a perfect weapon. It will make a criminal of anyone who says online anything another person seriously does not want to hear: if a man has built his whole outlook on life through the filter of socialist preconceptions, showing him the folly of those ideas will destroy him, so that will be a crime. Those who built their lives on more personal fantasies, quite fashionable these days, are never reticent about how “harmful” it is to be challenged or doubted.

An important principal is contravened by this Clause:  no criminal offence should have indeterminable boundaries based on criteria entirely subjective to the whim of a magistrate or civil servant. No one can then know if he or she is a criminal.

I have more sympathy with the “fake news” offence in Clause 151. It will make  crime of many party political materials, but perhaps that is for the best.

The real problems, for all the positives, come from the incoherence and incomprehensibility of the Bill, and how open it is to abuse in the detail of the delegated powers.  A real, probable risk is that service providers faced with the illegible duties will ban and bar as a default in order not to be caught. Crippling fines for allowing “harm”, where there is no fine for banning the innocuous, must lead to a supercharging of online cancel culture.

See also

Closing the web

We now have the long-awaited, long-feared Online Safety Bill before the House of Commons. It is nowhere near as bad as the proposals which preceded it, though that is faint praise: past proposals were repulsive.

In 226 pages of dense-packed text, the Bill will lose you. It is badly written tortuous, self-contradictory, tautologous, recursive: it is written by those who do not know what they are talking about, to be sent out for administration by those who do not know what they are doing. That is just how new law works. A curse lies within its heart; OFCOM, whose name appears some 650 times. This is not law: it is command by apparatchiks.

The Bill is not  the monster presaged by earlier consultations: it does not seek to ban all subjective harm and hand the power to do so to an easily bullied official.  It narrows the scope of this intervention to actual illegality and children’s online safety, both of which are needed.  Then again, the impenetrability of the Bill may hide more than it admits.  There is also “Adults’ online safety”, which could in fact be used to ban anything, as far as anyone can tell.

“Harm” means psychological harm amounting to at least serious distress.

Nadine Dorries has praised the bill as liberal and assertive of free speech. I cannot imagine that she has read it. If she wanted to protect web users from actual online harm, if the Bill just did what she says, it would have been done on fewer than 10 pages, with no power to make codes and regulation, and just one line about OFCOM.

Instead, we have a civil servant’s wildest dream. He who controls OFCOM will control the web, and not just social media, but it can rope in all academic research, commercial marketing and information of any sort. Just thirty years ago, research was carried out on paper, in dusty libraries with whatever volumes a librarian thought to place there. The Web was created initially for academic research, but we could weirdly find ourselves in a position that the paper libraries are the better source again.

Trying to get into the guts, this Bill tries to pin the amorphous web into three categories of services: not “1”, “2” and “3” but “1“, “2A” and “2B“. (Those forest cultures said to have no numbers beyond two are perhaps more advanced than we thought.)  Anyway, these three innumerate categories are of services all of which must be entered on an OFCOM register:

  • “Category 1”: a regulated user-to-user service meeting “Category 1 threshold conditions”;
  • “Category 2A”: a regulated search service or combined service meeting “Category 2A threshold conditions”;
  • “Category 2B”: a regulated user-to-user service meeting “Category 2B threshold conditions”.

Lest you think these are defined, each refers to a preceding subsection, which refers to a Schedule for “threshold conditions”, which contains no definition but hands power to make the definitions to the Secretary of State. Yes – in two years’ time, your internet access could be controlled by Angela Rayner or Diane Abbott.

We have a key definition in Clause 2 that a “user-to-user service” means “an internet service by means of which content that is generated directly on the service by a user of the service, or uploaded to or shared on the service by a user of the service, may be encountered by another user, or other users, of the service.” That is everything on the worldwide web. It is intended to mean YouTube and those sites where teenagers upload indecent pictures, but what it actually covers is every website at all – all are created by users of the web. The DCMS could properly object that it s not intended, that there are exemptions etc, but I challenge them to interpret these. The Bill is keen on definitions, but every one is defined by reference to other definitions found scattered elsewhere in the Bill, each then defined by another, and some of which are, such as the key term “user” are, after several jumps about, found not to be defined at all.

This nonsense shames Parliament. An Act for online safety is needed, but this?  Cut out 99% of it and start again, but otherwise dump it.

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Wolven hearts

Much quoted recently is Desmond Tutu’s exhortation that ‘love is stronger than hate’ – but it is not. Hatred is far stronger than love. The world would be happier if it were not so, but hatred is the strongest motivator of mankind.

I wonder that our demagogic politicians see no irony in examining and condemning the sewer of social media for spreading hatred when their own trade depends on it. Perhaps it is only unapproved hatred which is to be condemned, and indeed hated. Even in the Church of England, the one established body which is meant to be lapped in love, the faction making the most progress in its agenda is that of the ‘progressives’, succeeding by spitting untamed hatred at all opposition.

The wolf seeks meat; it is relentless and merciless; while single wolf may be cautious or even playful, a pack of wolves is unbridled, bloodthirsty, exulting in the kill and the tearing apart of the victim. It is raw nature. Likewise is mankind, and perhaps our concept of ‘hate’ is no more nor less than the wolf’s instinct.

Democratic politics necessarily involves the stirring up of hatred. An absolutist system may avoid it, but only if long established and unchallenged:  the tyrannies of the Twentieth Century are a lesson in the extremes of murderous hatred as a political method, both as to the way they took power and how they held it. Even in our more sophisticated climate the most effective political campaigns involve fomenting hatred by class, status, political tribe, race or other irrelevancies. Read any political headline for your evidence.

Hobbes observed in De Cive a speech in Rome’s troubles ages:

Pontius Telesinus; who flying about with open mouth through all the Companies of his Army, (in that famous encounter which he had with Sylla) cryed out, That Rome her selfe, as well as Sylla, was to be raz’d; for that there would alwayes be Wolves and Depraedatours of their Liberty, unlesse the Forrest that lodg’d them were grubb’d up by the roots. To speak impartially, both sayings are very true; That Man to Man is a kind of God; and that Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe.

In this Telesinus, interpreted by Hobbes, puts his finger on it: overthrowing a tyrant is moment’s victory, but the place from which they arose will breed ever more wolves, for the real enemy to liberty and love is mankind.

What to do then, if this is the case?  Start by recognising it, accept that we are not perfectible and every one of us contains the same flaws, and mankind will be the same until the very end of the age. Then we will have an understanding of the clay from which society and the demos and built, and build our commonwealth accordingly. Perhaps also those of goodwill and good sense should be in a better position to check our own wolfish instincts.

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Books