If You Can't Explain Something In A 140 Characters Or Less, You Don't Understand It!
A convenient paraphrasing of Einstein's quote: "if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it," there. To begin what is going to descend into a convoluted point and perhaps a vicious, intangible process of thrust, counter and parry, a mental cadence to rival any fencing bout. Of course, my title does well to highlight Twitter's entire Raison d'etre. The genesis of the micro blogging site has seen a chain reaction of fleeting thought, succinct observation, blindness to anything beyond face value, and wounded knee jerk reaction.
I am referring to the Twitter bush fire that was ignited by one little birdy settling upon a branch, chirping a thought that subsequently wielded the power of a shard of glass in dry scrub on a hot, sunny day. This birdy, was Richard Dawkins, famous and controversial in equal measure. His lauded endeavours in evolutionary biology have become matched in later years with his strident New Atheism (a stance I sympathise with on many levels, although I was more Hitch oriented). Such fame that has recently and dangerously flirted with the auspices of infamy recently, due to three Tweets (or 420 characters or less).
The Professor Emeritus began his online foray yesterday like so: "X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that this is an endorsement of X, go away and learn how to think."
He later upped the ante like so: "Mild Pedophilia is bad. Violent Pedophilia is worse. If you think that this is an endorsement of mild Pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.
Thirdly, and finally, in the style of Dickens' three Christmas ghosts, what has been reacted to most came last, the Spinal Tap's "turn it up to 11." "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knife point is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think."
In the manner of anyone who Tweets as such who has even a ray of fame's desert sun glare focused on them, these Tweets, the last notably, has led to an excoriation the like of which has been extremely similar to vultures rending strips of flesh off a desert marooned corpse.
Those critical of the Tweets are saying it makes light of abuse, a flippancy one of his haughty privileged position can freely assert, not having to wade through the mire of said abuse and it's potentially endless ramifications (this overlooks the fact that Dawkins was abused as a child himself).
Those ranged in the camp of his defence rail back to claim that Richard was using Syllogism to press an issue.
Here is the definition of Syllogism:
an instance of a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions (premises); a common or middle term is present in the two premises but not in the conclusion, which may be invalid (e.g. all dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore all dogs have four legs).
• [ mass noun ] deductive reasoning as distinct from induction.
Dawkin's fans and defenders also are quick to remind us that there are indeed differing levels of the above abuse and crime, which is dealt with not only by law courts, prosecutors and victims. Yet it also addresses the raft of emotion felt by those who have found themselves at the harsh end of these unconscionable crimes that one (or more) person/s can levy against another. How coping with the fallout can range from anger and bewilderment, to utter complete nervous mental collapse and suicide.
When I read the Tweets, I took it's purpose to highlight the disparity of thinking about the levels of crimes, to promote reasoning on all levels of this worst of subjective experiences, to promote empathy perhaps? To resurrect Einstein again - to simplistically put it - "it's all relative."
The truth in the Twitter/Follower continuum, as always, dwells somewhere in the middle. As with all matters on this mad spinning top of a planet , there are (pardon the cliche) "Shades of Grey." This more than popular phrase has no greater arena than the online forum itself. Replies to Dawkin's initial Tweets were likely to have sent his profile into meltdown yesterday, Facebook threads on related articles buzzed with the clamour of a killer beehive/lynch mob hybrid. Harsh censure was countered with glowing approval and all the intonations that could exist in between. But did the Tweets serve their purpose?
They opened up debate, that is undeniable. However, it also prompted a dam burst (perhaps more precisely, a sewage pipe burst) of negative attacks upon Richard Dawkins personally, culminating in the laughable diatribe published by Guardian "journalist" Eleanor Robertson. I have read other articles on the subject (written by women, which are critical) that have maintained magnanimity and equanimity, something overall that lacks in spades on Facebook threads, Tweet replies and internet fora... a recent aspect of e-evolution in the last several years.
A person reads an article and is moved enough to leave a reply in the comment thread on Facebook. They speak with conviction, as is their right as a subscriber to said periodical and a free citizen. But lo! In the shadows of the internet woods lurks a fetid and resentful presence. They will strike you down with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy the flow of their contrary opinion! Wielding a firebrand of vitriol, they will hurl insults at you on a catapult of ill feeling and immaturity... who are these monsters? You pass them by on the street, they are everyday polite and smiling citizens, should you ever be lucky to meet these amiable folk face-to-face.
The shield of internet, screen and keyboard has allowed some people to think that they have carte blanche to be as inconsiderate as they wish when engaging others in discussion, even journalists (see Robertson). We're not talking the Scourges of Social Media here, Trolls, or Heaven forbid, Spammers. This bemused scrutiny is reserved for individuals that doubtlessly would not dare respond with an iota of the candour or spite should they be in a tangible flesh on flesh scenario of discourse, better known to us silicon recluses as "a little chat."
Tweets, forums and comment threads offer a tantalising opportunity. A chance to peel back the onion layers of an individual's carefully formulated and structured personality. In the large majority of cases, if one were to encounter their internet adversary in the flesh, and one was to call them out on their behavior, most people would awkwardly laugh off their former rage with the second fortress a persona retreats to, excuses. "I was tired, in a bad place... " you may even get an embarrassed apology behind a red-cheeked chuckle. Or rarer still, a punch on the nose!
This observation has deeper undercurrents pertaining to our society, that it is all one mask. Everyone one you meet is potentially in fancy dress! A costume whose whimsy runs a barometer of the slight to the sublimely ridiculous, depending on the will and intended secrecy of the wearer, a Venetian Masque Ball was never this scintillating!
Twitter proves to be the blink when our third eye glimpses the truth, through the lie sewn like a hasty tourniquet across it. Such baring of the soul online is much less than a decade old, what it holds for us in the future for the dichotomy of our real selves and our perceived selves remains to be seen.
Truth is bad. Falsehood is worse, if you think this is an endorsement of truth, go away and learn how to think...
In closing: "if you can't understand inference from 140 characters or less in Tweet, you don't understand Twitter, or the internet for that matter."
© Brad James, 2014.