Insulting the Other

Whether it’s racist fans in football, visiting fans at White Hart Lane, fans against officials in football generally or misogyny, LGBTI-bigotry, anti-semitism or plain disagreement there is a very basic problem at work:

The error is in the attack (full stop) and in neutral reporting of attacks without condemnation, independent of how the other party responds. Whatever the situation, a point of “obvious difference” is used to highlight some underlying disagreement (valid or otherwise) AND the presumption is that it is rhetorically acceptable to do so.

Continuing with the football analogies. When southern-eastern supporters chant “sheepshaggers” at west country and northern supporters, they are reducing all differences to one “handy” (geographical, cartoon, grotesque but irrelevant) would-be fact. Originally, it was witty and “in the spirit of the game” fans took it and had their own witty ripostes. Same with “yids” at Tottenham, no opposing fan has the slightest clue whether any individual Spurs fan is Jewish (and it would be irrelevant anyway). But the spirit of the game, the game of rhetorical tit-for-tat that is, depends on both parties understanding the one actually respects the other. We’re all fans of the beautiful game, in this together.

Without common cause it’s difference as identity politics, as in a policy of using any available identity difference as a rhetorical weapon irrelevant to any substantive point. It’s become acceptable for the blues to say they “hate” the reds. The problem with social-media and un-moderated remote interactions is that without the human contact many people have completely forgotten the respect for the other on which all dialogue depends. They have assumed that critical thinking and freedom of speech means such human concerns are no longer relevant or are secondary and that some “right to offend” in casual expressions of hatred is now built into all interactions.

There are rhetorical rules of self-moderation being ignored and replaced by mere identity politics, identifying with your tribe against the other.


[Post Note: Easter 2019 – when all dialogue is reduced to warlike win-lose games, then targetting your opponents weakest, most painful, identity spot is simply natural:

Ultimately this is what I’ve characterised as reducing every topic to identity politics – tribal stands, with us or against us. More identities spawn ever more others. Bring on the good fences.]

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