My friend and fellow columnist Jackie Ashley made a valiant plea for civility from Comment is Free correspondents yesterday. A forlorn hope. Every medium shapes the nature of its message: newspapers, books, magazines and broadcasting all invite their own way of writing and speaking. But there is something about the wild empty universe of the internet that encourages violence and naked aggression.
Yes, there is, isn't there...
Or as Jackie suggests, maybe it's just that a handful of obsessive and persistent bullies set the tone and silence others who may want more measured discussions.
Pol, my little darling; what you haven't realised is that there are people on this here interweb who have been shouting themselves hoarse "at" you and your stupidity for some years now. Just because you happen to have entered the discussion at this late stage doesn't mean that people are any less angry: in fact, they have had several years of rage bottled up and now you have given them a direct outlet. By the way, how much do you earn...?
Quite right that we who pontificate should be challenged.
Yes, especially when you are wrong; which in your case, my dear, is pretty much all the time. We also severely dislike the way that you either don't check your figures or deliberately twist them to back up your failing arguments. It has been demonstrated, time and time again, that you are either very stupid or a liar, and we intemperate types don't like being lectured either by morons or hypocrites.
We pin our thoughts on a public noticeboard and I always answer my many emails. I prefer one to one communication with readers, though it's a lot more effort than putting up an occasional reply to comments on this site.
That's very noble of you.
Jackie is right that the "fucking stupid cow" stuff is surprisingly disturbing much...
... but that's our problem. Thick skins have to come with the territory.
If only intelligence or integrity did as well, Polly, we'd all be a lot happier.
But like Jackie, I am puzzled by the level of casual aggression on this site.
Of course you are; it has been, I would imagine, something of a rude awakening.
Anonymity is the problem. Why don't all of you say who you are?
I am Devil's Kitchen and I like that persona: if you want to know who I really am, you can find out here. Entering "devil's kitchen" into a Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" search brings up my Britblog profile, and I am on the first page in Google for "devilskitchen" (which is the name that I use on Comment Is Free and, indeed, everywhere else).
Why hide your names and email addresses?
We want to avoid trolls and spammers clogging up our personal accounts, Polly, that's why. However, you can find my email address at the top of the right sidebar.
Is it because you are blogging at work or drunk?
Sometimes, and very occasionally. More often, I'm just really, really pissed off. Slagging you off helps me to be a nicer person offline: it's like a safety valve, if you like.
Or are you ashamed your family and friends might get this insight into a less likeable side of your character? Why so coy?
Many members of my family and a good few of my friends read this stuff; indeed, I advertise it.
Critics should have the courage to identify themselves. The Guardian letters page will publish nothing without a verifiable identification, even if for exceptional reasons, names and addresses are sometimes withheld. So why doesn't that apply here?
Welcome to the world of blogging, Polly; indeed, welcome to the internet. We like our pseudonyms out here: it may change at a later date.
Are you men or women? Are women just as prone to nastiness? I note women columnists usually get more contemptuous treatment than men, but I may be quite wrong to imagine misogyny.
Yes, I think that you are.
What do you do all day, MrPikeBishop, that you have time to spend your life on this site? I suppose the answer may be that you are a paraplegic typing with one toe and then I shall feel guilty at picking you out as one particular persecutor.
Why should he be let off if he is a raspberry*, Polly? Surely we don't discriminate?
But tell us who you are and what your life is, where you are coming from and what you stand for? Tim Worstall you pendant [sic!], what on earth is your life and view of the world? Do you ever see the light of day?
Actually, I happen to know that the man blogs very comfortably, with the sun streaming through the wall of sliding windows that lead onto the roof terrace. And why don't you Google Tim Worstall and find out what his view of the world is? It's there for all to see, and it's pretty much the diametric opposite of yours, Pol.
Tell me something else, how many of you bother to buy the Guardian? Here we are, the only non-profit paper with no megalomaniac owner, like all newspapers in need of paying readers at a time when the press is in decline. Comment is indeed free on the web but it would be nice to think you contributed a bit.
I would buy your paper, but unfortunately the policies that you espouse—high government spending and the concommitant heavy taxation—mean that I can't afford it, sorry.
I jest, of course: I wouldn't buy your rag in a million years. I prefer to spend my money inducing a coronary with cigarettes rather than The Guardian.
The big whinge and joyless abuse would be easier to take from paying customers, not outsiders throwing stones from afar - from both far right and far left.
Well, the patronising shite that you spout would be far easier to take if you weren't earning many multiples of my money. If the £140,000 figure is correct, you are earning seven times as much as I have ever earned, and thirty-five times as much as I took home last year. Essentially, your carping would be easier to take if you weren't such a hypocrite and if you didn't write without engaging your brain.
Why the hell do you advocate the government spending yet more of our cash, despite all the evidence that shows that most of it gets pissed up the wall? Why do you mock the market when all the evidence points to its efficiency (if only compared with government spending)? Why do you insist on sticking to your foolish dogma when all the evidence points to you being totally and utterly wrong? This is why we get cross: because you seem utterly unable to appreciate reason; you just keep on writing the same, flawed trash, and we get frustrated banging our heads against a brick wall.
As for those who hate particular writers, why on earth do you bother to read us? Isn't life too short and blood pressure too high?
I guess that it's a question of "know thine enemy", Polly. And—I want to be completely honest about this—I really enjoy pulling you to pieces: yes, it's spiteful, but it is so much fun!
God knows how many columnists there are out there: stick to the ones you enjoy. I could spend my life sending furious counter-arguments to Melanie Phillips or Richard Littlejohn - but why bother?
Because you believe that they are wrong and that you want to put your argument forward? That refuting them would strengthen your case? It might be some sort of response to show that you actually engage with the world, rather than sticking your fingers in yours ears and singing "lalalalala, I can't hear you"?
It's May, there's another week to go of the Brighton festival. Get out a bit.
Can't afford it, sorry, Pol; not earning £140,000 a year.
By the way, if anyone knows someone called Ian Birchall, do please tell me about him. He just sent me this email, all in capital letters, which would have been struck from this site: "You are a loathsome overpaid hypocrite. Nobody would miss you for 5 seconds if you were dead like your despicable shitball husband. I should like to see you in a cancer ward screaming with pain and vomiting blood.' His email is email@example.com. No, I didn't reply to that one
It must be admitted that that is a little harsh, frankly. I reserve that kind of stuff for the politicians who follow your advice, Polly. I would like you to stop writing though. But it's amazing how you can undermine your own argument, Polly. You see, what you have done is to bemoan the fact that people insult you in the comments because they are anonymous, but when someone emails you under his own name and insults you, then you don't reply (although I can understand why).
And believe me, if you think that I wouldn't get this cross with you if we were arguing in person, then you would be wrong. There are many people who could back me up on that: stupidity and stubborness annoy me, and you possess both, in spades.
So, any time you want to meet for a drink and a debate, feel free to email me. Sometime at the beginning of June would suit me, as I might be in London then...
UPDATE: My comment on her post runs as follows:
You may not be conversant with my blog: how could you be? You and your Grauniad friends are just dipping your toes into the waters of blogging. What is slightly distressing is that seem to be unaware of the fury that you and your ilk manifest in people.
This is not because you are particularly hypocritical -- although you and all of your colleagues are -- but because you refuse to learn from your mistakes. Your refusal to learn from empirical evidence, and your continued advocation of certain measures (increased government spending, etc.) make the rest of us poorer. What the hell do you care if another £1,000 vanishes from your pay-packet but to some of us it means that we have lost 2 1/2 stone over the last 6 months.
Your poisonous style, your bitchy writing and your propensity for either not checking your figures (which in the minds of those writing online -- all of whom are educated and, as it happens, more than capable of tracking down the reports that you claim to represent -- renders you an idiot) or deliberately twisting them to suit your own argument (a dishonesty that we are used to after 9 years of ZanuLabour) leads us to believe that you are either a moron or a liar.
I have addressed your concerns in my usual abrasive but flippant way: now you can come back to me or you can retire. I would rather you did the latter; I know people who would otherwise consider themselves intelligent who read your column and believe it, and for this alone you deserve to be excoriated.
You can find my reply here: http://devilskitchen.blogspot.com/2006/05/poor-polly-snaps.html
Now, if you want a face-to-face debate, you can have it; I am not afraid of you. Because, and I know this because the evidence backs me on it, you are wrong.
I doubt that there wil be any response. If there is, anyone fancy filming "Polly and Devil's Kitchen In Conversation"? I think that it could be a ratings winner...
UPDATE 2: David T has identified Polly's ungracious email author, by the simple expedient of Googling the address.
There is a well known and prominent member of the Socialist Workers' Party called Ian Birchall who appears to use the email address cited by Polly Toynbee. That suggests that he is likely to be her correspondent.
This Ian Birchall is a regular contributor to Socialist Worker, wrote the official mini-history of the SWP, The Smallest Mass Party in the World, and is currently writing a hagiography of an equally nasty man, Tony Cliff.
* Rasperry—raspberry ripple = cripple.