Whenever I heard managers in the National Health Service speak in their peculiar Brezhnevian jargon, a mixture of moral exaltation and tedious bureaucratese, I used to wonder whether what they said actually corresponded to the thoughts that ran through their heads, or whether they had to translate them into langue de bois.
A similar question came to my mind when I read the on-line comments on an article published recently in the Spectator. The article was about Vladimir Putin’s continuing victory in his war on the west. Whether the thesis of this article was correct or not I am unqualified to say; but what was indisputable was the ill-temper of much of the commentary that followed:
You silly, ignorant, arrogant knuckle-dragging moron…
Pathetic anti-semitic piece of shit
Again I wondered whether these words corresponded exactly to thoughts as they occurred in the minds of the writers, or whether thoughts had to be translated into these delightful terms. There was the further question: whether it was worse to think in those terms or think it right to express oneself in this way when it did not come naturally or spontaneously to mind. I cannot quite make up my mind on that question.
I find the level hatred in the commentary rather disturbing. It is not that I am opposed to controversy, that I always express myself in emollient fashion, or indeed that I never feel hatred for certain points of view: it is that the protagonists of this exchange feel no necessity to remain even minimally civil towards one another, that they feel no shame in expressing themselves so crudely. Even their accusations of being in the pay of Putin or the American government seem civil (and rational) by comparison.
People who put finger to keyboard are not necessarily representative of the population as a whole. Nevertheless, if you look at the commentary that follows any newspaper article you will soon discover that there is a great fund of hatred, presumably the result of personal frustration, waiting to be tapped by an unscrupulous demagogue. The rich and poor, the bankers and the welfare-dependent, the educated and uneducated, are hated with equal venom. Some, who believe in the hydraulic theory of human emotions, might say that the internet provides a safety valve for such hatred; more likely, however, is that it provokes and increases them.