is an old and wise law pertaining to internet discussions,
Law. It goes like:
As an online discussion grows longer the
probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler
Anyone who has spent any time online on any political
board will be aware of this, whether stated as an
actual bone fide law, or just through their own
I wish, with special reference to Northern Ireland
political discussions (though not wholly a phenomena
related to the NI/Ulster/the occupied six counties/the
unoccupied 26 counties/The North/repeat ad inifnitum),
to propose a new law, named for one of the more
well-know blog-lead discussion boards:
The Slugger O'Troll Law: If one side in a
discussion invariably ignores the argument and can
only put up 'whataboutery' or 'usuns and themuns',
they themselves should be ignored.
or its corollary:
As an online discussion on Northern Ireland
grows longer the probability of it descending into
'whataboutery' and 'usuns and themuns' approaches
Take an imaginary thread on Slugger
O'Toole. It might run something like this:
In the news today, there was some Republican
To which, there being the facilities to discuss
this topic, we get the usual responses:
so it begins. There is no discussion anymore, it is
down to who can bring the most grievances to the bout,
who can show that their side has been picked on the
most. And this saddens me. There is no debate here.
It isn't as if they participants needed to bring their
points up. You can't discuss one facet of Northern
Irish society without recourse to the other. Why?
Haven't we defined ourselves in terms of 'themuns'
for long enough? Isn't there the nous to be able to
distinguish between the current discussion and our
own situation? No one talks exclusively about one
topic. Of course, there is a context, I know that.
By all means, draw it into the discourse at the appropriate
juncture, then use it to make a valid and coherent
addition to the debate. Don't just jump up and down
seeing red mist because we happen to be talking about
your opposites. We will get to your side soon enough,
we all have a great sideline in MOPEry.
A: Sure isn't it awful, why doesn't anyone do
B: But they are beating their own, so we should
leave them to it
C: Nothing is done about the Loyalists beatings,
so why should we pick on the noble Provos?
love debates. I love debating. I like arguing with
those cleverer than myself, that way I learn things,
see how they construct their arguments, and how
they draw their conclusions. But we have little
of that on any online political forum, and less
from our political representitives. I don't even
need to include links to this from our political
class, I don't doubt that you have already examples
in your head. Unionist spokesperson demands to know
why Republicans got X under the terms of
the Belfast Agreement whereas Y hasn't
happened yet. And the Republicans demand that..oh,
you know the story.
It would be stupid of me to think that this would,
and should, change. Inequalities need to be pointed
out, imbalances need to be redressed. But when you
can't discuss a single topic without veering off
to try and assuage the sensibilities of the morally
outraged themun, you can't get any discussion
at all. None. It ends up as self-justification,
or worse, overlooking beams in your own eyes. But
you shouldn't have to look to your own house. It
is a slight-of-hand by the other, distraction, smoke,
mirrors. Perhaps I am being too purist in what I
think a debate should be. Perhaps dragging the past
400 years' wrong-doings by the other side is
the correct way forward, to make sure they understand
our position. But I can't help the feeling that
it is wrong. If we were talking about music, and
someone was pointing out (wrongly) that Loveless
was simply organised noise, you wouldn't suddenly
start talking about how California
Uber Alles still sounds great today, would you?
But we can get away with avoiding discussion about
our own affairs if we jump and stomp and shout louder
There is nothing in any of the online forums that
gives me any hope that this will change any time
soon. This esteemed organ doesn't count, as it has
its viewpoints laid out like a Victorian pamphleteer's
portfolio, with the letters page being the input
from the readers. A world apart from the fora attached
to various internet sites. But even in the Blanket's
letters page, the tribal antics are easily spotted.
Well, he said that, but he hasn't tried being
here, where we etcetc ad nauseum. I am not
wanting this to be some sort of Won't someone
think of the children rant espousing that we
all get along. That isn't going to happen any time
soon, and that is as it should be. I am merely saying
that there is no understanding of the finer points
of debating when you just holler over the top of
someone else about their faults to distract from
any slur you feel they are making towards usuns.
Safe in my middleclass smug intellectual hideaway,
I suppose it is easy for me to compartmentalise
all this, because I don't know what it is like on
the sharp end. Evidently this precludes me from
pointing out the inane way that arguments spring
up across the interweb regarding the country of
my birth. Obviously since I feel secure and sound
in my viewpoints, I should be listening to the fringe
elements and meeting them in their views. Fine,
no problem, when we are talking about their situation.
If we are talking about something else, we are talking
about something else. Leave other issues at the
door. Learn some new skills, as all this whataboutery
is just depressing. The whole rest of the world
can see it, why can't you? And worse, invariably
the original commentator will rise to the bait,
raising the temperature towards flame war territory.
(I have great admiration for the Slugger O'Toole
moderators. Who would be bothered chomping through
the bigots and trolls? Certainly not me.) Is it
really so hard to hold a proper exchange of views?
And sure, if it gets dragged out for a while, and
the chance arises, then bring your own petty prejudices
into it, but only when appropriate. And, I think,
that is the crux of it all. 'Whataboutery'
and 'usuns and themuns' is never appropriate.
Woe is you, for you are undone, you are a man of
unclean lips and live among people with unclean
Next time you are reading through some comments
section somewhere, and the topic is about the misdeeds
of one of our ethnic groupings, see for yourself
if there is such a thing as 'The Law of Slugger
O'Trolls'. Not so much seven degrees of separation
as two hops to pointing out oppression. I live in
hope that this will change. Though I am not filling
my lungs in anticipation.