This deeply unpleasant man with sociopathic, sexist views, which if acted upon would be illegal, is coming to Scotland. In fact, he might not even be coming to Scotland. From newspaper reports, it sounds like he just wants to summon people to a “meet-up” group which may or may not happen, but probably will now a fuss has been made. I won’t mention his name or opinions for risk of adding to the problem I’m about to outline. He’s American, and his “profession”, such as it is, is similar to Tom Cruise’s character in the film Magnolia.
There are lots of deeply, unpleasant, deluded men with deplorable attitudes who are too visible to the public eye – Jeremy Clarkson, Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson… all walking cliches, and all making themselves very rich and/or very famous off the back of “telling it how it is”. This character I am keeping nameless is perhaps even more malevolent to tolerant society, but his modus operandi is the same – speak the unspeakable, make a name for yourself, become the mouthpiece for a cohort of similarly deluded, disgruntled souls. Like them, he’s a confident, privileged white man, exploiting divisions, winning over one group of the disenfranchised by “othering” another group of the disenfranchised. Personal notoriety is actively courted as a sign that he’s doing a good job.
Now, the first thing your mother tells you when confronted by a bully is not to rise to it. They are seeking a reaction. Give them none, and you render them foolish and weak. The first thing that Oscar Wilde teaches us about publicity is that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. The first thing Google tells us is that you can make big bucks if a lot of people search for you.
In clear violation of all this collected wisdom, Scotland has responded, not by ignoring this individual, leaving him and his views to dissipate ineffectually to an audience of precisely no-one, but with collective rage, filling social media and newspaper columns with venom, and thereby publicising his antics to anyone who might be slightly tempted to go along and check out what this guy’s all about.
Rage is an understandable reaction to the man’s opinions – they contravene all sense of humanity, equality, respect, dignity, you name it – but bite your tongue. This guy wants you to be angry. And why does he want it? This…
This is how much searches for this guy on Google have increased in the past week.
Thanks to everyone’s outrage, he’s gone from inconsequential nobody to front page news in two days. You couldn’t pay to get up Google so fast. Left alone, he’d disappear. Instead, he gets a fortune in free publicity. People want to send him a message, but do they really want to send him this message: say some idiotic things and we’ll give you tens of thousands of pounds of free advertising?
More than that, like any number of extremists before him, he can use anger to drum up support. “Look at the ranty liberals,” he can say. “They don’t understand you. Only I understand you. Me and you, we’re the same. Come along to my meeting, and I can tell you all about it.”
In this environment, all the protesting, petition-signing, well-meant opinion pieces and social media shares achieve nothing. They allow the tolerant masses a comfort blanket of likes and retweets. But, conversely, and very damagingly, they alert people to the presence of someone in our midst who “speaks the truth”, some insignificant idiot who would otherwise drift into anonymity becomes a big deal. To a man who feels alienated or confused by cosy, liberal certainties, someone teetering on the edge of the issues this character is tapping into, it might be enough to tip them into his camp. What starts out as well meaning protest, becomes a huge recruitment drive for a nasty ideology.
There’s nothing more ridiculous and humiliating for those involved than an EDL march that no-one turns up to – a show of might gone pathetically wrong. In the same way, what is going to damage this individual more? A couple of sad, filthy old perverts turning up and looking like complete losers, or a “show of solidarity” as an angry mob march with placards and banners. “I will exact furious retribution upon anyone who challenges you in public on that date (remember to record them),” the glorious leader has said. He wants your protesting filmed to use for recruitment. Don’t rise to it.