As I mentioned here, I recently joined an online “march” against Monsanto. There were some pretty compelling arguments to join the march, and in the post I outlined the ones that I found particularly persuasive.
But of course, there were also arguments, on the same side, that made me think why bother?
There was one fellow, for instance, who wrote the following:
Monsanto is the bankers which are Rothchilds, Rockefellers, Morgan, Canargie, Chase, Queen EII, Bush etc… they are the ones that should be accountable for this monstrosity and believe it or not I pretty sure they are controlled by the Vatican behind the curtain.
“believe it or not”, he says; I’m choosing not, if that’s OK. As far as Queen EII is concerned, I think it’s the monarch rather than the ship, but I can’t be sure. If you can fit the whole of the Vatican behind the curtain, who’s to say a cruise liner can’t slip in too, squeezing in between a couple of Rockefellers and Hamlet, who’s probably wishing he’d chosen some place else to hide? I’ve typed the comment out exactly as it appeared; I would have used a photograph but I couldn’t figure out how to edit out the poster’s name, and I didn’t think that would be fair. Ignore the typos; we’re all guilty of that, from time to time. Just look at what’s been written.
Now, I’m not Monsanto. I’ve no interest in doing their work for them. But my guess is this kind of comment is manna from heaven for their PR department, who are anxious to paint anyone who opposes them as a conspiracy-obsessed lunatic still recovering from his last alien abduction. And if you’re thinking of joining in, as I was, this is precisely the kind of comment that makes you pause, if you’re sane, and wonder for a moment who it is you’re making common cause with and whether you should be associating yourself with someone who thinks The Da Vinci Code is a history book.
I’ve picked Monsanto because it’s fresh and obvious. But the same thing happens everywhere. Want to commiserate with the family of Drummer Lee Rigby? Great, but don’t look at the posts either side of yours, calling for a “cleansing” of the British Isles. Want to highlight the ignorant backlash that follows a tragedy like that one? Good for you, and I hope you can close your eyes to the people who agree with you and, what’s more, think the murder was a good thing. Fed up with cyclists taking up too much room on the road, sick of the four-by-fours in the bus lane? I don’t blame you, but I doubt you actually want to kill them. Trouble is, half the people who claim to be on your side of the argument say they do. And it’s not just the obvious. It’s not even just politics. Justin Beiber. X-Factor and The Apprentice. Manchester United. Apple vs Google. Apple vs Microsoft. If you think you’ve got strong opinions, take a five minute trawl on the web and think again. Sure, Windows isn’t perfect, but you wouldn’t go that far, would you?
But don’t worry. I haven’t written this piece just to complain about lunatics, conspiracy theorists and extremists. There is a point. And here it is.
There’s a danger that, having decided to commit yourself to something, if only for an afternoon, you’ll see something like this, an idiot or an extremist, and decide not to. I’ve done it myself, plenty of times. I see something that makes me sad or makes me angry – something that makes me care – and I write a comment, a post, a letter. And then I pause, briefly, finger poised above mouse button, and glance at something someone else has said, and that’s it. I’m not going to associate myself with that drivel. I’m not going to let the extremists appropriate my voice. So the comment goes unmade, the letter unsent, the post unblogged, and I try to forget about it and move on.
But I shouldn’t have done. I was so afraid of letting the extremists take my voice I let them take the floor. I let them have the whole platform to themselves and when you do that, when people on both sides do that, what could have been a reasonable, sensible dialogue gets polarised and turns into a war of irreconcilable viewpoints.
With Monsanto, for once, I looked beyond the lunatics and saw pretty quickly that they were a minority. A strident minority, true, but still outnumbered by those with reasonable, sensible objections I could understand and believe and agree with. I wish now I’d done that more often.
Because the last thing any of us should want is for the important issues to be debated solely by the extremists.
If you liked this, take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Care here.