It’s time to get outraged by internet outrage

The internet likes to get angry at things. In the sheltered existence of the western middle classes, few things offer the adrenaline rush and community spirit of righteous indignation. The feeling is so addictive that if righteous indignation cannot be procured, any old indignation, however manufactured or unfair, will do. This is a problem.

There were two memorable instances recently, one wholly absurd and the poster-child of internet injustice at the hands of ideological fanatics, the other perhaps justified in essence, but grossly overblown and indicative of far worse moral failings in the self-appointed judges than in the, however guilty, accused. Let’s look at each in turn:

The sacking of Sir Tim Hunt

Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel prize laureate in medicine and physiology, got fired for making a joke at a private event.

This is what happened:

  • Sir Hunt joked that women and men distract and fall in love with each other at work
  • He should know, because that’s how he met his wife, an accomplished immunologist
  • Story gets reported as “chauvinistic pig doesn’t want women in science” by an ideologically motivated outsider from irrelevant arse-ends of university with a faked CV, because fuck the facts.
  • Women who actually worked with Sir Hunt immediately come to his defence saying he is the best boss in the world and helped their careers immensely
  • His employer, University College of London, exhibiting ideological preoccupation and astounding cowardice typical of the worst of academia, promptly caved to mass hysteria on social media and sacked him without bothering to check what really happened.

What the actual fuck.

I can’t begin to fathom the mental universe of people for whom helping cure cancer is a smaller deal than making a joke too open to cheap ideological misinterpretation, and perceived violation of politically-correct orthodoxy is sufficient grounds to fire a brilliant scientist whose work probably saved millions of lives. We have historical experience with that kind of collective imbecility here in post-communist Europe, that vitriolic madness of petty minds looking for excuses to injure others (mainly their betters). Time to push back at that culture of butthurtery and bullying under pretenses of “social justice”. Let’s call a spade a spade. They are simply lynch mobs and witch hunters under a new name.

I also wonder how many of the screaming suffragettes involved are themselves scientists, and how many went into gender studies, art history and journalism instead of picking a more challenging academic course in one of the actual sciences, therefore being (unlike Sir Hunt) patently part of the problem.

Fortunately, reasonable people quickly came to Sir Hunt’s defence. Sir Andre Geim, one of the inventors of graphene, immediately chimed in saying Sir Hunt was being “crucified by ideological fanatics”, Richard Dawkins himself uttered the “lynch mob” verdict, and generally everybody who is an actual scientist expressed outrage and disbelief at the medieval mores, and in one notable instance resigned tenure at UCL in solidarity. The popular mayor of London Boris Johnson supported Sir Hunt, likewise. So did his ex-wife, an ardent (but apparently sane) feminist.

What Twitter did is not surprising. Internet idiots will be internet idiots, although this is a good time to ask whether rational and mentally mostly stable users should do more to curb the hysteria and vitriol lurking around the fringes.

What is surprising is the tragic injustice of institutional reaction. The loser in this affair is squarely University College London, whose reputation is irreparably wrecked. The St.Louis wretched sociopathic hag was a loser to begin with.

Here we have an academic charlatan and a confirmed liar attacking a Nobel laureate for imagined deviation from the party line, winning, and not regretting any of it.

He was sacked and shamed for nothing, while she was offered “help correcting her resumé” by the un-university she works at, for ruining a man’s life by lies, and for evidently lying habitually on her CV and throughout her career. This is justice?

Who of these two people belongs in science, and who deserves to be fired?

The outrageous fact isn’t that there are horrible, sociopathic, delusional cunts in dark corners of third rate academia. That has more or less been the case since the sixties.

The outrageous fact is that (formerly) first rate academia responds to them (and their morally bankrupt Twitter mobs) to the degree of sacking Nobel prize winners over trifling matters, without checking the facts.

Fortunately, first rate academics (if, shamefully, not academia as an institution) took a stand firmly supporting Sir Hunt. But if this isn’t a cautionary tale about the dangers of justice by lynchmob, nothing is.

A lynchmob of hysterical villagers gets into a frothy frenzy over an alleged crime that only exists in their heads, and ruins the reputation and life of a person who is vastly more valuable to society than all of them combined, and who has done more for them than they could ever imagine. This is a huge danger in the age of social media, and it is going to happen again and again. There’s a good chance this article will get dragged through the mud too.

Reasonable people have a responsibility to do more to counteract mass hysteria. We must confront the pernicuous notion of “offence” designed specifically to limit free speech. Unless somebody is openly advocating murder (which, ironically “social justice warriors” often do in response to puzzlingly banal incidents), there is no justification for censure, especially in academia, whose legitimacy stands and falls with freedom of speech.


Cecil the lion

A dentist with more money than sense shot a lion.

Killing for fun is not nice, though it’s ironically something animals, notably cats, do all the time. Conversely, what humans, especially bored ones, do all the time is disproportionate moral outrage coupled with a microscopic attention span.

Like the Kony 2012 affair, gamergate or black-teenager-shooting-du-jour, this is one of those things that the middle class anglophone internet is going to live and breathe for two weeks and then completely forget about.

The interesting and shocking thing isn’t that a bored cock went and shot a not-so-endangered animal. That happens all the time and Africa would have even less of an economy, and by extension smaller conservation budgets, without it – doctrine of lesser evil applies. The interesting and shocking thing is the brutal closet misanthropy that came out of the woodwork in response.

It turns out on Twitter and Facebook that many, many of the the peace-and-love hippies hate, truly, genuinely, deeply, murderously, genocidally hate people. Their love of nature is really just a politically palatable rephrasing of hate of mankind, stemming no doubt from a sense of personal inadequacy and anxiety around others.

All the people saying they’d sooner shoot a person than an animal, and even calling for a “culling” of our herd – if you think humanity needs culling, do the world a favour and start with yourself.

The guy shouldn’t have shot the lion. It’s a pointless ego gratifying act – as is internet vigilantism. I shake my head disapprovingly in his general direction, and I’m sure he regrets it now that his private life was ruined. But I find the internet pitchfork brigade with its literally genocidal tendencies and cavalier treatment of the truth vastly more morally reprehensible and dangerous than the occasional ill-advised hunter.

I wouldn’t do it, but since we spent millions of years as hunters, I get that there are tendencies in our nature to hunt – just like, since we spent millions of years as tribal monkeys, there are tendencies to form lynchmobs. Perhaps the weak-willed among us yield more easily to this or that atavism. The important thing is that you can’t condemn one while doing the other without losing the moral high ground.