I don’t think it’s aimed at me personally, and it’s nothing like as bad as the kind of thing that goes on in That Other Place! But it does upset me, and again there is a comparison with the Other Place: the two most notoriously aggressive posters there never had it in for me personally - there was just one exception, when a whole load of people piled on to me at once, including one of the two usual suspects - but I was upset by how a general encouragement of aggressive behaviour made creative discussion all but impossible.
There is a general principle which I don’t know how to formulate, and which perhaps we could discuss, when deciding what “rules” should apply here. (That assumes that we do end up needing “rules”. But we seem to be managing pretty well without them so far, and I like it that way, so long as it works.) I’ll just try to illustrate it with some imprecise comments.
I don’t like “tone policing”, and by and large I think people should feel free to use whatever colourful language they like. (Where would we be without Rhisisms, in particular!) If someone wants to call Donald Trump a ridiculous orange baboon, or Suzanne Moore a hateful cow, I don’t want to stop them. But it gets a bit uncomfortable when an entire class of people is dismissed as beneath contempt. We all “contain multitudes”, after all, and no significant aspect of humanity should be despised.
(I said I didn’t know how to express this!)
There is a general chilling effect if too much aggression is expressed even against groups who aren’t personally present. But that statement really needs clarifying. There is of course no harm in raging against Guardian journalists en masse, for example - indeed, we’d arguably be failing in our duty if we didn’t! But being a Guardian journalist isn’t an innate human quality. (If you see what I mean. Again I must apologise for not being able to say clearly what I’m getting at.) It is all right to rage at, or express contempt for, concrete groups of people who are doing concrete things.
I expect someone else (I’m looking at you, @Evvy_dense!) will be able to say that more clearly and succinctly than I can, if I have at all managed to convey what I mean.
Where it gets really uncomfortable for me, and where I think also the general quality of discussion is lowered, is when entire large abstract subgroups of humanity are hated and/or despised. That applies even when it is done in a humorous manner. Here there is a real danger of “tone policing” and “political correctness”, so I had better try really hard to be clear. I still don’t know how to state the principle abstractly, so I’ll try to give some concrete examples. (I won’t go as far as searching for quotations, partly because it’s probably not necessary, and partly because I haven’t even had breakfast yet!) Suppose you, Rhis, dismiss people who believe in the reality of the COVID-19 panic* as “Chicken Little” types. Well, several of us here do believe in the reality of the pandemic (although I think we are all willing to be persuaded by evidence and argument), so we are implicitly being insulted.
* [That’s a marvellous Freudian slip, and I think I’ll leave it just as it is.]
I feel a real, deep dread of engaging in any threads on the subject of COVID-19, but the subject is inescapable, unless I avoid coming here altogether. It’s partly because of what I’ve just tried to describe (very inadequately, I know), but there is another element: a certain slipperiness in the position of “pandemic-disbelievers” (as I have chosen to call you lot, for the time being!), which goes beyond the variation in individual opinions that @Evvy_dense has written about.
It’s possible that I am imagining this slipperiness (my state of mind is pretty fractured, and it’s not just because of worrying about politics all the time), but since I have complained of “gaslighting”, I must at least try to clarify what I am complaining about. Also, even if I’m not imagining it, it may not be necessary to conduct a detailed post-mortem; it may be enough just for me to clarify my discomfort a little, and then we can “move on”. (Damn, there must be some way of saying that without being reminded of Tony Blair!)
I am practically sure that in more than one thread in this forum, more than one person has denied, not just the seriousness of the [alleged] COVID-19 pandemic, or the necessity for what I myself have described as the “extremely destructive, almost suicidal defensive measures that have been taken against the supposed threat”, or the competence of the measures taken, particularly in the UK (I’m sure we can all validly complain about those), but even the existence of a widespread infection by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. I forget exactly what I had in mind to write next (I had formulated all the words in my mind, but I’m tired and hungry, and the words have slipped away), but it may have been that I am also almost certain that in more than one thread in this forum, more than one person has falsely denied having denied the reality of the viral infection.
If I’m mistaken about this (as I very well may be), I’ll apologise to whoever I’ve wronged. Be that as it may, there are two more things to say (no, three things - nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!), and then I’ll have my breakfast! (1) I think I have managed to explain why I have been feeling “gaslighted”, even though my explanation is not as clear (or brief!) as could be wished. (2) Whatever the truth of my claims about “gaslighting”, I think we need to be clearer as to what we are disagreeing about. It’s hard to detect progress in our discussions. (Again that may just be a failing on my part. I’ve written more than once how confused I am by the whole COVID-19 thing. That confusion is natural and healthy enough - probably - and in any case it is quite distinct from the confusion and dread I feel because of real or imaginary “gaslighting”. Finally, apart from all the confusion, I just have great difficulty keeping up and following up all the references. I’m miles behind! Sorry if I’m dragging the discussion down to my level, and everyone else is keeping up OK.) (3) On the other hand, much interesting information has been posted (e.g. Kendrick, Cummings - not Dominic!), and I think there is at least the potential for progress, and we just need to organise our discussion(s) of the subject a little better. (Again I must acknowledge that it may just be me who needs to be better organised.)