"Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice."
These words, from Robert Kennedy, have stayed with me since I first read them, and have, I hope, influenced and shaped my actions and my approach to life.
Most recently, the sentiment has been at the forefront of my mind in a ‘row’ over moderation and censorship on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website. OK, no law had been flouted, but other than that, the Kennedy quote seemed apt.
I first read the quote in a book lent to me by a great teacher, who also, when I was about 14 years old, used to let me read his copy of The Guardian at lunch. At the time, I instantly felt drawn to the ‘worldview’ offered me by the paper, and recognised that, perhaps for the first time, I seemed to be seeing important events through a lens that addressed the questions and concerns that I myself had, from a position that closely reflected my own.
Like another Bobby quote:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”
The Guardian seemed to me, to be standing up for the ideals and values that I too held, and sending out the ripples that I thought the world most needed.
I stuck with the paper, through the changes in my own life, and through more seismic ones in the ‘real world’ until, upon relocating to ‘abroad’, I naturally honed in on the newspapers website as a link to the land I’d left, and onto the CiF part in particular, as both a way to compensate for a distinct lack of friends/social life, and to provide a source of entertainment, humour, and at times, wisdom, that reminded me of friends and family back home.
In the relatively short period of my own participation, however, I have noticed a drift from the very things that drew me to the Guardian all those years ago. I don’t intend to make a huge list of their faults, but generally (in my opinion), there has been a very biased approach to articles around particular subjects, a very capricious and inconsistent approach to moderation, and, perhaps most worryingly, a definite hint of contempt for those posting ‘Below the Line’ on the website.
All three of my concerns were highlighted and proven true, in the recent Lord Summerisle case.
An article was posted, by an uber-feminist lesbian, who seemed to be making some quite outrageous and derogatory claims about a certain celeb, who had been unfaithful, and then, by extension, most men who cheat, claiming to offer an authoritative view into the minds and psyches of ‘offenders’.
Lord S questioned whether the authors experience, sexuality, lifestyle etc, put her in such a position of authority as to be able to make such broad, sweeping claims, and asked if he, writing as a heterosexual male, made similar assertions about females in same sex relationships, it would have been accepted and published by the Guardian.
When this comment was deleted, LordS then asked, why, and, whether, had he written the above article, such a question of him would have been justified, and indeed, allowed to stand. After a small debate on the ‘What Do You Want to Talk About’ thread, news reached us that Lord S had been banned from CiF, and given that this was his ‘third strike’, it was to be permanent.
This caused a bit of a furore, and many posters, myself included, took issue with The Guardian, and its moderation/editorial policy. After considerable backlash, and vocal opposition over a couple of days, The Guardian eventually sent out the troops, who, although I’m paraphrasing, came up with some variation of ‘yeah, well, if you don’t like it, fuck off’, or ‘the moderation issue again– boring – get over yourselves, everyone else thinks we’re great’.
Now, this response, I suppose, was slightly better than no response (which had until that point, been the stock policy with regards to calls for a discussion on/clarification of moderation policy, and the one they rapidly re-adopted after being called on the many problems with how they had responded), but, for me at least, it offered a definitive insight into how The Guardian views those who comment on ‘their’ website, and how much of a flying fuck they give about us Below the Line, who, ultimately, make the site something more than a collection of pseudo-intellectual journo buddies, writing to each other on a social networking page.
After hanging around for a little while, in a futile and final attempt to prompt a debate, I made the decision to leave the site, for the foreseeable future at least.
Now, this was by no means, an easy decision. Regardless of how sad this may be, the absence of CiF in my life, leaves a pretty gaping hole, with not many other options with which to fill it.
Consequently, the end of my fourteen year relationship with The Guardian has, lest things there change substantially and rapidly, come to a sudden, and for me, bitter end. And while I’m certain that they themselves don’t give a shit, and though I fully acknowledge that my walking away will ‘leave no ripples’, I have done it anyway.
Once again, this decision, this course of action, knowingly adopted despite its futility, can also perhaps best be expressed by Robert Kennedy, a person whose words, at one time, thanks to a twist of fate, were synonymous in my mind with the once great Guardian, but which now provide me with the incentive and desire to walk away from it....
“First, is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills - against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man”.