By Tony Attwood
In the course of things, Untold’s ongoing battle with the Anti Arsenal Arsenal is of little significance. But there is an issue that links us to the wider world, in the sense that the aaa uses the same sort of approach to debate as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.
And for a long while those of us who are worried by what the aaa and their multiple web sites, plus their allies in the newspapers and on radio and TV do, have been hampered the lack of a name to describe what it is that these people use to propagate their views. But now there seems to be a growing agreement: it is called toxic rhetoric.
New Scientist this week defined Toxic Rhetoric as anti-establishment, anti-migrant, with circle-the-wagons anger and insults escalating.
I might add my own personal concern – not just the rejection of logical analysis and evidence in the debate, but the lack of all understanding of what evidence actually is. To see a person write to Untold and be told that he has provided evidence – for it was the “evidence of my own eyes”, or to have another saying, “I could supply evidence but I can’t be arsed” as if that were a serious point to make, is frightening.
Of course my concerns about the aaa and the way debate is conducted here is nothing compared with the fact that one can have a lot of people in Eastern England saying “we’ve got to get rid of immigrants” without engaging in any debate as to who will do the seasonal jobs on the farmlands which dominate Eastern England, if all the East European migrants are banned.
And that’s the problem – the complete lack of carried-through debating logic.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump “sees himself as more powerful than mere facts” as James Hoggan put it in New Scientist and one can’t but help think that the aaa see it the same way.
As for the cause of the descent by some people from logic into toxic rhetoric, the evidence is all there. Social media allows people with loud voices to reach more than they used to be able to do in the public bar of the Crown and Anchor. Combine that with the fact that, as Yale Professor of Philosophy Jason Stanley said, “such figures prey on public fears to reconstruct reality to pander to them,” and you have the current situation.
Add to this the fact that change now runs at such a pace it is not surprising that people can be worried about climate change, the economy, unemployment, the terror, security… And if worry is the new norm why not sweep it all away in the simplistic belief that one simple change (get rid of Wenger, elect Trump, vote Leave) will sort out everything.
That’s a modest contribution to the debate about the way in which people’s perception of their world has changed; it is hardly profound. But it is a start. For it affects not just the big issues of the day, but also every day life. What you think about the club that you purport to support, and going on from there, what you think about your neighbours, your government, your teachers, your employers; everything can be unified into one cry for change as the solution. Once you have a politician who says not only that his rivals are wrong but are idiots, you either know we are in trouble or else you think, “here’s someone who speaks the truth”.
Once you have Boris Johnson write and publish a limerick about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, having sex with a goat in which the President is called a “wankerer” and then have him as Foreign Secretary you have a problem. Not that I am a supporter of Erdoğan – as it happens, I am absolutely not, but that is not the point. Once you have senior politicians calling each other names it is hard to re-establish diplomacy, and find solutions to what can be very deep rooted problems.
So just as we have people write to Untold every day saying how desperately we need a new centre forward because Giroud is useless, without any recourse to an analysis of how many goals Arsenal scored, how many he scored, and how many other teams scored, or indeed an analysis of how likely a transfer is to “solve” the problem perceived, so on the national stage we have people who say, “Don’t worry about climate change, it is not happening.”
Oh and don’t bother your little head to much about The Terror, we’ll stop it. And don’t worry about Boris J being foreign secretary, he’ll be fine.
But why do people think like this? This is what has been worrying me. I agree that experts can be wrong, of course they can, but evidence and expert analysis is by and large all we’ve got to go on.
However people do want simplistic realities because it is mentally less taxing and more comfortable than uncertainty. Believe that the phrase “we’re going to make America great again” actually has some meaning and basis in reality, and that’s it, your problems are over. Believe that Britain can leave the EU and that will be it, all will be sorted, and that’s it, no more thinking is needed. Believe that if we replaced Arsene Wenger Arsenal would be bound to win the league, and fine, we can order another round in the pub.
Then put on top of this the fact that people can now use social media to share these simplistic stories that reinforce their view of reality, and the fact that Twitter in particular demands very short thoughts and Facebook certainly doesn’t seem to like anything too complex or long but actually prefers pictures (mostly of kittens) and you have the new world.
Not a totally new world of course. Tribes and gangs were based on the same sort of approach – no one ever became gang leader by promising a new economic policy.
But it is worse than this, because as the model works, the model gets extended. On the site www.politifact.com Donald Trump is running at about 80% of his claims are “mostly false”. If he loses there will be many out there who will think that his failure was the failure to make that 100%.
So it is only going to get worse. I am not sure if anyone in the football world has started using bots yet to propagate their views in the way that the EU campaign in the UK used them, but when you have machine code that pumps out falsehoods as truth, and people start believing in them, then you really, really are in trouble.
So the football debate mirrors the political state of play. The biggest stories in football each year are the transfers rumours, and even though clearly mostly these are false there are many people who seriously believe that other clubs get the players they want and need while Arsenal don’t because… well fill in any one of a dozen reasons, none of which has any evidence to back it up.
Toxic rhetoric is what we have now got all around us, and fighting against it is a major issue. In a very small way Untold does its bit, insisting on evidence, and trying to reveal just how insane issues like transfer rumours are with our weekly Transfer Index. The fact that by August 31 over 100 players will have be announced as being on their way to Arsenal will however make little impact either on those who propagate the rumours or those who believe them to be true.
As a society I fear we are sinking as fast as the bloggettas and their friends in the media have dragged down football. But at least having a name for what we are fighting makes the battle seem a little clearer.
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