I wish to propose a Law of the Internet, in manner of Godwin’s Law or Poe’s Law or the one about spelling mistakes. Chivers’s Law is: if you can go online and call your government a fascist regime, then you are not living under a fascist regime. I started thinking about this when a commenter under my last post said something about how all three of the parties are part of the “corporate fascist regime” and so on and so forth.
The same applies to “Soviet”, “Nazi”, “totalitarian”, “Stalinist”, etc, obviously. I should admit that I draw inspiration from Michael C Moynihan of Newsweek, who wrote that “If you are invoking [George Orwell’s] 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984”. But I think a wider point can be made; you, dear reader, are complaining in a very public way about the actions of your government. Any government worthy of the titles above would view that with the sternest disapproval.
But we can’t help it, online, can we? Furious hyperbole, overcaffeinated paranoia and incandescent rage are the default settings. The Duke of York joined Twitter yesterday and was immediately greeted with people calling him a “f—king parasite”. Poor old George Osborne can’t tweet a thing without being told in strident tones that he is destroying Britain and selling off the NHS to his rich friends so they can all party together in the Caymans. Lefties are all communist libtards who want to destroy everything that made the country great, Right-wingers are evil bloodsucking vampires who want the poor to starve.
And, of course, on newspaper website comments everywhere, we are repeatedly told that Britain is in the grip of a Nazi-fascist-communist corporate Islamist totalitarian state. (Whether that totalitarian state is classed as “Right-wing” or “Left-wing” depends on whether you’re reading here or on Comment is Free.)
For the record: it’s not. As I mentioned earlier today, you’re really very lucky to be alive in Britain today. You’ll probably live past 75. You almost certainly won’t starve to death. Most importantly, you’re allowed to say that Michael Gove is Adolf Eichmann or Ed Miliband is Mao Zedong and you know what? You almost certainly won’t have a bunch of guys turn up at your house in the middle of the night and whisk you away to a labour camp.
Nick Cohen wrote a piece called “In defence of paranoid hysteria” recently, about the importance of this sort of hyperbole. “Complacent westerners fail to understand that freedoms are guarded because their defenders are prepared to go wild,” he says: we don’t live under a fascist regime, but it isn’t ridiculous to say that “this tactic used by the Metropolitan police or that demand for data from the American National Security Agency echoes the behaviour of a tyranny’s secret police force”. And fair enough. If we waited to get all excited until after we actually were in a fascist regime, we’d have left it too late.
But I want to write in defence of telling paranoid hysterics that they’re wrong, and Tories-are-evil/Lefties-are-Stalinist types that they’re idiots. If you go on about the Coalition being fascist, you’ve got nowhere to go when something genuinely fascist turns up. If you say George Osborne is evil, what word do you use to describe Pol Pot? Earlier today I was listening to Ed Miliband’s speech, in which he kept saying he was “incredibly proud”, because linguistic inflation means that simply being “proud” is not enough anymore. Evil and fascism are in danger of going the same way; if we’re using them to describe changes to the Jobseekers’ Allowance or green taxes, then we have nothing left to call genocides.
Oh and I want the law at the top to be called “Chivers’s Law”, please.