Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Bullies and Glass Houses

Senator Perchard has recently written a letter to the paper saying that "while some use the internet for gaining information, others use it for destruction of sensitive data, or for demeaning and abusing individuals or organisations. While some use the web as a communication platform, others use it for and derive pleasure from intruding in the internet privacy of individuals and seek enjoyment from cyber-bullying."

He then goes on to provide a psychological profile of the bullies:

It is widely claimed that adult bullies are unable to cope with their own lives and problems and that they are easily intimidated and have strong feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. They are thought to be desperate to receive attention, which they probably don't receive at home or in relationships. I have noticed that they continually seek to discredit those in authority, particularly those who are influential, knowledgeable, capable and successful.

Who can he mean? I think the next paragraph where he is far more specific makes it pretty clear:

It is true that occasionally they can appear plausible, by introducing a cocktail of fact and fiction, but I am convinced that cyber-bullies are always vindictive and manipulative liars. They often, in an attempt to justify their behaviour, threaten their target with referral to a higher authority, e.g. the law, the UK Ministry of Justice, even the European courts, imagining that such authorities would be interested in the detail behind their vindictive tirade of abuse and bullying.

This means he clearly has in mind local bloggers, and most probably Senator Stuart Syvret's blog, which recently won the acclaim of former Senator Frank Walker as "that vile blog".  As far as I know, no one else is taking any case to the UK Ministry of Justice. Then follows a bit more of his tirade. Is this against bullying in general, or is it his opinion on particular individuals? Why does he not cite the facts and the fiction, so we can all check up on the matter in hand? Blanket accusations without an evidential base could be seen as a form of deflecting all criticism by devaluing it, which is a pernicious use of the ad hominem argument.

Here is a matter of fact: the report in newspapers that the fragment discovered at Haut de la Garenne was a coconut was a fiction, the forensic reports never mention the word "coconut", as he would have seen if he had taken care to research the matter and read them. That was pure press hype, and took on the status of apparent "truth" by dint of repetition, as is commonplace, especially in the internet age.

Cyber-bullies, like all bullies, will eventually prey on those closest to them in order to resist entering into permanent and lasting friendships. This is because they are mentally disturbed people who are incapable of having meaningful relationships. It is symptomatic that they find solace and power alone in their virtual world in front of their computer screens.

He ends on a most peculiar note.

I have given very careful consideration to the content of this letter, as I know it will provoke a hostile reaction in my direction, from cyber-bullies and internet abusers, those who believe it is their right to publish on the internet defamatory and hostile untruths about others. I for one am prepared to stand up to these bullies. I shall not be intimidated by them.

Why is is odd? Because he says that he is prepared to stand up to these bullies, and will not be intimidated by them? In that case, why doesn't he say who they are? Shame and name - instead of hiding behind a smokescreen of language! This is a strategy he has used before, for example, in a States debate (reported in Hansard) when he said: "Just briefly, I feel bound to speak after the cynical Senator and I think we all know which one." Again - no names! He also notes - again pre-empting any critique - that his letter will no doubt cause a lot of abuse to descend on his head from these bullies.  In the absence of names, how can this be understood except as an attempt to avoid any criticism, even legitimate ones.  Just as bullies can hide behind anonymity, so can those making remarks about criticism hide behind presenting those who criticise them as anonymous.

On the subject of bullying, did he ever give an apology for his intemperate language against former Deputy Baudains in the Masterplan Debate? I know he did admit he was mistaken in terms of fact, but I can't ever recall a retraction of the tone of the language, which might conceivably be seen as hectoring, intimidatory, or even tactical verbal bullying.  It was another case of being unable to separate fact from fiction. Senator Perchard thought the Harcourt Court case in Nevada was a fiction, but unfortunately it was a fact.

As the Deputy was standing there making his proposition I could imagine him in bed last night.  In fact, I can imagine him [Members: Oh!] and Deputy Baudains, both in their own beds white-knuckled, biting their pillows, thinking: "How can I derail the process tomorrow?"  They must have stayed awake all night.  Shame that they did because it has failed miserably.

Reading that, I could not help recall what an article in the Birmingham post noted:

Any youngster watching the way politicians bray, heckle and jeer at each other in Parliament may also question their authority to tell them how to behave.

I'll end with this quotation on the subject of bullying in politics, and there is certainly some of this in the States of Jersey, of which Senator Perchard must take a portion of blame for past behaviour, especially during the debate cited:

The arena of political activity is one that can draw out the best and the worst in people. Generally speaking, politics attracts those who are most concerned with the acquisition and exercise of power. Where there has been no effective democratic constitution the abuse of political power has proved awesome... But even in countries with democratic institutions, with well considered checks and balances, opposition parties, regular elections, parliamentary conventions and so on, there can be, and sometimes is, a systematic abuse of power by individuals or by groups of the kind that can fairly be called bullying. Bullying in politics is most public, and therefore most evident, in parliament. In Australia we are continually reminded of the schoolyard. The intent is to embarrass, humiliate and expose one's political enemies as fools and incompetents. The targeted member rises to his feet, ignores the question, and launches into a spirited attack on the members opposite. The game's afoot. Bystanders now act according to cue. Cries of derision for supporters of the putative bully; expressions of solidarity from the friends of the struggling speaker; a few bystanders - independent members - become spectators watching to see how things develop. Whether the scene unfolds as a bully/victim scenario will depend upon the virulence and pointedness of the attack , the defensive skills of the speaker and the degree of support provided by the party. Often enough it is stalemate: no real harm done - but equally no good done either.

(Ken Rigby, New Perspectives on Bullying, 2002, p97)


Rob Kent said...

It was such a thinly-veiled attack on Stuart Syvret, it was transparent.

In the good old days you could be bullied by arbitrary and petty authority with absolutely no recourse through the local news media.

In fact, it was difficult to even find a public outlet for any 'non-establishment' point of view, as anyone who has had letters rejected by the JEP over the years can testify.

The domination of opinion by the ruling/political classes was almost total. Dissenting voices were occasionally, condescendingly allowed, normally so that they could be slyly ridiculed by the editor.

Just like the Soviet Authorities used to do, certain parts of the Jersey establishment like to smear their opponents by implying that they have 'mental problems'.

I wrote a complaining letter (unpublished) to the JEP a couple of years back after they gave front-page prominence to the question, "Are you ill, Senator?", which was put to Senator Syvret after his suspension or sacking (I can't recall the occasion).

They were obviously implying that he was mentally frail and the JEP printed it out without any explication. This is a vile and reprehensible tactic, especially when you consider that living in Jersey with no recourse to democratic checks and balances or an alternative media, your well-being could easily be destroyed if you take on powerful interests, not to mention losing your livelihood.

So what is funny about Senator Perchard's insane letter, is that the boot is now on the other foot. Because of the Internet, all voices can be heard - no single cartel owns the medium of expression.

It's called freedom of expression. You're still protected by the law. You can have libellous statements taken down and you can still sue for libel if you want.

But you can't stop people saying what they like in any manner they like. And you can't stop the facts becoming known. I suspect that it's the latter aspect of Internet freedom that really gets their goat.

voiceforchildren said...


As I have posted esewhere. The Oligarchy and their media over here, in my opinion, are the cause of the local "Blogging Boom".

People have been bullied, intimidated, ridiculed and silenced for too long by our Goverment and their partisan media.

The Jersey people have been given a voice by the internet. Now the whole world can see what has been, and is, going on in our island and it does not look good on the Oligarchy.

But it is not only our Oligarchy that is starting to be exposed, it is their partisan media also. Times are changing, citizens media is becoming more powerful and influential, unless our local media start acting like journalists, reporting facts, truth and without fear or favour, they are going to be left back in the 18th century.

Senator Perchard's letter in the FILTHY RAG might convince some of it's readers, but I believe they are getting fewer by the day as more people are getting switched onto the internet.

If the good Senator says he will face up to the "cyber bullies" where is he? I haven't seen him posting anywhere.

Perhaps, when time permits, I should ask him to give me an interview for VFJ. As things are, I have bigger fish to fry right now but maybe some day soon!!

Anonymous said...

The irony is that Senator Perchard's hinted desire to outlaw online criticism of those in authority has captured the attention of defenders of free speech around the world. I do not know how many first time readers Senator Syvret's blog averages daily, but it appears he has had about a thousand new blog visitors since he posted his response to Senator Perchard's odd editorial.

Should the States of Jersey ever attempt to silence the island's internet voices, the result will be the very appeal to higher outside legal authority the elite fears most.

And, I can promise the attention brought to bear will be global.

When it comes to the internet, defense of free speech is every person's business.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy the farmer isn't best pals with blogger St-Ouennais. They are polar opposites in just about everything.

ratleskutle said...

An interesting and thoughtful critique, tony.

you clearly have knowledge of styles of argument as your "ad hominem" comment demonstrates. can you recommend a good book about this sort of thing. otherwise i will get myself down to the library!