A Letter to a Sort-Of Friend

We share our thoughts now, so publicly, in ways we never could before. We have opened a window onto our own stream of consciousness, and gleefully show the world aspects of our personality we wouldn't reveal if someone had come round for dinner.


Oh hi. We've known each other for a while, as real-life friends, and we haven't seen each other for a couple of years, but now I am thinking about unfriending you on Facebook. I've seen enough. I've had enough.

Funnily enough, it wasn't the astounding opinions you posted last summer about dead Palestinian children that drove me to this. Although I did write you a letter about that which I never sent you in the end. You accused journalists of falling for the propaganda of being shown the 'dead toddler of the day' by Palestine forces.

I think it was in that same thread that you described yourself as just being 'NICE'. I didn't find your attitude to dead children particularly nice. It seemed pretty callous, if I'm honest, whether or not the point you were making had any merit.

I don't know how long you've been living in the UK for, or when you first came over from the states. But, since you have started to enjoy some meteoric career success, I have watched your character change, the blossoming of an ego, that extends to your nationality.

So when the racist Chelsea fans behaved so obnoxiously in Paris, you pronounced UK football as 'toxic'.

I hate football, if I'm honest. But as the discussion began, and your friends gamely tried to explain the vast strides that have been made against racism in football in the last twenty years, you dismissed them, instead asserting that such behaviour would never occur in American sport.

Even the most cursory search can find evidence of racism in USA soccer fandom. But you didn't bother to check that. Because you have reached a point in your life where no-one opposes you, not really. You have some power now. And so you make these pronouncements, and instantly believe them. You have become convinced of your infallibility.

You have become self-righteous.

And here's what makes me feel a bit ill: we have all become self-righteous. I have become self-righteous. I blame social media (which I will doubtless use to promote this blog piece), and the alarming, virulent nature of the virtual bandwagon. But we all seek to judge far sooner than to understand. Russell Brand wrote a good piece about the Chelsea fans' racism, where he asked if we would dare to try to understand them. And he is absolutely right to ask that.

Our judgement is as toxic as their racism. Our collective shaming has turned into bullying. We have become a collective, righteous mob. We have done it to everyone - Dapper Laughs, Richard Dawkins, racists, people who make silly dick jokes, people who shame people who make silly dick jokes - the whole thing is turning into a horrific chain reaction.

Part of this is the way we share our thoughts now, so publicly, in ways we never could before. We have opened a window onto our own stream of consciousness, and gleefully show the world aspects of our personality we wouldn't reveal if someone had come round for dinner.

But it's also a symptom of recession - people literally recede into their own corners. When money goes, as Tony Benn observed, there is always a swing to the right. We all feel scared and seek to look after ourselves first. And that results in less tolerance for others, for strangers, for people who have different attitudes or backgrounds. We have turned tribal. Ironically, we have become less individual.

And, well, look at me, right now. I am giving in to this horrible judgmental impulse in myself. I suppressed it last summer while you attacked Palestinians. I watched CNN, which you proclaimed as being the only news channel with unbiased coverage (despite everything Jon Stewart has to say about CNN), because, more than anything, I didn't want to judge. I wanted to be open to another point of view. I wanted to understand.

I don't fully understand you. But I think I understand enough to say that you and I can't be friends any more, in any meaningful sense. I am trying not to condemn you. I am trying to reconcile your everyday sweet nature with what I feel is your ego's governance of you. But I think that's a battle you must face alone. On what authority do you make your proclamations? Your niceness? Are you nicer than anyone else? Can you be sure? Can you not - can we not - have the humility to listen to another opinion, and have the good grace to accept that it might be as valid as our own? Is it so bad to admit you've made a mistake, and modify your opinion?

So now I am stuck in this quandary. Do I unfriend you? If I do, am I not being as judgmental as anyone else? Do I not then negate my argument for tolerance and understanding? I think I do. I think I must try to leave the possibility for dialogue open.

Perhaps you will unfriend me, and absolve me of the responsibility of making a choice. Perhaps I am being cowardly for writing this. Perhaps the righteous will take this and shame me for it.

I am not writing this because I want other people to judge you. I am really not. I am writing this because I want us all to interrogate our own self-righteousness and seek to understand before we judge. Please let's stop. You don't stop damage by attacking more.

Whatever happens, I vow to try to understand it all.


On we go, everyone. Thanks very much.


Before You Go