'I am a conduit for the truth' - Katie Hopkins
In a particularly bizarre Season 18 Episode of South Park, Lorde (who we find out is actually Stan's father Randy Marsh plus wig plus autotune) is worried that he'll sound horrible playing live without the aid of autotune. He's swiftly told that 'Noone cares; just get on stage and rub your clit or something' After he does so, chastened by the outrage that inevitably follows, and threatening to tell everyone the truth about who Lorde actually is, his agent sets him straight with the following soliloquy.
'Do you know what an artist is now Lorde? An artist, is a conversation piece, nothing more. Like a vase, or a kitschy side table. Just something for people to comment on. The old ways are dying. We're not making money off records, we're making money off Tweets. And you're taking it to a whole new level"
This analogy works just as well away from the music industry. For records, read newspapers. And for artists, read columnists.
Last week, Katie Hopkins once again lit up the Twittersphere when she unveiled a six punch combo of vitriol including the proclamations that depressed people 'don't need doctors, they need running shoes and fresh air', that 'being diagnosed with depression is the holy grail of illnesses to some' and 'the ultimate passport to self indulgence' and ended with the cherry on top that some 'suicidal people are attention seeking bastards'. Which, as someone who has lost a depressed friend to suicide, was difficult to munch my cornflakes to.
If we take Hopkins' thesis to its logical extreme we should conclude that such luminaries as Socrates, Virigina Woolf, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson and Robin Williams were 'attention seekers' who could have 'fixed' their depressive ruminations (however insightful) with a pair of Adidas running shoes. Not that anyone is happy that they took their own lives, but fans of ancient philosophy and modern literature alike probably rejoice in the fact that they weren't more sporty.
In this week's instalment from the great KH, the latest people who need to ship up (pardon the pun) are asylum seekers from North Africa. And for this, I thank Katie Hopkins. As an Australian (sorry, immigrant) after a decade here it's great to have the phrase 'turn back the boats' FINALLY reach the UK. Being disillusioned by a FAMILIAR form of xenophobia gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Whenever the latest 'outrage' breaks, whether it be Jeremy Clarkson punching a producer or Katie Hopkins mouthing off yet more race hate clickbait, Twitter, Facebook and all other Web2.0 forums roar into activity to debate whether the expression of these sorts of opinions should be allowed, or punished.
Lefties decry the heartlessness of these spoiled, cosseted cele-brat-ies, lamenting that they're disconnected from the real world (possibly), that they don't actually believe the incendiary rhetoric that they're spouting (possibly) and that the world would be a better place if they were banned from being given a public platform (a more complex debate, but let's leave it at possibly)
Meanwhile, right wing 'man on the street' types, cloaked in a Technicolour Dreamcoat of pure libertarianism bemoan a PC power grab that has gone too far, throw around words like 'freedom of speech' and end with the ad hominem declaration that - like infallible telepaths - they're only saying what everyone deep down is thinking.
There is an Aladdin's cave of choice of op-ed pieces on each of these incidents. This is nothing new, op-ed pieces have existed as long as print media. What is new in our time is that we now have the ability to respond via the now ubiquitous comments section.
Hundreds of comments flow underneath, a binary waterfall of opinion and rage; threads and sub-threads expressing everything from well thought out ripostes, angry good hearted despair at either Hopkins herself or mainstream media outlet's continued insistence on giving her the oxygen of coverage and finally - in an ironic echo of Hopkins herself - a cohort of sad, lonely cyber-trolls spraying other posters with insults in search of the pathetic validation of reaction.
If there were a way to harvest money from people's outrage I would be a millionaire. If I could monetise people's desire to express an opinion I'd be doubly rich. But, like most good ideas, someone has already beaten me to it. Websites, as always, derive their revenue from the amount of traffic they receive. More clicks equals more revenue from advertisers.
And, as anyone who's browsed a news website knows, outrageous stories, such as the latest Hopkins rant or Jeremy Clarks-ident catch the eye and hook us into a morbid desire to see just how bad what they've said now is. Voila, more clicks and more revenue. The internet, and its ability to give everyone a voice has essentially monetised people's conscience and by extension, their outrage. This is of course, outrageous.
The cycle goes like this. Outrageous statement made - Outrageous statement reported - People outraged at outrageous statement - People vent online outrage at outrageous statement - Other people vent further online outrage at online outrage at outrageous statement - Outrageous amounts of outrage.
This is now a well established digital ecosystem that not only sustains, but nurtures the makers of these statements. Like some horrendously co-dependent and abusive relationship, high profile idiots are essentially now being funded by our repulsion of them.
A click is a neutral thing. It doesn't discriminate on the why, only the what. I have clicked in both gleeful and horrified anticipation. So have you. So, like a child that realises that any attention is good attention, the Internet has, via poor parenting, become a brat.
Katie Hopkins has been quoted as saying that she welcomes both her remarks and criticism of her remarks and is not, as some have labelled her a 'lowlife superbitch' but has instead quite grandly labelled herself a 'conduit for the truth'
In an ideal world, maybe. However, most people online, as off, do not arrive to a debate to have their opinions changed, merely reinforced. There is a depressingly banal circularity to the 'discourse' (if you can call it that) of Internet comments sections. I know what I think. You know what you think. We disagree, therefore you must be, by definition, an idiot. Click, refresh, rinse, repeat.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether truth is objective, a question which remains unresolved after well over a thousand years of philosophical debate, perhaps we can say that Katie Hopkins is a conduit for her own truth. As am I. The main difference between Katie Hopkins' truth and my truth is one of how widely disseminated each one is. And as much as Hopkins is a conduit for her own truth, perhaps her highly privileged position as a columnist at The Sun helps as well?
Because of this, in the same way that an airline captain must be held to a higher standard than say, a trainee on a simulator, Hopkins utterances must be examined more rigorously due to their increased ability to influence others. This is why hate speech laws exist.
But perhapsthe statement-outrage-criticism-debate process that comes with Hopkins' statements IS modern democracy in action. Perhaps Katie Hopkins IS, as she says, a conduit for THE truth. She certainly stokes the fires of debate, which is, if you believe the Socratic method, the path to truth. Perhaps we should think of people like Jeremy Clarkson and Katie Hopkins as social commentary's kindling.
Fine. But we really don't need such pantomime, primary coloured kindling. We don't need our debate generators asking such asinine questions. Rather than acting like a bunch of digital 7 year olds being goaded and suckered by the fundamentally fear based narrative of the schoolyard bully it's time we graduated into adulthood and - instead of reacting to these cretins, patting them on the head, saying 'that's nice' and getting on with the pressing business of evolving our collective consciousness.
Humanity - for all our flaws - have done a pretty good job of evolving our conscoiusness over the past thousand years. We kill each other less, we invade and enslave each other less. From the emancipation of slaves to the suffragette movement through the civil rights movement, slowly we have stepped into and more fully embraced the ethos that others are just us in different circumstances. Hopkins, and those like her, equate the luck of being born in the UK as being a birthright rather than what it is, which is just the fortune of falling out of a vagina within a stable geopolitical area.
Katie Hopkins has a right to her opinion. But now, so do we, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, the comments section of The Telegraph website or - as of yesterday evening - the change.org e-Petition requesting that The Sun remove Katie Hopkins as a columnist.
Do e-petitions work? They're fairly primitive instruments; the ZX Spectrum of Direct Democracy. Even if they don't, I think it's valuable to have one place to pool people's opinions. I tried just counting the number of pro vs anti Hopkins comments across all of the Internet, and it was admin INTENSIVE work. Then my flatmate came in, started screaming random numbers at me and I lost where I was. I really wish I'd written it down. e-Petitions probably aren't the best means of expressing collective anger, but short of taking to the streets (and as much as I think Katie Hopkins is a douche, she probably isn't on 'street taking' level) they're at least SOMETHING. Or maybe The Sun will just see 150,000 signatures and think 'Great, more angry people to click and react.'
This article doesn't flow nicely towards an answer, because there is no easy answer. The Internet continues to be a disruptive, transformative (and potentially transcendent) technology. It has changed the newspaper industry and in doing so is changing the speed, tone, nature and extremity of political debate in this country. The vast majority of the debate around Katie Hopkins has focussed around whether whether what she says is right or wrong. I'm more interested in the dynamics and economics of outrage in this digital age and its potential to spill out from purely economic, into real world outcomes.
And, as a swivel eyed columnist for The Sun once said, perhaps that debate in itself is a conduit towards the truth.