Richard Dawkins has a piece in the Guardian wondering why people don’t believe in public-spirited concern like the kind he showed when he tweeted about his little jar of honey. Yes really.
He describes trying to explain to a bank how to improve its customer service website, and then a piece he wrote for Prospect in 2009 about a woman who was upset about not being allowed to take her child’s eczema ointment on a plane (which does sound like a real issue). Then he comes to the present day.
Once again my motive was public-spirited, and now there was no question of self-interest because the fated ointment wasn’t mine. The woman’s experience had been a particular peg on which to hang a general point. Unfortunately, when I returned to make a similar point on Twitter this week, I foolishly chose a peg that was vulnerable to misinterpretation as self-interested. And the result was a puerile display of sniggering frivolity such as only Twitter can serve up.
Ahhhhhhh there it is again – the denunciation of the sniggering frivolity on Twitter, when he himself has posted more than a few sniggeringly frivolous tweets and then been surprised by the reactions to them. Some of his best friends wish he would stop using Twitter, but they apparently can’t get his attention.
This time the dangerous explosive was not eczema lotion but honey. And it belonged to me, at Edinburgh airport, bound for Heathrow with only carry-on luggage. Though the jar was small, it exceeded the limit laid down by the rule-happy officials of airport security, and it was thrown away.
I tweeted to the effect that every time I see an incident of this kind I sense it as a victory for Bin Laden. However calamitous the destruction of the twin towers, doesn’t the bureaucratically imposed vexation to airline passengers all over the world mount up to a prolonged and distributed, albeit far less traumatic, victory? And aren’t our rule-merchants playing into Bin Laden’s dead hands by their futile displays of stable-door-shutting?
Erm…many people have argued seriously that clogging up travel is indeed a victory for the jihadists, but they don’t do it on Twitter via a dirge for their own small jar of honey.
But because the honey was mine not a young mother’s, my motive could surely not be other than selfish. “Stop whining about your lost honey.” In vain did I protest that I couldn’t give a damn about my honey. I was making a point of general principle, trying to be public-spirited. “If you weren’t so ignorant, you’d know the rules about liquids.” In vain did I reassure the tweeting twerps that I know the rules all too well. That’s precisely why I’m campaigning against them.
I say nothing of the feeble jokes on “bee” and “be” and Pooh Bear. My point here is the one brought out by my encounter with the bank clerk. What is it that renders some people incapable of conceiving how a person might be motivated not by narrow self-interest but by a public-spirited concern for the common weal?
He also says nothing of the not-feeble jokes and serious points about “Dear Muslima” and “zero bad.” Those items were the only reason I paid attention to the dirge for the jar of honey. It wasn’t, in my case and in the case of many many others, ”Stop whining about your lost honey.” It was “why are you whining about your lost honey when you pitched such a fit at Rebecca for objecting to being hit on in an elevator at 4 a.m.?” It wasn’t a “poor you” objection, it was a double standards objection.
By the way Rebecca wasn’t just talking about her own personal interest either. That was and is one of the reasons some people got so pissed off at her: because she was “trying to speak for all women” – as if that were somehow bizarre or impermissible. As if Thurgood Marshall for example shouldn’t have “tried to speak for all African-Americans” in Brown v Board of Education.
So there it is, Richard. A lot of us are going to be turning a skeptical eye on your public interest tweets because you’ve never seen fit to withdraw your ridiculous, uncalled-for,
sniggering and frivolous sneering and condescending “Dear Muslima.”