Do you remember the scene in Jurassic Park when Sam Neill’s character, Dr Alan Grant, mock eviscerates a boy while explaining about the pack hunter mentality of Velociraptors? As the blood drains from the child’s face, Dr Grant completes the humiliation with the clincher: “The point is, you are alive when they start to eat you”.
Whenever I post a new piece, I’m reminded of this scene. I’m conscious I’m about to piss off one group or another (isn’t that the point) and that each faction will turn their “Flying Monkeys” on me. Flying Monkeys, for those unfamiliar with the term, are a gang of, very often, anonymous individuals, who act out the orders of their particular Wicked Witch.
The natural habitat of the Flying Monkey is the internet, on social media, chat rooms and online comments sections. They also like to hang out in the “political reports” of the majority of newspaper pieces. You’ve probably seen one today if you browsed through any of our “papers of record.”
Online they’re fairly easily spotted. Say for example you write a pro-refugee piece, as I did, you might discover the virulent racist Flying Monkey will start tagging you in “conversations” where like minded people are discussing how some Irish Independent poll said “the majority of Irish People don’t want these refugees here” and how this poll exonerates their vile world views.
In “political reporting”, the Flying Monkey is more insidious. They appear as “a source close to” or as unnamed “advisors” or very often as an anonymous “spokesperson”. Note how all of these “anonymous sources” disseminate unverified and unverifiable information into your newsfeed and you just accept it because it’s “reported” in your “paper of record” or website of choice. Confirmation bias in action. The Flying Monkey does his masters bidding, the reporter, wanting to stay close to the “source” close to the power, reports the propaganda as fact.
It’s important to say that there are many valid reasons that one would want to maintain anonymity. Should one be say, a Whistle-blower, especially in Ireland, you would almost certainly be better maintaining anonymity. Ask the courageous Dr Jim Gray, who called the travesty of our health service for what it was and was quickly rounded on by the Minister for Health. The ministers’ Flying Monkeys leaked spurious accusations and the compliant media reported these claims rather than the underlying issue.
When I put my occupation on an earlier post, a few people (unexpectedly and undeservedly), called me brave. But it says something that someone’s means to make a living and pay their mortgage could be deemed to be at risk because of a world view contrary to the Flying Monkey Brigade!
This may seem a fantastical claim, but worryingly, it is not. I recently discovered I’ve been blocked by large swathes of a certain political party for apparently “being unfair” to them in my writings. It appears some of these people only believe in Freedom of Speech when the speaker is of the same opinion as themselves. I’ve written how fascism is alive and well in Ireland. This little episode only reinforces this view. Remember, Senator Lorraine Higgins wants to legislate to censor online speech. Many people think this is a good idea. Many of these people are making a well meaning error. A government that can mute dissent can silence anyone they choose to and point to the legislation for justification. Martin Luther King said “don’t be more devoted to order than you are to justice…that an unjust law is no law” in a letter penned from an Alabama Prison Cell.
I believe strongly in the Freedom of Speech and while I’m often tempted to “Block” the Flying Monkeys, I find it ultimately unnecessary. People have the right to their opinions, they have the right to express them, but they do not have the right to incite hatred or acts of hatred. They do, however, have the right to be wrong. We should all defend their right to that, whether we agree with them or not.
So look out for the Flying Monkeys in your newspaper, online news site and social media timeline. Recognise them for what they are. They are Apologists, Propagandists and Salesmen. They are selling snake oil, and a snake oil salesman is to be pitied. And if you still feel tempted to Block them, remember, as I do, Saul Bellow who said
“A man should be able to hear and bear the worst that could be said of him”.
Tony Groves Feb 2016