Suppose you were an arsehole. I know you’re not — you read my blog, you’re a nice person. But suppose, instead, that you were a vile bigot. And, like many vile bigots sadly are, you’re in a position of power and influence over the media. Again, you’re not, because otherwise one of you would have used that power and influence to get me a high-paying column somewhere, but imagine you are. You could be a bigoted MP, a bigoted comedian, a bigoted TV-academic, or a bigoted columnist. It doesn’t really matter what flavour of powerful bigot you are.
Now suppose, for some unfathomable reason, it really matters to you — I mean really, *really*, matters — that some other people should not be allowed to go to the toilet. You have some horrible fetish for people being forced nonconsensually to urinate themselves in public or something (your kink is not my kink, and in this case your kink is definitely not OK).
But you have a problem. The audience you cater to like to think of themselves as liberal or left-wing. They’re *not*, for the most part, but they remember being told that Tories aren’t nice, and that Tories say bigoted things, so actually just saying “I hate this group and I want their bladders to burst” is something that might put a few of your audience off, and stop them listening to you comparing a thing in the news to another thing in the news on Radio 4, or donating to your charitable foundation for advancing your pet cause.
However, there’s a get-out clause. Lefty liberals love this thing called free speech! You’re not entirely sure what that means, but what words actually mean doesn’t really matter. So what do you do?
Step one — have someone who is a recognised “contrarian” (which means the person who is paid to say vile, unpleasant, things because they’re a friend of the editor of the Guardian or New Statesman and terribly witty at dinner parties) say “these people shouldn’t be allowed to go to the toilet”.
This will cause a “controversy”, consisting of five people on Twitter saying “Oh Christ, the Guardian have printed another bigoted column, I don’t know why I expected better at this point” and three people tweeting at the original author saying “What right have you to say whether or not I can go to the toilet?”
Step two — someone else can be the “voice of reason”, printing a column about the “controversy” in whichever of the Guardian or New Statesman didn’t publish the original, saying “while of course we must never endorse hatred, and I am, as you know, an ally of $oppressedgroup, there are two sides to the question of whether people should be allowed basic biological functions, and there really should be a proper debate on the subject, and why can’t everyone just get along?”
This will then cause a second Twitter “controversy”, when two people will tweet at the new author saying “No, actually, it’s really not up for debate. I want to live my life and they want to stop me.”
This is referred to as “attempting to shut down debate”.
Repeat this three times, and now you have three occasions where one group (marginalised voices on Twitter) “tried to shut down debate” by disagreeing with another group (rich, influential, bigots, who have columns in ostensibly left-liberal magazines).
Step four — Write an open letter to the Observer or the Independent, as they’re the only left-liberal publications that haven’t been involved yet. Call it something like “In defence of free speech and academic freedom”, describe the three occasions so obliquely that no-one who hadn’t followed them would recognise what had happened, and get all the columnists to sign it, along with a lot of respected-but-gullible people who’ve heard the trigger words “free speech” and “academic freedom”.
This will then cause people to tweet at every one of the respected-but-gullible people, saying “Hang on, did you actually read this?”. It will also cause at least one person, who’s been getting progressively more annoyed for months, to get so angry they tweet “fuck off and die, you arsehole!” at one of the gullible people, because they’re taking the side of the people who won’t even let them go to the toilet in peace.
Step five — use this “fuck off and die” tweet as “proof” that “the other side” are violent extremists. Couple it, in a way that skirts the libel laws, with the names of as many prominent figures in the marginal community as you can (not that they’re as prominent as you, of course). Now the story is “moderate figure in oppressed group associates with extremists who tell national treasures to fuck off and die!”
And voila! Now you’re not a disgusting bigot with a fetish for making other people’s bladders explode, but a martyr for free speech, and a hero! You’re raising valid points and standing up to the oppressors! If you’re lucky, you might even get a book deal. And all while you and your audience congratulate yourselves on your tolerance and liberalism.