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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Joss Whedon cancels his Twitter account - why?

Joss Whedon has left Twitter: he has cancelled his account. Why? Well, he has not made an explanatory statement, and we always have to be careful before we make assumptions about people's motives. Perhaps, for example, he no longer feels the need to maintain a prominent social media presence. Perhaps...

But at the same time, we can't ignore the fact that the US release (a few days ago) of his latest movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, has led to this kind of abuse and demonization from some quarters. It should go without saying that much of it is deplorable from any reasonable viewpoint ... although it's notable, today, how few people with large footprints on the internet have been prepared to stand up and plainly condemn the viciousness. If it's not clear from what I've said above, I hereby do so. There is no excuse for it.

Whatever Whedon's personal faults may be, and whatever legitimate critiques of Avengers: Age of Ultron may be available from a range of viewpoints, many of the responses on Twitter are unfair, unprovoked, vile, cowardly, and morally despicable, and I utterly, unequivocally denounce and condemn them. This won't prevent me, in the future, from making whatever criticisms of the movie I might think fair and fitting; however, I will always try to show appropriate generosity and charity toward Whedon, as I always do when discussing movies, books, and other such cultural products (and their creators). That attitude is obviously not the case for the people who have attacked Whedon with the poorly evidenced and patently ridiculous claims that he is a racist, a misogynist, etc., etc.

Those terms have not entirely lost their hurtfulness, but they are starting to leak away their meaning as - increasingly - they are applied to decent, gentle, thoughtful people with solid liberal and feminist credentials. They are used as a weapon against precisely those sorts of people because they are the people who can be most hurt by them. It's a case of using words as weapons - of using them to wound - rather than using them accurately.

It's long past time to push back against this.

Taking the point a bit wider, I am very unhappy with the sort of personal nastiness - even against individuals who should be acknowledged, respected, and assisted as cultural and political allies - that has become so prevalent on the internet over the past few years. Again and again, reasonable charity and basic decency are not even factors. Accusations are made in the hope of inflicting psychological wounds and social harm.

Very many people have disappointed me in recent years with their abdication from the realm of rational debate and discussion - preferring the tactics of smearing, abuse, and (attempts at) psychological destruction. The result is a toxic environment for everyone. People trying to oppose it are often poorly organised and confused about what they are trying to achieve, and some are prone to counterproductive actions. In certain cases that I won't specify, I am unhappy with the approaches they have taken. Some appear to have unpleasant ideologies and agendas of their own - but who can be sure these days?

This is an unhappy situation, and I'm unsure what can be done about it that might be meaningful and effective. I'll continue to monitor developments, but I don't have to acquiesce in what's happening.

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