Yesterday someone unfollowed me on Twitter. Well, this is no big deal, really - it happens all the time, and indeed the constant dynamic of following & unfollowing is one of the things that makes Twitter fun. But this one was different.
I was debating with someone who disagreed with something I wrote in my last blog. But instead of engaging with the argument, he complained that I didn't know what I was talking about, that I was "losing touch with reality", and finally sent me a direct message that he was dropping out of the argument. When I tried to reply to that message Twitter informed me that he was no longer following me.
Quite apart from the personal distress that this caused me, I find this behaviour very worrying. This is a person who influences people's thinking: he is a frequent writer and broadcaster, and has a considerable following on social media. And I am by no means the first person that he has unfollowed because of disagreement over politics or economics. If he will not debate, and will only engage with people who agree with him on these matters, then his influence is partisan. But the ability to debate, to disagree and in the end to agree to differ while remaining on good terms, is essential to the working of a mature democracy.
It is not only immature to close down debate because your opponents don't agree with you. It is dangerous. That's what happens in police states. You may think that unfollowing someone on twitter because you don't like their politics is hardly equivalent to banning political opposition and imprisoning those who don't agree with you. But it's the same mindset. The effect is to close down debate and silence your opponents.
I don't want to live in a society in which the only way to be heard is to agree with the prevailing view. It is the rich diversity of views that makes our society dynamic and interesting. And we all have the right to express our opinions, however extreme they may be, without being insulted or silenced. I hope this individual, and others like him, never get anywhere near political power. Heaven help us if they do.