Dylan Thomas and the Furies

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I have reluctantly decided to withdraw from engagement with the WASPI campaigners and their supporters, and to end my public discussion of their cause. Near-constant public commentary, much of it ill-tempered, on this subject is upsetting my followers and damaging my reputation. More importantly, the stress caused by sustained and deliberate misrepresentation and personal abuse from WASPI supporters, now including a high-profile blogger, is affecting my health. Stress triggers my asthma. I am now having to use inhalers for the first time in months. Clearly, this must stop.

But I do not go willingly. I started writing in 2010 because I believed my voice could make a difference. I did not want to be one of those who - in the words of Dylan Thomas - rage about death because they have never made their mark:
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,  
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night.
My words have indeed "forked lightning". Of that, I can be proud. But lightning burns when it strikes. Clearly, the WASPI campaigners were burned by my words. Was I right to say them? I do not know. Sometimes lightning strikes in the wrong place and burns the innocent. But I can only write as I believe. I wrote with honesty, conviction and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, and I stand by what I said.

And yes, I rage against the dying of this light. I wanted to engage with them, to participate in open and democratic discussion. But open and democratic discussion was not what they wanted. They wanted to inform, not to debate: to garner support for their campaign, not to explore alternative solutions. Disagreeing with them was "insult": reasoned criticism of their aims was "detraction".

Some WASPI supporters have pursued me relentlessly, rather as the Furies of Greek and Roman mythology pursued their victims. I have been told I am a "sad, bitter old troll who should stick to singing". I have been called a "mischief maker" and "toxic". I have been described as a "ne'er-do-well" and a "disgruntled 1960s-er who is cross at being excluded". I have even been called a "traitor" and told I need "stringing up". These are merely examples of tens if not hundreds of abusive tweets I have seen or received over the last few weeks. I've blocked more people for rudeness than ever before. I even blocked WASPI supporters for retweeting me, especially if they had already blocked me themselves, because too often a retweet was followed by a stream of abusive tweets from their friends. Perhaps predictably, they then criticised me for blocking them. They seemed oblivious to the effect of their behaviour. Or perhaps they didn't care: I was just a "detractor", to be silenced by any means available.

And silenced I now am. This has gone so far now that I doubt if the WASPI campaigners could stop it even if they wanted to: once items posted on Twitter have gone viral, they are impossible to withdraw. So I have no alternative but to retreat, raging, into darkness. They have won.

No doubt the WASPI campaigners will regard this as a just victory. The Furies were not evil. Rather, they were the guardians of justice and vengeance. Wikipedia describes their role thus:
Their task is to hear complaints brought by mortals against the insolence of the young to the aged, of children to parents, of hosts to guests, and of householders or city councils to suppliants - and to punish such crimes by hounding culprits relentlessly.
I am a younger woman who has opposed the claims of older women - claims they consider just. That is intergenerational insolence. In ancient Greece, the punishment for this was to be driven mad, and the job of the Furies was to deliver that punishment. Similarly, the behaviour of some WASPI supporters towards me seems to resemble punishment for the crime of opposing their cause.

Interestingly, since nearly everyone was guilty of intergenerational insolence at some point in their lives, calling the Furies by their proper name of Erinyes (the "angry ones") was avoided, since it attracted their attention. Instead, they were often euphemistically known as the "Eumenides" - the "gracious ones". Justice can be severe, but it can also be gentle: Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid in Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies could be both cruel and benevolent, depending on the behaviour of the children to whom she gave gifts. Similarly, those same WASPI supporters who are harsh towards me are kind to those who support their cause.

But I'm afraid this does not justify their behaviour. Regardless of the justice (or otherwise) of the WASPI cause, hounding someone into silence is targeted harassment and violates Twitter's rules:
We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.
And bullying me (and others) into silence may yet prove a Pyrrhic victory. The behaviour of some WASPI supporters has not gone unnoticed. By behaving like harpies, swooping on those who say things they don't like, they have damaged their own cause.

Poetry quotations are from "Do not go gentle into that good night", by Dylan Thomas, full text here.

Related reading:
Dear Anthony
Here I stand, I can do no other
Trolling, cyberbullying and constructive debate
Twitter rules





Comments

  1. On Saturday, 2 Jan, I did a post on "Pensions Picking Pockets" referring to the disagreement on the basis, I hope balanced, that it was a very difficult matter which is the product of a messy history. The main thesis is that now we are having to sort out something that should have been dealt with out at least a generation ago and so it will far from easy. In these situations, inevitably, the downside means that some people are going to be unlucky for no fault of their own. Also, inevitably, the debate can become fierce.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry to read this Frances. Just know that for every abuser there are plenty of (usually) silent admirers of your blog and proponents of more reasonable dialogue. Hope you keep up the rest of your good work.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It reflects poorly on the campaign. WASPI should really do more to distance themselves from the abusive behaviour of their supporters, rather than looking the other way.

    A bit of disagreement and argy-bargy on twitter comes with the territory. However, when threats are made to people's livelihoods and there appears to be targeted harassment, it clearly goes beyond what is acceptable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also, I'm not sure what anyone is trying to achieve by constantly badgering Ros Altmann.

    If she is going to come round to the WASPI cause, it will be because she has taken the points on board and revised her position. It will not be because she was eventually worn down by months of picking at her. It does seem to be a very strange tactic.

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  5. I am genuinely sorry you are feeling like this Frances as a WASPI supporter who did engage with you in what I thought was a friendly way, misunderstandings happened & I was blocked by you & unblocked again. Then I blocked you ( and you reciprocated !)because I could see you were not in agreement with all WASPI's aims and decided you were entitled to your opinion.
    We were going round and round in circles, getting nowhere, which was frustrating for both. Better not to be tempted to engage as I too found that very stressful.

    I am speaking as am individual supporter here - The WASPI campaign has always asked that it's supporters treat everyone with respect and I have not seen their guidance on this waver. If you have received the abusive comments you highlight I would certainly not condone any of them as I'm sure the vast majority of Waspi women would not either; but I can only speak for myself.

    Of course the injustice means that emotions are running very high and in particular among those who have been most severely affected and are in real hardship.

    Twitter is new to many people and short comments can so easily be misinterpreted to newcomers and more seasoned users alike; appearing strident and uncaring at times, on both sides.

    The historic mess we are in is neither the fault of the WASPI women or yourself. Successive governments have made an absolute hash of things with their lack of clear communications.

    There I will end. I have no idea if you will allow this to be published but you will at least read it. I do wish you well Frances as I do all the WASPI campaign women.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Helen, thank you for this thoughtful and sensitive comment. In our discussions we did go round in circles and both of us became frustrated and stressed, which was unfortunate.

      But in this piece I am not referring to our discussions, but to offensive tweets received out of the blue from complete strangers and from people who made it their business to troll my timeline. It has been most unpleasant and distressing.

      Delete
    2. I knew your comments were not about me Frances but I do not want the Waspi Campaign founders to be blamed for this.. as I say in my comment they have always asked their supporters to try to be as respectful and restrained as possible. They cannot police every tweet that someone sends.

      I have to say I have also seen many WASPI supporters getting abused on twitter, having scorn poured upon them or being ridiculed and by some who claim to be financial advisers who should, I feel, know better. Just to say they knew so why didn't we isn't very helpful, after all you might expect a financial adviser to know :)

      Also the nature of some of Ros Altmann's tweets have been more than inappropriate, considering she is a minister and this has not helped. Her Uturn was bound to cause anguish because it seems that she succumbed to the Tory plan of getting one of their most outspoken critics on the inside and thus effectively silencing her. Really sad to see that.

      Anyway I've said enough and I won't comment further. Have a Happy and peaceful 2016

      Delete
  6. Please do not go quietly into the night or quietly anywhere, you are one of the best, reasonable, and honest economic commentators and your voice is needed amongst the prejudice and vested interest. Shame on anyone who is so intolerant as to not respect an honest opinion that is contra to their own.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Its quite understandable why people will get narky as they try to get their hands on Sterling.
    Its both of high value and there is a lot of it (British M2 growth just keeps expanding while Irish M2 is flat and Greek M2 is of course nose diving )


    In the jet age this expresses itself physically in tourist figures especially.

    http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/ot/overseastravelseptember-november2015/

    Notice the widening net tourist inflows.(Irish remain bankrupt in the main)
    Somebody somewhere is getting Sterling.
    Perhaps or perhaps not little old ladies.

    What creates the biggest psychological stress in society is abundance in a age of rationing.
    All of those big Irish mad houses were built in the Victorian period for some funny reason.

    ReplyDelete
  8. http://www.tradingeconomics.com/greece/money-supply-m2


    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/ireland/money-supply-m2

    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-kingdom/money-supply-m2

    ReplyDelete
  9. At least in terms of the periphery / core dynamic the Marxists have been proven correct.
    If you can somehow access the core of empire then go for it .
    Problem now for the British middle-class , they are also part of the great unwashed.
    The 20th century was a anomaly , for the best part of 300 years before that progress meant Rickets (The English disease)
    Capitalist economies are waste based by design - there is no way of getting around this fact. A return to a more peasant based economy is needed , otherwise most people will face utter ruin in the new enclosures.

    It took many thousand of extra barrels of Irish daily kerosene consumption to transport Brits escaping from domestic inflation.
    The wasted effort is biblical.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dork, would you please stay ON TOPIC. Your comments are interesting, but absolutely nothing to do with this post.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, but yee guys are fighting over scraps and therefore missing the big picture.
      It's the waste......the waste overpowers all.

      Delete
    3. I know that, Dork. Indeed in my WASPI position paper (link in the post) I used that very phrase: "Can't we stop fighting over scraps?".

      But please - this is a personal post about the effects of abusive behaviour on social media. It's not about the rights or wrongs of the campaign.

      Delete
  10. I hope this doesn't impact the strength of your moral or intellectual compass. Your posts are always the definition of public service, which is in desperately short supply.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am a WASPI supporter though not necessarily of all their aims and I totally agree with all you said in your comments of 29 Dec (here I stand:I can do no other) I signed the petition because I felt there were some women who had been treated unfairly and these concerns need to be debated but I haven't been to see my MP because I have no personal grievance: I knew about the 1995 changes and planned accordingly; my only gripe is that for a short while I wasn't sure whether or not I would be affected by the 2011 changes (I wasn't) and DWP didn't seem to know either. I do believe there are crocodile tears shed by some of the WASPI campaigners but many are genuinely disadvantaged by the changes, and I am sure most of the abuse and vitriol just illustrates the lack of effective communication and, as a consequence, understanding of how state pension works ("we've been robbed" etc). I am pleased the campaign has led to a debate, but I don't want any compensation (pretty sure this won't be the outcome anyway) and am so sorry that you have been on the receiving end of so much undeserved personal abuse. I'm not usually a follower of financial/economics blogs but, for what it's worth, just wanted to lend my support - nothing is worth risking your health for; look after yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Congratulations for taking a stand!

    Tweets come and go, but your blog contributions will live on and surely inspire others for a long time. There's a lot to learn from both your points and how such debates can degenerate.

    ReplyDelete
  13. May I add my small voice in support of you and your work, Frances.

    As one of the best informed, most knowledgeable writers on topics in finance, banking and society, I drop into your blog from time to time and always find your writing clear and informative. Your contributions on Newsnight and elsewhere are always interesting. When, eventually and certainly not under this government, we eventually close the hated DWP and implement a Basic Income, a substantial part of the justification will have been found in your columns.

    I am truly appalled at the recent treatment you have received by please do not give up because the trolls must not be allowed to win. People power is a two edged sword.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I support this comment wholeheartedly. I have to say that I was always pleasantly surprised by the latitude given to commenters here. On many other blogs, and especially newspapers, I have found myself personally and professionally attacked, libelled and insulted -- with my replies prevented from appearing. This has occurred particularly with my area of specialised expertise -- migration issues -- but also with discussion of Troika policies on the eurozone. We do not have a free press, we do not have legal accountability and democracy online, and yours is one of the few blogs that actually treats people with respect as well as producing top quality articles.

      Please keep up the good work, and do not abandon your ideals.

      Delete
  14. I think your comments were thoughtful and insightful, and agree with what you said. Well done! Thanks for your blog, it is one of only a few which I read regularly.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete
  15. You deserved a break after this ordeal but it seems the refugee topic is now dragging you down the Twitter rabbit hole again. Remember, you can't win a Twitter fight. No one can. Close the laptop and enjoy a cup of tea. Assam preferably, or Darjeeling.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Fury in the slaughterhouse. It's a socialist discussion. The question of the pension will very likely have to be revisited anyway in the near future since it's strongly tied the discussion of the way an income or a more regular income will be defined in the future. It's all about delaying the end of the current view to the distribution of goods provided.

    Allow me to give an example ... Women from East Germany are given a higher 'pension' because they participated longer in the provision of goods :) than some women in West Germany. The economic model was a totally different one and the society built around too. Since no one can value the work when providing goods the height of an income has to be rethought economy. I personally prefer the traditional market economic distribution but without being bound to the pushy distribution model of the industrial society. Once people are no longer bound to work at plants, we can switch back to a more plain market economic model.

    I think we can no longer think of 'pension' in the context of continuing an economic and society model. The focus will very likely shift strong towards how to distibute the goods provided independent from whom the goods are provided. Even if I am not happy about it, the trend will go towards somehow financing a life on a self contained farm on a slab of rock called the 'flat' products are pushed to today. What goes beyond will remain subject to 'writing invoices'. The problem with the pension is not about feeding the people, the problem with the pension is about maintaining the standard of living that way. The standard of living only in the market economic distribution represents the current set of provision/management processes given up in the private sphere, added or exchanged assuming the household started from a self contained farm. The push concept pretty good at pushing goods at slab of rocks, but very bad once the 'self contained' farm is set up.

    We will have to consider a wider perspective on provisioning processes independent if valued or not. I am not happy with the 5 year's, especially since in Austria the argument was - granted because of raising children. In the end that view does mean it's receiving money for not being in the position to sell an asset raised similar to a baby calf.

    ReplyDelete

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