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.
Here I stand, I can do no other
Trolling, cyberbullying and constructive debate