From fountain pens to rubber stamps

There’s a lot of bruised egos recently from newspaper opinion columnists who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of what they like to call a Twitter "mob". Last week it was Philip Hensher of the Independent saying that people were mean to him on the internet:

I have a belief that nobody should be forced to endure being called a “cunt” or subjected to threats of physical violence as a condition of their work. But I have now discovered that some people believe, not only that I should put up with this personal hatred – when all that is meant is “I disagree with you” – but that I should subsequently be obliged to deal with the purveyors of it.

Poor lamb. What had he written? This.

"Horror stories…easy to come by…shocking..however…Either, like Thursday’s MPs, one can focus on the brutal cases where genuinely ill people have been harassed and even destroyed. Or one can easily find cases where people with not much, or nothing at all wrong with them, have gone on claiming benefits for the disabled for years."

Luckily, given this easy find, our writer has a solution:

If a proper assessment by healthcare professionals could be carried out – not to a questionnaire, but just to a doctor’s sense of the possible – then we might have fewer tragedies. It might, too, cut down on the unconscionable numbers now claiming these benefits. It’s not so long since doctors felt quite capable of saying “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you” to their patients, not “There’s no space for that on the form”. A little more robustness, and a little more flexible inquiry than a questionnaire permits, would have some very positive outcomes.

Ah! That’s better. But there’s still space on the page! Nevermind, let’s talk about something else…

I look out of the window, having put on an extra cardy, and you know what? It’s snowing! Brilliant!

Let’s recap:

  • Nod to Parliament’s belated acknowledgement of the massive harm caused by Atos
  • "yeah but I heard this guy on the internet could ride a bike"
  • Call Incapacity Benefit an "opportunity"
  • Lump together figures for DLA, ESA, Incapacity benefits
  • Never talk directly to anyone you’re dismissing the experiences of in favour of tabloid anecdotes
  • Suggest that the only problem with the system is that it’s not GPs carrying out the assessment
  • Imply that the process is a "result" of unco-operative doctors’ refusal to work with the DWP
  • Finish with 2 paragraphs about the snow.

Factual errors, anecdote, half-formed thoughts, move on. Not surprising that people with actual experience of the system objected to such lazy, privileged pontifications. Also: in January, stressed, ill, depressed and financially struggling people might not observe Oxford Union debating rules. Who knew?

There’s a famous quote by chemist Linus Pauling when presented with a misguided argument: "it’s not even wrong". This isn’t a case of "all that is meant is ‘I disagree with you’". The article starts from a false premise and goes off in a mistaken direction.

There’s no shortage of testimony on the Atos regime, "welfare reform" and the associated brutal nonsense that’s been going on for 3 or more years. If you’re a writer, one that gets paid actual money to express opinions then you should know your material, or, expect people who do know to correct you. Writing about handwriting doesn’t qualify you to cover Atos’s rubber stamping people into early graves.

One strength of the internet is that this "mob" (hated by the elite since Ancient Rome) gets to shout back when you call them liars, ignore them, dismiss their pain and continue their marginalisation. When you do that, we get to call you names. If you can’t deal with that, "A little more robustness, and a little more flexible inquiry … would have some very positive outcomes."