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personal invective

Politics as usual includes lots of personal invective, and has for the whole of Western history. According to Andrew Clark's Striking back at the Empire, 2005-06, published in The Walrus http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/comedy-striking-back-at-the-empire/
"ancient satirists practised their acerbic arts just prior to and during the age of the Principate (27 bc to ad 235), when Rome changed from a republic governed by the senate to an empire ruled by a single man... the individual’s right to object became a sacred calling."

[+] historical view

[+] is it inevitable today?

does it work? how is it regulated?


Those who dont make it personal often are reputed to fare better in politics, but the evidence is mixed: negative campaigns are often perceived to "work" insofar as they scare voters away from people of vastly varying values. In politics as usual, most experts argue that being able to tolerate insults is less tactically effective than being able to character assassinate or politically discredit one's opponents: the best defense is a good offense.

primitive politics


Those public figures who do take insult personally tend to be those who see themselves as leaders of a group, rather than of a movement, and their behaviour is much more like ape troop behaviour: they seem more likely to become vicious, gang up to choose a common strategy to use a specific persistent invective against someone, perhaps to initiate a bona fide smear campaign that will allege wrongdoing, and so on. These are all seen as keys to success in old school politics, and they still work very very well when there is no systematic way to expose lies, undo spin and so on. A free press is one of the most important ways to ensure that no faction or party has exclusive power to so label its opponents.

Internet discourse


In Internet forums, however, administrator powers tend to be more concentrated and far less democratically used. Accordingly a primitive culture of absolutely empowered "sysops" and banned or disempowered "trolls" emerges - exactly the relationship between power figures and dissenters or heretics in a one-party state or absolute monarchy. A good analysis of this in an open letter to Jim Wales.

immature parties


Immature political parties in a democracy very often display a similar failure of political structure when they attempt to "ban" or "block" any attempt by persons who strongly oppose the current ruling clique, from having input into the party's decisions. This rarely or never works. The Green Party of Canada for instance created the GPC unperson status for Craig Hubley to punish him for calling Jim Harris a "Pointy Haired Boss" Hubley became subsequently quite notorious and well-known for this, backfiring on Harris, who probably should have called him on the phone instead of trying to use absurd administrative tactics to exclude him from the party's processes.

In general excluding someone from a party's internal communications only guarantees that they will take their case to outside forums that are wholly outside the party's own control, as happened with the parallel cases of David Orchard and Sheila Copps, who were able to make very specific invective stick to Peter MacKay and Paul Martin respectively.

legalist tactics


The Liberal Party of Canada and Green Party of Canada have been known to attempt to use libel chill on their opponents, most notably against Stephen Harper and Craig Hubley. In neither case was the outcome an apology or limitation of any of the invective. Rather, the targets of such tactics tend to use the opportunity to defend themselves to amplify and justify their statements about their opponents, who appear weak for having to use the legal system to intimidate them using violence (yes, law is violent).

poetry, cartooning, rhetoric and metaphor


Desperate, primitive and ineffective attempts to silence opponents or intimidate them with lawsuits tend not to be used by mature or confident political parties. In postmodern politics the usefulness of trolling is well recognized, and the use of invective is often a lot more subtle and is much harder to detect: it usually involves reinforcing conceptual metaphors that ultimately result in disapproval of behaviour without any clear or overt grounds for this. For instance, analogizing someone's behaviour to children or apes might be perceived as being neutral or accurate but it might set up a future situation where an imposition on the rights of that person could seem somehow to be justified by their limited status of personhood, as imposed on them by these metaphors. It might be far less of a long-term imposition to accuse someone of, say, stupidity, since that is something all humans are sometimes guilty of. But once one has successfully redefined their public image in a particular mold, turned them into an icon, it tends to be all but impossible to undo that damage to their repute. A political cartoon, accordingly, is one of the most effective ways to sink someone by postmodern methods.

making it fair


In cognitive politics which focuses on safety, fairness, closure and process concerns, people are all well aware of the bag of tricks above and require certain rules to be followed among colleagues when using such methods - for instance, pairing political cartoons or offering up opportunity to engage in a format resembling a game show where there are some rules about the conflict - supporting a play ethic and fostering collaboration ethic to at least make the debate entertaining, and to keep it relatively even in power terms. The best known trolls may even have to give up some power in a form of handicapping to let their opponents have some chance to defeat them.

2005 trolling season


Notable moments included:

2006 trolling season


CTV News' Craig Oliver predicted on November 24, 2005, that the Canadian federal election, 2006 would be "an unprecedented, bitter, mean negative campaign." On that day, Joe Volpe had accused John Reynolds of sleaze in the House, after which Reynolds called Volpe himself a sleazebag in the press scrum. Meanwhile, also in the House, Stephen Harper accused the Liberals
of links to organized crime, Rahim Jaffer analogized their behaviour to that of gangster rap stars, while Peter MacKay compared them to Santa Claus for giveaways of term:taxpayer cash on the eve of an inevitable election. This last might not be much of an insult except among Conservatives. Portrayal of MacKay as the Grinch could have logically followed within this ontological metaphor.

During the Canadian federal election, 2006, personal invective was common against Paul Martin, Belinda Stronach, Peter MacKay, Stephen Harper, Jim Harris, David Dingwall, Alfonso Gagliano, Jean Chretien and many others. A series of Conservative attack ads, 2006 and Liberal attack ads, 2006 were mostly attacks on public personalities.

2007 trolling season


The Conservative Party of Canada despite being the Government of Canada, began to run Conservative attack ads, 2007 even in advance of any call for a Canadian federal election, 2007. They eventually withdrew only the French-language ads to avoid confusing the electorate in Quebec, as Stephen Harper wished Jean Charest's Liberal Party of Quebec to be re-elected in the Quebec general election, 2007 called in February of 2007.

However, invective was alive and well. When Peter MacKay at the February 2007 East Coast Music Awards confused Halifax first with Toronto and then with Ottawa, fellow presenter Mary Walsh made bald reference to Conservative lickers at the arsehole of Satan who "don't even know what town they're in." The quote was replayed at least three times on CBC and at least once on CTV. Walsh, a known troll, founder of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and an outspoken opponent of the Conservative Party of Canada, was well aware of the media visibility of such comments and the extra push they would give to the press to highlight MacKay's error. She also got a hugely positive reaction from the crowd.

tracking it


At openpolitics.ca itself, the trolling centre helps you to contribute to the design of optimal satire, insults and invective,
hopefully that which has a good basis in verifiable reality, which will really annoy politicians. And which will (barely) satisfy Canadian libel laws, which are quite absurd.