The Truth About Stupidity
Let's get the disclaimer out of the way first. I’m not very clever. I failed all my GCSEs apart from English and Home Economics. The only reason I’ve managed to claw my way up to the middle has been through brute force, white lies and sheer fluke. To be honest, it’s a miracle that the people who run this site have given me a regular column.
That’s the disclaimer over: I’m thick as shit. But there are some people, and I take no comfort in saying this, who are as thick as my shit. It’s not best practice to say this in public, even if you really mean it, because it undermines the line about us being snowflakes of individual beauty, united by a faith in human nature that makes billions of people want to buy the world a Coke. Thankfully, we now have irrefutable proof that this line is very, very wrong: the Raoul Moat tribute pages on Facebook.
If you’re the kind of person that likes to watch motorway pileups in slow motion, you’ll probably have logged on to RIP Raoul Moat You Legend. The wall posts, appearing at the rate of one per second, read like the transcript from the dayroom of Belmarsh Psychiatric ward. “Hiz GF woz a cunt and she deserved it”… “All those waanbes in prizon thats the way to do it not fuking licking cop ass to get shorter sentence or grassing mates”… “Raoul Moat, hunted and executed by the corrupt Police”… “My mates in the army think Moaty is a LEGEND!!!”
Five minutes on that page (or its many successors) and a very large penny drops; people really do think Moat is a legend, a superhero who evades the cops, settles some scores and levels the playing field for all the downtrodden people who’ve been fucked over by the police who, in cahoots with The Man, are hell-bent on making everyone’s life more miserable than it already is.
Moat inspires both music, from beefy topless thugz Triple R; “He don’t give a shit, he blew away his wife, just like I do for all my pain and strife whoop whoop!” and banal conspiracy theories: “Why did the authorities send SOOO many highly trained 'special forces SAS' just to catch ONE man?”… “Maybe he knew something explosive that could damage the establishment in some way”. Inevitably the site's eyes turned to the telly. Who’ll play Moat in an ITV1 drama? Maybe Danny Dyer? Mick Hucknall? No, it has to be, it can only be, loveable hardman Ross Kemp. By now most of the 30,000 page members had indeed returned to the telly, leaving a dozen anti-fascist and BNP members to tear each other’s throats out. Some time later, a member who joined the page in protest of the violence threatened to kill the admin and the page was put out of its misery.
Facebook is a bottomless can of industrial strength Ronseal that strips away any lingering veneer of faith in human nature. It’s a live action feed on the collective ramblings of what Walter Lippman called the Bewildered Herd. The majority of the population, according to Lippman, is incapable of understanding and making sense of the world with any accuracy. “Worlds of interest are waiting for them to explore” he said, “and they do not enter”. People make up their minds before they define the facts; they lack the competence to take part in anything meaningful. And so they flounder in chaos, bewildered, frustrated, frightened and angry.
The trouble starts, of course, when you let herd run free and they end up trampling over everything. Which is where education is supposed to save the day. Except it doesn’t. A report out this week says that one million adults in London can’t read. And here’s another statistic; after spending £500 million (the most money ever spent) on the National Literacy Strategy, reading skills rose by less than one lousy percent. It would have been a tragedy, if more people had read about it.
The common interests of the public are too tricky for little people to get their heads around, concludes Lippman, so it’s necessary for the big people to manufacture consent, to ring fence the bewildered herd and feed it sanitized information. The herd can then distract itself with shopping and social networking and football while the big people get on with running things. It makes sense to me.
Do I enjoy being one of the little people? No. Do I trust the big people to do a better job? Yes and no. Are we already fenced in, for our own protection, by a 10ft wall of bullshit? We’ll probably never know.