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Information Radiation: The Half-Life Of Online Hate Speech


There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.”  ― Philip K. Dick

For 28 years, I was a journalist.

I used words as tools; sometimes as a megaphone, sometimes as a balm, all too often as an axe.

I was cogent and clever and current and cutting and conceited.

And ultimately careless.

Life has since taught me that one can’t be too careful with words.

Of all the weapons of destruction that man could invent, the most terrible-and the most powerful-was the word. Daggers and spears left traces of blood; arrows could be seen at a distance. Poisons were detected in the end and avoided. But the word managed to destroy without leaving clues.”

 Paulo Coelho

The person who wrote about sticks and stones breaking bones but words not hurting really didn’t understand the heart.

Or human beings.

As much as we pretend – as much as the world tells us – that we are intellectual beings who happen to have emotions, I believe it’s the other way around.

We are emotional, spiritual beings that happen to have intellect.

This is not to deny or decry the astounding gift, the incredible capacity, of our brains.

It is merely recognition that, in most ways, our hearts rule – often overrule – our heads.

Indeed, there’s a Native American proverb; “Reason is the white man’s curse.”

This, again, is not meant as a dismissal of the power of intellect.

It is a salutary lesson that some things – important things – must be felt; some answers simply don’t come with reason.

I shall tell you what I believe. I believe God is a librarian. I believe that literature is holy. It is that best part of our souls that we break off and give each other, and God has a special dispensation for it, angels to guard its making and its preservation.”  ― Sarah Smith

Late in my journalistic career I was a foreign correspondent and Bureau Chief.

I saw and experienced things I wish I had not.

Decades later, I cannot un-see or un-feel those terrible events.

So the power of my words and the intensity of what I experienced are forever fused together.

And that’s my point today.

In the age of the internet, we have the power to do what I call “impulse boo” – the social media equivalent of the impulse buy.

We can reply sharply – and I mean in terms of time and tone – to virtually anything that crosses our screens on social media.

And we do.

And often we shouldn’t.

Or we should at least wait and choose our words more carefully.

For in the internet age, those words, those images – of ourselves and others – will be there for decades, if not forever.

In sheer pragmatic terms, they are the first port of call for modern bosses; the people who might – or might not – consider employing us.

Our online “footprint” is the first thing savvy employers check these days.

But more importantly, they are a portrait of ourselves, to ourselves, that we may not like.

They are a mirror to our often ugly, unfiltered inner thoughts.

And what we said so carelessly might devastate another.

Words never fade away but echo on for eternity. Let your echo ring sweet.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich

I write this at the end of a terrible week.

Thousands of people are dead or endangered following a massive earthquake in Nepal, two young men have been executed in Indonesia, race riots are tearing apart US communities and a thousand other atrocities darken the globe.

Two of my friends have lost loved ones.

In the midst of life we are always in death.

But it reminded me that what we say to – and about – each other never mattered more.

Of all the thousands of words I’ve read about this awful week none has touched me more than those of a friend and fellow performer, Ruby Alice;

Let’s all love that little bit harder today.”


Dead Serious – why we need to talk about Capital Punishment, Suicide & Euthanasia

American novelist Ernest Hemingway famously said; all stories, if continued far enough, end in death.”

Well, duh.

But death is a discussion the world really needs to have.

I want to talk about only three kinds; two are state-controlled and the third is very much of concern to governments and society.

Not that the myriad other forms of death aren’t important.

They are; death in war, in terrorist attacks, through sheer poverty, preventable disease, hunger, through domestic violence, and so on.

The world is a dangerous place and there’s no shortage of ways to die.

All of these are deaths the world needs to talk about.

But so are capital punishment, voluntary euthanasia and suicide, my topics today.

And yet so often we don’t.

These deaths are somehow more challenging, more polarising, more painful.

Bali Nine conspirators Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will almost certainly die soon by an Indonesian police firing squad; shot through the heart from a distance of 5-10 metres.

Should they survive the initial salvo, a designated subordinate will then press the muzzle of his gun on the prisoner’s head and fire a “finishing shot.”

This is capital punishment at its most savage, stripped bare.

Worldwide, the statistics are unequivocal; capital punishment is not a deterrent.

It doesn’t work.

Most often it’s advanced by people and courts that can’t tell the difference between justice and revenge.

Watch virtually any Hollywood action film you can name if you want to see how much trouble Americans seem to have with that particular distinction.

Papa Hemingway, of course, wrote his own last line with a shotgun.

That was suicide.

On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.

Global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.

Who knows how many of those who kill themselves would have had regrets; would have made a different choice, perhaps only moments later?

The effect on society is incalculable.

And then there’s the right to die for people who are facing terminal illness, euthanasia.

Should it be a right?

Many people directly affected say “yes.”

Author Sir Terry Pratchett – who died recently and whose brilliant mind entertained millions – was one.

Pratchett said he wanted the right and the means to end his life when those extraordinary gifts were diminished by his relentless Alzheimers Disease.

So, please, let’s have these important discussions.

For the record, my own views.

I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases, with the one exception of Top Gear presenters whose initials are Jeremy Clarkson. (OK, so perhaps I just mean enforced silence rather than actual death.)

On suicide, I think – sadly – some people make a sane and rational decision to end their own lives.

That said, emotions are mercurial and I would urge anyone with even the vaguest notion of suicide to get professional counselling.

Death – as far as we know – is permanent.

Sometimes the feelings that drive people to kill themselves are not.

And the right to die?

I believe it is a right.

My own mother – with her whole family present – took this course in the bravest way imaginable.

Who better than the person who is suffering – assuming they’re mentally competent and not being coerced – to make that final decision?

Or we could all just follow the lead of the eccentric comic Steven Wright, who said; “ I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”

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