If you don’t use Twitter, you likely aren’t aware of the kerfuffle of the last few days over the use of the term “brokens.”
Really cool people spell it “broekens” or “broekns,” adding an inexplicable Afrikaans note.
In itself it’s not an exceptionally noteworthy kerfuffle, except that it does starkly demonstrate a current conservative attitude to those considered lacking in calibre, how they ought to be treated, and what should be done about them.
Briefly, exclusion is recommended as a method of dealing with Twitter “brokens.” This remedy will be familiar to everyone who has been following governmental human marginalisation projects since the LNP took office.
In the Twitter case the term brokens is used by one group to refer to another whose manner of engagement they consider to be detrimental to public discourse. It is explained here by commentator Mark Fletcher:
The term ‘Broken’ appears to have a few different accepted meanings. One interesting etymology is that it’s related to the phrase ‘Broken Records’. They are the people who endlessly repeat tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly. I tend to think of it in terms of Broken People: here are people who are fundamentally incapable of engaging with rational discourse… endlessly repeating tiny fragments of argument, persistently and unceasingly.
Fletcher has a point: there are people who attempt to engage in such a manner, and they’re usually referred to as “trolls.”
However, the term “Broken People” has far more levels of meaning than that of troll, a scary strange non-human who in fairy tales hides under a bridge, determined to prevent you from crossing. It’s disingenuous of Fletcher or anyone else to argue otherwise.
The term was interpreted by many people as abusive, offensive, elitist and controlling, as well as labelling, and as stigmatising anyone with mental health issues.
Here is how Fletcher recommends we deal with Broken People:
Being able to label and exclude the Brokens is important as part of the creation of a quality public forum. We label and exclude trolls in the same way. Where trolls don’t want to contribute constructively to public discourse, Brokens are fundamentally incapable of doing so. We are not better off as a public by including these participants. What value is there in expending a large amount of effort trying to get the Brokens to a place where they can contribute constructively? It’s a better use of time to let them play on the fringes of debate rather than let them occupy the mainstream.
What is striking is that Fletcher seems unaware of the wider implications of his remedy for silencing what he terms the “brokens.” This isn’t a term can that be stripped of its levels of meaning: there is no way it will be understood as referring solely to someone who mimics a broken record.
I decided to conduct a small experiment. I contacted Fletcher on Twitter and suggested that his attitude could be interpreted as advocating social eugenics. Did I really want to suggest that calling for a higher quality of public discourse was the same as the Holocaust, he replied.
I was astonished at the speed at which Fletcher’s argument collapsed into Godwin’s Law, as well as his apparent ignorance of the history of eugenics which predates Nazi Germany by some thousands of years. I responded along these lines and he immediately called me a “Broken.” All this took place in just four 140 character tweets, only two of them from me, so it’s hardly possible to accuse me of mimicking a broken record and justifying labelling me thus.
My experiment worked. I’d suspected all along that the term broken had little to do with broken records and everything to to do with contemptuous elitist abuse from those who claim to be primarily interested in establishing civil discourse by excluding those they claim are incapable of that level of engagement.
My message to Fletcher and his cohort is: if you desire civil discourse, first take note of your own use of language. If you aren’t capable of considering the connotations, subtle and otherwise, of the language you employ, you aren’t ready for civil discourse.