The suppurating poison of those website dialogue boxes is binary and amounts to:
- the respondent is usually anonymous, so there are no restrains on obsessive-compulsive coprolalia;
- there is an implicit urge to make an impression among so much turgid repetitious and derivative clap-trap, in the pathetic hope of being noticed.
Hence, today — as just a trivial example — we find the following on the Spectator website:
The first was Malcolm’s:
Yeah, yeah. We know making an impression in these boxes requires going thermo-nuclear. Yawn!
Even so, “rendered down … into soap” suggests a very disturbed mindset, appalling insensitivity, or a gross ignorance of mid-20th century history.
Beyond that, it is also profoundly bad technology.
In any case, it ought not to be an acceptable comment here.
If you didn’t click the hot-link, you may not appreciate that the “rendering into soap” canard came originally from The Times in 1917. It took until 1925 for the British Government to defuse this bit of nonsense (and it is one of the many political untruths — no, let’s call it aright: downright lies — Phillip Knightley exposed in The First Casualty.)
The second is, if anything, more serious.
It borrows its title from Addison and Steele’s publication of 1711-12. That was so well-written, so seminal, its essays still turn up as models for young minds. Several of them were set for study in the Irish Leaving Certificate of 1960, which is where they impacted upon the young Malcolmian mind. It was, with little question, a Whiggite journal.
It was resurrected in 1828, and remained centrist until 1998, when it was acquired by Conrad Black and incorporated into the Daily Telegraph group. So it eventually fell into the über-Kapitalist claws of the Barclay Brothers.
Today it retains some merits: the occasional “dissident” is allowed an outing; but the main flavour has to be semi-demi-UKIP, NIMBYist Toryism. If it has an ideology, it is the louche and cynical upward-mobility of ex-editor, Boris Johnson.
Even so, why allow “soap”?
There really ought to be a ne plus ultra for “serious” publications, even for and on the internet.
If anyone doesn’t get the significance, it has — at least, to Malcolm — two obvious connotations.
No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: Thus far shalt thou go, and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood, and we never shall.
Malcolm passed that on a regular basis (usually, it must be admitted, on the way to a low boozer or flea-pit) and quotes it to us now from memory (though his ageing memory may be fallible, and should be checked against delivery — as right). The original is from Parnell’s Cork oration, during the 1885 General Election campaign.
That is the positive, affirmative aspect of ne plus ultra: “onwards and upwards”, a sentiment noticeably absent from much mealy-mouthed domestic journalism (except when boosting the deceitfully Lilliputian Tory “economic miracle”). It is universally distrusted in contemporary political discourse. The exception is “Wee Eck” Salmond and the SNP, who at least have some vision, however mirage-reflected, misleading and mistaken, for their children’s crusade — and so are politically and rabble-rousingly coining it.
There is a negative ne plus ultra as well.
It’s called propriety, or decency, or self-control, or whatever.
Perhaps if posters to those dialogue boxes were no longer given the benefit of Protean and unlimited anonymity, we might see a bit more of that restraint — and respect for one’s targets and one’s audience.