by Derek Morrison

Life not gone well
A need to blame
Any cause will do
Delusion of fame
Join virtual mob

To shout real loud
It’s never wrong
This wisdom of crowd
Gather with ‘friends’

Thought crime to seek
Insult and outrage
Primed ready to peak
Reputations drowned

Virtual tsunamis to ride
Crush protests of innocence
Leave nowhere to hide
Just a bit of re-tweeting

Is all that it takes
Amplifying echoes
Absence of  brakes
No smoke without fire

So guilt is assumed
Belief comes first
Truth is subsumed
Outraged of Twitter

Volume set loud
Prays for significance
But hide in the cloud
Punishment beatings

140 characters or less
Feel deviant power
Ramp up their stress
And micro-aggressions

A sign of our time
So challenging thinking
Risks becoming a crime
The Earth it is flat

And created in six
Challenge this ‘truth’
Face damnation by clicks
Feelings of grievance

Volcanoes in making
To ideology pushers
Ripe for the taking
Stream siren voices

Claim God’s grace
Cancerous memes
Infect virtual space
Life not gone well

But need to belong
A ready recruit
To dystopian throng
Publish your satire

Now they want you dead
Or in horror movies
To saw off your head
At virtual scaffolds

Baying mobs gather
Bread and circuses
From their cyber-father.

[To listen to this verse select below]


A dystopian rhyme about how in our use and abuse of communications technologies and services we risk creating real dystopias.

Victims encapsulate many issues but the the core concept is how easily we can assume the mantle of victim to explain and justify our thinking and behaviours. including, in some cases victimisation of others through leadership, membership, or association with others who claim to share the same sense of grievance. The internet and its various social networking overlays now make it so easy to stimulate or join a virtual clamour. The potential physical and emotional consequences of joining the clamour, however, are either ill-considered or have become the primary objective of those who would manipulate the immature, insecure, permanently angry, or those seeking an easy explanation for why life has turned out the way it has.

At the other end of the victim scale we have those wishing to be shielded from any form of emotional discomfort or disturbance through perceiving Microaggressions and claiming the right to Trigger Warnings, e.g. see The Coddling of the American Mind, The Atlantic, September 2015. Higher Education, in particular, should be a context of challenge and counter-challenge but now risks becoming environments where claims of insult and offence – even unintended – become offences that threaten both the careers of academics and the development of resilience in students to living in a world of many – sometimes conflicting – points of view.

I don’t always agree with the British media columnist, commentator, and former Conservative politician Mathew Parris, but I always admire the quality of his writing and his willingness to address difficult and contentious issues. His recent newspaper column “We’re all victims of the victimhood industry” (Times, 17 October 2015) will certainly have’ rattled the bars of a few cages’. Two main themes lay within this Parris article. Firstly, the concept of “victim inflation” in which the concept is applied ever more readily to justify: priority; money; or attention, with the consequent undermining of campaigns for ‘real’ victims as public scepticism (victim denial, victim fatigue) manifest itself in tacit support (or at least acquiescence) for government ‘crackdowns’. The subtitle to the Parris article encapsulates his argument well, i.e. “The abused, the disabled, gay people, Scots … when everyone’s a victim, suspicions are raised and sympathies diminished”.

Secondly, the concept of a “victimhood industry” in which self-appointed leaders emerge or, as Parris, states: “We should look past the claimed victims themselves, and note the submerged forces that acquire an interest in latching on to victimhood, magnifying its effects and bloating its claims. ‘Victims’ are their clients … But as always we must ask the old question: who gains? The prizes are many and various … there is professional advancement; there are budgets to protect; there are public platforms; there is the megaphoning of one’s own public spiritedness. We end up with an unstable cocktail of good intentions and suspect ones”.

What Parris calls “submerged forces” can take more many forms, some more malignant to societies/civilisations than others, which in Victims I represent as “ideology pushers” who cultivate, concentrate, magnify, channel and exploit grievances.

Feelings of grievance
Volcanoes in making
To ideology pushers
Ripe for the taking

The analogy with pushers of illegal substances is deliberate because the ‘products’ here are also mind and behaviour altering. Ideology pushers can take many forms some more benign than others. I would include all politicians because they are quick to spot and exploit grievances – indeed some become explicit grievance leaders.

Author’s note: The Parris article is a worthy read even if only to disagree with him.
Unfortunately, the full Times article lies behind a paywall and so the readership of this
well-argued piece will not be exposed to the broader audience it merits.

Whatever the motivations, the pursuit to champion victims can sometimes result in more victims in the form of the wrongly accused who find their lives forever tainted and preserved in the web’s virtual amber, as reflected in the following lines in Victims:

No smoke without fire
So guilt is assumed
Cause comes first
Truth is subsumed

Victims conveys the bleak side of social media which, theoretically, should be excellent vehicles for political debate and dialogue. But, in reality, they are also being employed, too readily, as both guided and unguided weapons to: disrupt perceived opponents; promote McCarthyism (exploiting a cloak of public duty to link opponents to negative, deviant, or simply unpopular behaviours, ideologies, or causes); or recruit others to retrograde and socially destructive/fascist ideologies.

So what about the final verse in Victims?

At virtual scaffolds
Baying mobs gather
Bread and circuses
From their cyber-father.

The Latin ‘panem et circenses’ gives a clue to the origins of “bread and circuses”. The phrase was included in book IV (Satire X) of the Roman satirical poet Juvenal  whose works were written in the late 1st and 2nd centuries AD.  Bread and circuses (or bread and games) alluded to the degeneration of involvement of the people in political processes so leaving the door open to the exploitation by those wishing to acquire power via appeasement, diversion and distraction (usually via cheap food, and entertainment). Electoral bribes for key voting constituencies, the championing of ethnic nationalism, or leveraging unexpected events to make fundamental constitutional changes should perhaps be considered the modern equivalent of bread and circuses.

Cyber-father in this context has two meanings. First, would-be quasi emperors/empresses who view cyberspace as a key recruitment vehicle for whatever cause they are promulgating. Second are those who contribute uncritically, mischievously, or maliciously to an online cacophony or maelstrom and then come to perceive this as ‘the truth’ because the crowd states it must be so. The “virtual scaffolds”  where “baying mobs gather” is intended to conjure the image of how readily mass group think can drive participation in (and normalisation of) cruel spectacles.

Further Reading

Oxford University sorry for eye contact racism claim (BBC News, 28 April 2017)



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