James Moore's transgression? Upsetting some people on social media
The reputation of yet another public servant bit the dust this week. James Moore, some sort of higher-up within NHS Wales, committed the ultimate sin – a high crime for which the destruction of one’s career is the only appropriate sentence.
His transgression? Upsetting some people on social media. And, these days, nobody in public life can, having crossed such a line, expect to survive the inevitable fall-out.
In a post on his personal Facebook account, Moore complained about the ‘zealotry’ of Welsh nationalists and likened the treatment of those in the principality who do not speak the native tongue to that of black people in apartheid South Africa. It was a clumsy comparison for sure. Stupid even.
But a sensible response from Moore’s bosses would have been to point out that their colleague was entitled to his personal views, just as others were entitled to disagree with him. Beyond that, it was not a matter for the NHS Wales. Besides, aren’t we currently in the middle of a public health crisis?
These are not sensible times, however. These are times when offending others — regardless of the merit of the point being made — is, of itself, seen as a serious misdeed deserving of punishment. These are times when a city’s police force can position four masked officers in front of a message warning that “Being offensive is an offence” and not comprehend, first, that the statement is inaccurate and, second, how the whole spectacle might be perceived.
Moore’s case follows a well-worn pattern. First, the miscreant must apologise profusely for his foul deed. Then his employer must fire him (or at least issue a strongly-worded statement distancing itself from his views and assuring the world that they do not reflect the organisation’s own values). And, finally, in cases where the target has any sort of public standing, media companies must deny him a platform in the future. And all too often, all three — the offender, the employer and elements of the media — will duly oblige.
The phenomenon feeds on itself, creating a ratchet effect which sees the bar of what constitutes offensive speech set ever lower and the sanctions for transgressing become ever more severe. Petrified of being seen as out of step with ‘progressive’ opinion, no politician, company or institution dare be seen as offering anything less than the fiercest condemnation of offenders.
All of this means that there is a desperate shortage of individuals in public life who are willing to face down the threats of the mob. Most appear content to feed the crocodile in the hope it will eat them last. How refreshing it would be for someone — anyone — to demonstrate a casual indifference when accused of causing offence merely for having expressed a genuinely-held political or moral view. To say, “You’re offended? Oh well. That’s life. I’m sure you’ll get over it.”
None of this is an argument for individuals to cause offence gratuitously. On the contrary, there is no merit at all in setting out to hurt the feelings of others unnecessarily. But if someone claims to be “offended” simply because another has expressed an earnest opinion, then the problem lies squarely with the one taking offence, and no apology – less still the donning of sackcloth and ashes – should be considered owing.
As for James Moore, he has been moved from his post and is facing formal disciplinary action by his bosses. Quelle surprise. His is just another career, another reputation, sacrificed on the altar of establishment gutlessness and a desperate desire to appease those screaming ‘offence’. Unless the rest of us start showing a bit more courage, there will be plenty more.