“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” – Mark Twain.
You would think that – after a week of often violent protests about an ineffably stupid and badly made YouTube video, on the day Salman Rushdie has the launch of a book based around the fatwa against his head – that maybe judges wouldn’t, for instance, convict someone for writing something silly and offensive on Facebook.
You’d have thought that. And you’d be wrong.
The culture of offense has become so ingrained in our psyche that we can’t shrug off an 18 year old boy saying “soldiers should all die and go to hell” (Note the phrasing, however. Not “I shall kill soldiers, and they shall go to hell”. Just the general, vague wish that they die and go to hell).
This follows on from various other incidents of internet legal shenanigans, all of which have had the depressingly similar narrative – someone says something offensive and instead of turning round and telling person (a) “Hey, you said something stupidly offensive”, we all run squealing to the law.
Laws that wouldn’t exist if politicians we elect hadn’t drafted them. Cases that wouldn’t be brought if we hadn’t asked for the police to investigate.
Karl Popper’s most famous work was entitled “The Open Society and its enemies”. I’m increasingly of the opinion that, were Popper writing today, the enemies would include “most of us”.