I continue to be in two minds about Twitter outrages. The part of me that longs for an easy life wants to believe they are deeply stupid and ephemeral. The part of me that makes Eeyore look like the tears-of-laughter emoji suspects they are deeply stupid and important markers of changing cultural attitudes. If you want to test whether an opinion you hold is still socially acceptable, post it on Twitter and hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of complete strangers will kindly enlighten you. Some of them will even turn off the caps lock first.
Sir Edward Leigh, a Tory MP, tweeted this today:
Some background first. The government has announced that civil partnerships, originally introduced as a stepping stone on the path to same-sex marriage, will be opened up to opposite-sex couples. Social conservatives, in such numbers as they remain, may lament that a bedrock institution is being elbowed aside and lament even more the hue of government doing the elbowing. All that time fretting about gays undermining marriage and it turns out the Tories were the real threat after all.
Anyway, what's done is done and the decline of organised religion - some of it well-earned by decades of denomination-crossing institutional abuse - has probably sunk social conservatism for good. Now we regard the expression of love (a term we're careful not to define) as the sole purpose of marriage and considerations of child-rearing, family stability and religion have been quietly retired. If gays are entitled to marry on the basis of love, why should heterosexuals who love one another be denied the benefits of civil partnership?
Sir Edward is a social conservative but he seems determined not to go down without a fight. He is a traditionalist Catholic and his tweet was a pitiful kick at a process he considers an affront. The tweet is being 'ratioed' (receiving starkly higher numbers of disobliging responses than supportive retweets or likes) because the twitchfork mob has seen it in isolation and misunderstood Sir Edward's meaning. If they looked at the following tweet in his thread, posted an hour later, they might begin to grasp his point:
Anyone know who knows anything about Sir Edward knows that allowing siblings to enter into civil partnerships has been a hobby horse of his for over a decade. His argument is that, yes, homosexual couples suffered injustices related to property and inheritance when one died, but so do elderly siblings who live together for financial, care or companionship reasons. Therefore, the same protections afforded to gays by civil partnerships should be extended to siblings. He even attempted to amend the Civil Partnerships Bill before its final reading to that effect.
For what it's worth, I regarded his argument (though not the plight of those he seeks to assist) as silly and sophistic back in 2004 and I still do today. Perhaps he was sincerely trying to remedy a legal burden on cohabiting siblings but he must have understood that his clause would be seen as a wrecking amendment. Even those sympathetic to his cause might wonder why he couldn't just let gay people have their day in the sun. His tweet was the latest salvo in his beef against evolving social mores and an attempt to revive his thus far luckless campaign. It was not a hysterical charge that a moral breakdown would be upon us if opposite-sex couples were allowed to partner up, stirring lustful urges between brothers and sisters. Nor did Sir Edward, as his Wikipedia entry has been updated to allege, 'express an interest in legalising incest, via a post on their verified Twitter account'.
Sir Edward Leigh is being what Sir Edward Leigh has always been: a member of the right-wing awkward squad. But Twitter absolves you of the need to know anything about anyone or anything that can't be understood in 280 characters. Social media did not create our atavistic need to take offence and hunt down the offenders in full moralising theatrics, but it does encourage righteous ignorance. And deep stupidity.