At last, it has been scientifically proved that Jesus Christ is better than Muhammad. We’d always known that our lad with the beard and the holes in his hands was far superior to that arriviste Arabian chap who hung around in caves. But tell that to a Muslim and they become unaccountably frosty and defensive. Now, though, a couple of scientists have used algorithms and quantitative analysis to prove that Jesus Christ was the most significant and important human being ever to have lived, while poor old Muhammad managed to slink in at number four: Champions League spot, sure, but no cigar. The Prophet was beaten by both Napoleon Bonaparte — a surprise second place for the diminutive Corsican outsider — and our own doughty contender, legendary Midlands wordsmith William Shakespeare.
There are consolations for Muslims, mind — no Buddha in the top ten, nor room for any of those rather baleful emissaries the Hindus like: Shiva, for example, or that one with four arms, Vishnu. Also, Muhammad easily beat Hitler, who came only a lowly seventh, and Alexander the Great. Ninth place, my good Macedonian mate — not so Great after all. I am not absolutely certain how Professors Steven Skiena and Charles Ward compiled their table: it seems to have been an exhausting process of counting who gets mentioned most on the internet. It’s a miracle, then, that first place did not go to some improbably flexible Ukrainian pornobabe, or Simon Cowell, or George Monbiot.
But at the very least it will have helped the BBC Today programme presenter Evan Davies to answer his own question — possibly the most penetrating and intelligent question ever asked anywhere, by anyone — about whether or not the late Nelson Mandela ranked alongside Jesus Christ in the great pantheon of virtue. ‘No, you camp, Yoda-visaged half-wit,’ Evan’s interviewee, Jimmy Carter, sort of implied in his impressively dismissive response, which involved pointing out, patiently, that Jesus Christ was actually the Son of God. I don’t suppose Davies, or most of the rest of the BBC, were actually dissuaded from this viewpoint, mind. Let’s be honest, they wouldn’t have been half as reverential when coming live from Golgotha as they were with Nelson’s belated death announcement. They’d probably have just done a hurried half-hour obit with Gok Wan and Fearne Cotton, interviewing local punters and Susan Boyle singing ‘Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong’.
Anyway, Nelson did not figure in that aforementioned top ten, so it is a good job the professors I mentioned are not English, or the police would probably be questioning them regarding this offensive sin of omission. Towards the end of last year a Staffordshire sandwich-shop owner was held in the cells for six hours for having posted a couple of supposedly bad-taste jokes about Mandela on a local forum — in much the same manner as in some sharia country, a Christian who was overheard to have doubted Allah’s wisdom and provenance might be arraigned by the authorities. The sandwich man was finally released without charge, mind, rather than being decapitated in public — so at least we have that to cling to.
Judging someone’s importance and significance to mankind by trawling through the internet — and especially Wikipedia — does not quite do it for me as a means of assessing the worth of an individual. Indeed, using the internet for any purpose other than to amuse oneself strikes me as misguided. I am grateful for the fact that I can now write about any subject under the sun from a position which is only 98 per cent rooted in ignorance, rather than the previous rock-solid 100 per cent, and I have been cheered to renew friendships which I feared had been long forgotten, plus of course there are the flexible Ukrainian pornobabes. But for the most part Tim Berners-Lee’s invention is a fugue of almost unrelieved idiocy, malice, spite, misinformation, banalities, lunacies, non-sequiturs and tedious vapidities. In other words, yes, it is the voice of humanity as heard after several stiffeners down the pub on a Saturday night.
I always suspected that it would be like this, rather than an Empowering Weapon for the Dispossessed Masses, as the liberal left and right-wing libertarians liked to believe (in the beginning). Ironically, you might think, it is the liberal left which is most strident in demanding prosecutions when those same dispossessed masses take to cyberspace and divest themselves of somewhat pungent views with which the liberal left do not entirely concur, or just make naughty jokes or what have you. That is the problem with us — we are frequently off-colour and off-piste.
So this lengthy and dyspeptic preamble brings me to the point at last — a resolution for 2014 for all those who sit in power over us: ignore the internet. Take no notice of it; the thing is a fantasy world, a make-believe place. If you are a politician and 50,000 people sign an online petition eviscerating some policy of yours, ignore them. Today, on the www, 50,000 are nowt, and 500,000 aren’t much to write home about. And in any case the signatories almost certainly know less than nothing about your policy. And the police — someone makes a joke online which someone else deems offensive: ignore it. Take no notice. Tell the complainant to shut up, get a life and stop wasting police time. When the moronic din gets too loud, wear ear muffs. Just don’t get involved.