|"Don't talk to her - she's a colonial feminist"|
I was reminded of this elementary point today by two faintly depressing spats on my Twitter timeline. Both of them illustrate the limits of Twitter, which I recognise is handy for many things - and I'm hardly Twitter-shy myself - but inadequate for developing an even remotely coherent argument.
The first spat concerned the Home Secretary Theresa May's ban on all marches across large swathes of London, an opportunistic response to the planned EDL and anti-racist marches in Tower Hamlets on 3 September. Some tweets are at the playground level, barely more sophisticated than 'Billy Bragg is a smelly poo' or 'The SWP are fatty stupidheads'.
But even the more intelligent interventions in the debates about the banning of racist marches and how to respond to the EDL are weak. This is no surprise - you can't articulate a reasoned critique in a tweet.
The other dispute is between two fine Egyptian revolutionaries Gigi Ibrahim and Hossam el-Hamalawy in the red corner and US-based commentator Mona Eltahawy in the blue corner (or blue and white corner, if slurs about her being a 'Zionist' are to be believed). Hossam called her a 'colonial feminist', which is like calling someone 'fatty stupidhead' after reading some Edward Said. It is name-calling as substitute for political argument. The marxist wing of the greatest revolution of our times can do much better than this.
What's even worse is that Twitter means lots of other people get drawn in too, even if just at the level of reading such silliness. The adversaries retweet supportive comments - or, more likely, tweets which disparage the other side. Polarisation rapidly shuts down any space for thoughtful debate; personality clashes obscure political issues.
My grandad used to say when I was a bairn, "if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". Or, to be more precise, if you want to say something not very nice then take the time to explain, substantiate and critique. And without the personalised mud-slinging. (That's not strictly what my grandad said - let's call it paraphrasing).
It's a reminder of why those who claim Twitter's 'microblogging' has made blogging redundant are missing the point. A blog post (and the same goes for a comments thread) is a chance to - in a phrase I associate with the late Chris Harman - think things through. Subtlety and balance, not to mention scope for offering evidence to support your assertions, are possible.
Talking is even better. There's no substitute for face-to-face meetings as a way of conducting political discussion. It is possible to pose questions, interpet tone and refine ideas. And if anyone denounces someone as a 'colonial feminist', the immediate laughter of derision operates as an instant reality check.
It occasionally crosses my mind that Trotsky would have made an amazing blogger. On Twitter, I fear, it would have been different - and, with that level of distraction, there's no way he'd have finished 'A History of the Russian Revolution'!