I love Twitter. Not that I ever participate; I’ve tweeted maybe a dozen times, I never “like” anything except by accident, I follow three people and I have seven from-God-knows-where followers. But I love watching Twitter. I love the pure, pompous awfulness of it.
Twitter has all the class and integrity of Fuck Your Buddy Island, but with no conception that that’s what it is. Unlike the participants on FYBI, who are at least somewhat aware of the degredation, Twitterers see themselves as acting nobly, as moral and intellectual exemplars. That combination of sleaze and hilariously inappropriate self-regard makes the Twitter Show irresistible.
Greg Ashman, whose recent Twitter experience has motivated this post, has described the medium as “an abandoned mall and trolls are the walking dead, trying to cancel us”. I don’t know if Greg specifically had Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in mind, but if there’s a movie of Twitter then that’s the movie. And, yes, I acknowledge that there are other Twitterers, like Greg himself, who generally use the medium in a constrained and intelligent manner; and, there are geniuses of the Tweet form. But these guys are secondary. They are what Twitter permits; they are not what Twitter is.
This, then, is a post about Twitter. First, to give it context, I will tell a completely separate story. It’s not at all necessary, but I enjoy telling stories. This story is about Jews.
It turns out that I am Jewish. Not that I actively think of myself as Jewish. I never concern myself with, and am barely aware of, Jewish traditions or prohibitions. Nonetheless, and much to my surprise, I’m Jewish.
Why? Well to begin, my father’s parents were as Jewish as they come: Eastern Europeans from the Russian ghettoes, who independently decided they’d had enough of traditional Christian hospitality and left for America and a new life. They met and got married, and my father, David, was born. David grew up in Philadelphia’s Jewish quarter, living a poor and civilised Jewish childhood. Then, in order to escape Yetta, his archetypal domineering Jewish mother, he married young a Jewish girl.
A couple years later, my father married again, this time a shiksa, my mother. My brother Jeff was born in California, I was born a few years later, and soon after we moved to Australia. My childhood in Melbourne, a million miles from Philadelphia, contained no observable Jewishness whatsoever, other than periodic visits to Scheherazade.
Decades later, an adult Marty was chatting with his half-brother, Dan, and their father, about Israel, the nature of Jewishness and stuff like that. I asked innocently enough, “How do you determine if someone is Jewish?” Brother and father in spontaneous unison: “Look at the nose”.
Laughter subsided, I suggested that I was not Jewish. My father scoffed:
“Of course you’re Jewish.”
“If Hitler thinks you’re Jewish, you’re Jewish.”
Which is a pretty good first approximation. Gilbert Gottfried said it similarly, with a bit more heft:
“I ate pork. We weren’t that aware of the holidays or anything like that, but were aware of being Jewish. It’s like I kind of knew that even though I was never bar mitzvahed and we didn’t follow the holidays, I knew that if the Nazis came back, I’d be in the same train coach with everyone else.”
Beyond anything else, that’s what it meant for my father and his generation, and earlier, for centuries, to be Jewish. Even if there were no immediate threat, Jews were fundamentally defined by their enemies. There was the omnipresent wariness, the fear that the return of these genocidal enemies might be just around the corner. My father never let go of that. I’m not convinced that he was wrong.
But of course he wasn’t completely right, either. A single-minded focus on Jewishness can easily mean fussing on some very minor point while missing out on some larger, more important point. And, it can be tedious. This is all encapsulated in the famous plaint, a favourite of Grandma Yetta’s and of millions of others:
What’s in it for the Jews?
That’s the story. Now, back to Twitter. And to the New Jews.
Next month, the Centre for Independent Studies will be holding an evening of discussion on maths ed. Pithily titled Ensuring Australia’s maths teaching adds up to success, the event is hosted by CIS’s Glenn Fahey, and the stars of the show are Greg Ashman and Eddie Woo, who will … um … uh oh …
There’s an obvious problem here, isn’t there? See it? Yep, you guessed it. No women!
Incredible, huh? What a screw up.
Of course it didn’t take long for this egregious oversight to be noted and to be slammed. Last week, CIS advertised their event in a tweet and within a few hours an appropriately peeved surgeon replied to CIS and cc-tweeted the three participants:
A nurse quickly replied, to everyone, noting a list of “amazing” women who might have been included:
Greg then replied, to everyone:
And, of course, then the Twitter Fun really began. That included Greg being reported to his employer for his “sexism”, arguments over Greg’s “misogyny”, and God knows what else. It also including the opining of a prominent mathematics professor (with, like Lord Devlin, the “Prof” prominently displayed):
What to make of this nasty little episode? Greg, for his part, clearly just wants the damn thing to go away (and thus is probably not pleased with this post). He contributed only the one tweet above to the “discussion”, and immediately blocked anyone who lectured him, tweeted that he was doing so, and wrote a post on the whole event. Greg’s post included his explanation for blocking so strongly, having been wisened from previous episodes of Twitter Fun:
“I have a planned approach in these situations. Once it becomes clear that I am the target of a mob, I block everyone involved, no matter how minor their involvement.”
Greg has partly shut up his Twitter Shop and gotten on with things. I think there is more to say.
First of all, the people attacking Greg were nasty, and seemingly with no conception of their nastiness. Yeah, Greg’s tweet was a bit snarky, but he had cause. These people were passive-aggressive (and almost immediately aggressive-aggressive). The cc-ing of the participants and the employment of the hashtags makes it clear they weren’t looking for a reasoned discussion; they were, at best, looking for a fight. And, not a single one of the Greg-bashers, for instance, appeared to consider it worthwhile querying, much less condemning, the idiots who reported Greg to his employer. Of course, that’s the way it is with such people.
Secondly, the attackers were boring. The reader might have noticed the hashtag #manel. You know, like “panel” but with “man” in it. Clever, huh?
What a joke. Well it’s basically a woman joke. So, maybe we need to somehow combine the “wo” with “joke”. How about “woke”?
Thirdly, and most fundamentally, the attackers were fiercely, myopically tribal. There is plenty to criticise in CIS’s panel. Glenn Fahey is a culture warrior who clothes his predictable and lightweight contributions in thin scholarly dress. Greg is a very good guy, but he is definitely not one of my go-tos on a two-person maths ed panel. And Eddie “Too Much” Woo is just not that much of anything: what he does right is done right by hundreds of Australian mathematics teachers, and he also does things badly, cockishly wrong. So, sure, if anyone wants to throw things at CIS then go ahead. I’ll hand you the rocks. But the Greg attackers didn’t give a damn about any of this. All they cared about was whether the panel had a woman on it.
Which is absurd, and which is why these people are the New Jews. What they care about, first and foremost, about any issue, is what’s in it for the New Jews.
It is so tedious. They are so tedious. If there were, like, real ghettoes and stuff, real massacres and stuff, then sure. But there aren’t. They are so incessantly whiny, about such trivialities.
The other thing about these people is that they are so sure of themselves. They know everything. They know Greg is sexist and misogynist. They know Greg doesn’t watch his “bias”. They know the CIS panel would be better for having a woman on it. They know there is a preferable “amazing” woman to have. They know everything.
But at least it makes one thing clear. At least it makes it easy to determine the New Jews: look at the knows.