History's greatest tweet?
Monday, February 01, 2021
At first I only used it to publish links to posts here. As the blogosphere faded and Twitter became the online forum of choice, I made the foolish error of being drawn in. Sadly (and more sadly not because of my participation) it has now become so influential that decisions on who may not use it are believed to influence elections in the great democracies of the West. Our legislators seem to care more what is said of them in this disorderly online bar-room than in the homes of their constituents. If MPs are not careful to the point of paranoia what they say there, they are in danger of being metaphorically hauled from their carriages by the cyber-mob.
Perhaps I am just nostalgic for more leisured discussions during the brief heyday of blogging? An unkind comment I once made back then about the "tabloid" style of fellow-bloggers seems naive now. Snappy as their writing was, they were Dickens compared to the ranters of Twitter. They were also delightfully tolerant of difference compared to the cyber-Stasi now howling for the suppression of all contrary thought.
I told a friend yesterday that I was a failure because no-one had even called for my Twitter account to be cancelled. This, despite my "inappropriate" views and my ethnic "original sin" ("white privilege" as its high priests call it). I just don't have enough readers for Emperor Jack's praetorian guard to fear me. My "wrong think" is too ponderous and polite for any single tweet to go viral from a base of a thousand followers.
A tweet is just the right length for a put-down or a sneer. At best it has room for a slogan. Few have the skill (I certainly don't) to attempt advocacy, diplomacy or that forgotten key skill of public discourse – persuasion – under its constraints. Even those geniuses of verbal economy who wrote the American Declaration of Independence or my blogging muse Thomas Paine (historically unrivalled in the political influence of his carefully-weighed words) could not have refined their best poetry into its nasty little haikus.
I have been trying to think what great Enlightenment wisdom could be expressed in a tweet. None of my choices are as powerful as the most successful (and destructive) "tweet" of all time;
"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."
How many lives have those few words destroyed? How much human progress has been prevented by its meretricious appeal to the untutored mind? At the age of 16 it had me in its whoreish clutches and I was lucky to escape. Young Jeremy Corbyn never did, poor soul.
Old Tom, original and best, could have tweeted;
"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
He would never have wanted to pass on his thoughts in bite-sized form though. He would have hated not having the opportunity to place them in historical context, to develop his arguments and, vitally, to consider how they might be wrong. His friend Jefferson, a Welshman with our love of words, but blessed with more literary skill than morality, could have tweeted that;
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. it is its natural manure."
However the best historical "tweet" I can come up with is from Montesquieu;
"If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law."
Gentle readers, what would you suggest as history's greatest "tweet?"