The Difference Between Rhetorical Brutalism And Hate Speech

A giant crane lifting the blades of the first of three wind turbines at the Hazelhead Wind Farm west of Barnsley. Picture by Chris Lawton.

[Concrete foundations at Hazelhead Wind Farm, near the headwaters of the River Don]

If nothing else, my blog posts certainly make ME stop and think! Do I really mean what I just wrote? Does it stack up logically? Are there any exceptions to the rule? What happens if I’m wrong?

Rather than taking this all self-doubt as an indication that I am riddled with insecurities, I view it as a sine qua non of critical thinking, and the eternal search for inarguable, axiomatic truths.

I think I’ve come across another one, pertaining to the crucial difference between rhetorical brutalism and hate speech.

The thesis of my previous entry was that it’s fine to be rude! In the cut and thrust of a heated debate, the odd bit of industrial language should be tolerated and accepted.

Now on my personal Facebook earlier this week, I posted the following: “A lot of Hate Speech on FB at the moment. I am unfollowing anyone who posts bias-motivated Hate Speech that bullies people on grounds of their race, religion, gender, sexuality or political beliefs. Respect people’s differences. ONE LOVE

That’s pretty antithetical to the blog entry in question, isn’t it? One minute I’m saying it’s OK to call people a stupid wanker, the next I’m preaching respect for people’s differences! Surely a quick trawl through some of my own online rants would reveal that I’m one of the most hate-filled posters out there, certainly when it comes to wind farms.

I’ll even provide you with a real-life example, also from earlier this week. It was my reaction to this advert by Ordnance Survey:


Haha indeed. Gotta see the funny side, after all! Still, once I’d dried the tears of laughter from my eyes and put back together my split sides, I penned the following customer feedback:

I wish to make a formal complaint about your horrendous advert featuring a wind turbine. This is NOT what people want to see in natural environments. Please remove all traces of this advert, or else face the consequences.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the prompt response:

“Hi [Peak Protector], thank you for your feedback. We are really sorry to hear you were offended by this advert, we will pass your comment on to the marketing team who will review and deal with your request accordingly. Kind regards Ordnance Survey”

I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the marketing office! If nothing else, I’ve brought the issue of wind blight in through their Overton Window. They needed to be educated, and that’s the purpose of every word I write, after all: Edumacashun as to what an awful lot of people really think of wind blight.

Now, the point I’d like to make about the difference between hate speech and rhetorical brutalism is illustrated by my response:

Hi thanks for the nice reply, and sorry to be so brusque, as I have been the ultimate fan of OS maps since I was tiny! But you must realise that wind farm developments are highly controversial, at best heavy industrial equipment suited to urban areas, at worst a downright scam that redistributes ownership and control of our precious natural spaces away from leisure and amenity for the whole community. Most walkers who get to the top of a hill would rather just see a small trig point and stunning unspoilt views for miles around. All the best and thanks so much for engaging Keep up the great map making, just stop using wind turbines in your adverts!

Well, it’ll give them something to talk about in the office for a few moments, anyway. And it is true – I absolutely adore Ordnance Survey maps, and I think it’s a hallmark of their integrity as a company that they bothered to engage with me. As I’ve said previously, it takes good character to deal with someone angry, to gently lead them away from their state of amygdala hijack through a combination of empathy, understanding and general lack of ego (the ability to see the bigger picture and not get personally offended by someone having a good old vent!).

This brings me onto another conversation I had earlier in the week, with my local MP Alex Sobel. I won’t bore you with my first message to him, as it wasn’t really on-topic and was rather heated, shall we say. If you really want to see it, leave a comment and maybe I’ll post, but it’s not germane to the story. Anyway, Alex replied nicely and certainly managed to bring me down, somewhat, from my angry state of mind. My follow-up email was much more considered:

Dear Mr Sobel

Many thanks for replying to my admittedly somewhat harsh critique. As you are no doubt aware these are times in which our country’s political discourse arouses a great deal of passion, and I’d just like to say on a personal level I think it takes great courage and integrity to be able to respond in a way such as you did towards the angry writings of a constituent.

Even in the short space of time since your reply, the political landscape has changed dramatically now that there is an imminent General Election; therefore the nature of some of the complaints I raised is already now rather out–of-date. However, I understand from studying the psephology of the Leeds NW seat that as a whole it did indeed vote to Remain within the EU, and you were elected with a majority on that basis. I fully respect the democratic mandate of your position and I would just like to say thank you for taking the time and trouble to clarify your views.

My main concern, as I mentioned to your staff, is to alert to the Labour Party to the environmental hazards of its policy towards wind energy. As things stand, since 2015 local communities have had the final say in vetoing any unwanted wind energy projects in their communities. There seems to be some confusion about exactly what Labour’s policy is regarding wind energy. Having carried out my own fieldwork and research on this topic over the last five years, due to the overwhelming evidence I have amassed about the problems associated with wind power, please note I would be forced to strongly oppose any reverse of the current policy.

As you are no doubt aware, the River Don burst its banks last week. In the line of my work I had to visit a flood damaged site in Rotherham, owned by the company I work for, which not only had a lot of stock destroyed but was also victim to two incidences of looting. The cost to the community must have been hundreds of thousands of pounds.

It is my contention that the Don flooding was exacerbated by the large amount of wind farms constructed within a mile or two of the head of the river near Dunford Bridge. There are over 20 industrial wind turbines at the Hazlehead, Blackstone Edge, Royd Moor and Spicer Hill wind farms, all on huge impermeable concrete foundations dug into the ground. As such the water courses of these fragile Pennine uplands have been disturbed and blocked, and the rainwaters are now overloading the few remaining channels, exacerbating the impacts of floods. Furthermore, the Don is joined at Rotherham by the River Rother, which has the Penny Hill Wind Farm constructed upon its eastern slopes.

I am not saying wind farms on their own cause the floods, I am saying they make their impacts much more severe. Indeed one such wind farm I researched, Crook Hill, Rochdale, was proven to have contributed to the 2015 Calder floods.

A lot of people have been claiming the Labour Party has “turned its back on the working class”, and one of the most obvious examples of this is the imposition of wind farms on valuable Open Access Common Land, often actually owned by the aristocracy yet with commoners’ rights upheld for centuries and centuries. To see these areas of common land deregistered so that the aristocratic landowners can be paid millions by (often tax-evading) corporations is to see the traditional Labour values espoused by the likes of the Manchester Ramblers trashed, money and energy flowing “from the many, to the few”.

I’m sure you can understand why the moratorium on onshire wind cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to be rescinded. It is my honest opinion that if Labour “gets real” about wind power, it will win the next election. Rejection of this virtue-signalling faux-green technology would be as symbolic a recalibration of the Labour Party’s values, back towards the right of the working man to enjoy nature, as Tony Blair’s “Clause 4” moment.

Back nuclear, drop support for wind energy, and win the next election.

Investigation into claims wind farm worsened Boxing Day 2015 floods

Yours sincerely

[Peak Protector]”

Let me explain how the above conversations are examples of rhetorical brutalism rather than hate speech: the point is about the DIALECTIC, a two-way conversation between opposing points of view, with the aim of reaching a mutually agreeable truth. Rhetoric itself is defined as: “language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content”.

Well, in my case my rhetoric certainly doesn’t lack sincerity, but I will happily concede it occasionally veers away from meaningful content, or at least literal content. In other words, saying “I will destroy your business” does not literally mean vapourising the staff and premises, it means exposing any false claims or rogue operational processes, and, if possible, making it untenable for said business to survive with its current modus operandi.

More importantly than rhetoric occasionally lacking literal content, it is language designed first and foremost to PERSUADE. To make the focus of the rhetoric change their mind, or adopt a certain point of view. And, it has to be said, rhetorical brutalism can be utterly counterproductive on occasion – people rebelling and doing the exact opposite, just because they feel they’ve been brutalised. Sometimes, however, rhetorical brutalism works. We all talk about “knocking some sense into someone”. We don’t literally mean banging their head against a piece of wood, we mean giving them a firm, no BS, talking to.

This is the fundamental difference between rhetorical brutalism and hate speech. Rhetorical brutalism is about connecting with someone on an emotional level and trying to create alignment where it is lacking. Hate speech is just that, spreading hate, not trying to find any kind of alignment but more entrenching division. Rhetorical brutalism, ultimately, is based on unconditional love. Your ideas might be shit, but I still respect you as a person. “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Now the reason I posted my FB comment was because in the run-up to the General Election I have been bombarded, on both sides, by memes that veer more towards hate speech than rhetorical brutalism. These memes are not designed to persuade, but to reinforce tribalism. And it’s more than just the memes, it’s their entire context that is wrong and out of whack with the nature of reality.

As I have said on several posts, I love it when people respond to my blogs, even if it’s to set me straight about something. Factored into these rants is the fact that you ALL can voice your opinion on my claims, and together we can move the conversation forward, as a whole, to the point where it no longer matters who says what, but that the gestalt of the dialectic offers the reader as many facts as possible.

The trouble with the FB hate speech memes is that, in reality, they’re really not designed to be debated with. I mean, yes we can technically comment on anyone’s status updates, but I don’t think those posting want to be argued with really, it’s just not that format. Especially when close friends and family post memes that you KNOW are factually incorrect, or missing vital information, yet to enter into a big debate would only escalate things that really are better left unsaid.

There is a time and place for political debate, eg this very blog! When good friends post memes that are factually dubious at best on their own timelines, I don’t see that as a socially appropriate place to disagree with them. Maybe it’s just me, but it all comes down to respecting peoples’ differences, and 99% of the time I do.

Wind energy is just about the only topic I will openly disagree with people, even close friends and family, should they accidentally post something in favour of it. Not many people do nowadays, which is good.

So to summarise: rhetorical brutalism, as part of a two-way dialectic, is a tool designed to persuade people of the truth of something they are steadfastly refusing to grok. It is my default method of expressing just how bad wind turbines are for the environment, linguistically encapsulating the brutality of the wind industry and communicating it to wider society.

Rhetorical brutalism is borne out of unconditional, spiritual love for the people you are talking to; but deep, deep frustration with their flawed thinking. After all, I love Ordnance Survey to pieces, indeed it was whilst poring over their amazing maps of the Peak District and South Pennines that I really developed a curiosity for seeing what these fascinating contour patterns looked like in real life! I just needed to persuade them, quickly and effectively, to sort their marketing out. I believe there is real validity to my argument that the people most likely to indulge in a paper map (rather than a sat-nav) are those who want to walk and explore the hills, and this demographic is probably the least likely in the universe to be happy at seeing wind blight in the middle of the uplands.

Hate speech is all about wishing people would die in a flood. Rhetorical brutalism is all about shouting at them to get out the way. In that sense Greta Thunberg is the High Priestess of Rhetorical Brutalism! But where maybe I could teach her a lesson is that it has to be part of a wider dialectic. You can’t just shout at people and deny them the right to reply. It’s a back and forth: you shout at them, they shout back at you, and slowly, but surely, together you find a new alignment.

Whether Alex Sobel or indeed anyone else aligns with my observations that the wind farms at the head of the Don (that I’ve written about extensively) probably exacerbated the effects of this month’s floods remains to be seen.

We shall shortly find out which way the electoral wind is going to blow in the UK. I wonder if my thesis still holds true that the party most likely to win an election is the one most opposed to wind blight.

If it does, then the Tories are in for an even larger landslide than Derrybrien!


[Twenty miles downstream the River Don at Rotherham]