In the Planter debate madness, remember language has layers of meaning but it needs context if we are to breathe socially…

It can’t be emphasised enough how Slugger as a holder of convivial space (all praise to the moderators), in a world of abundant information and scant wisdom, has been a key to a lot of useful learning.

I’ll write about why I’m leaving Twitter after 15 years later. I could argue the latest controversy (the use of the word “Planter” by US Congressman Richard Neil) might have happened anyway.

But the fast tracking of rage over slights (like Campbell’s “gobble my yoghurt” and Foster’s reference to Sinn Féin as “Crocodiles“) needed help from Twitter or Facebook to append unfavourable context/motives.

My friend David Amerland talks about the onset of an “age of the amoeba“, that mysterious single celled creature which at all costs always choses a line of least resistance. Twitter does that to any of us.

One reason I’m going is that it is plainly addictive. It’s designed to draw you back and back and back for a diminishing set of useful returns. And the truth is I have far more important things to choose to do.

In 2007 Twitter allowed us to stand on the shoulders of giants. It was a matrix that was good for picking up useful snippets that we could reconvene in long form here on Slugger and give it both a memex and context.

Without proper contextualisation we can convince ourselves of anything that justifies us taking that line of least resistance. So let me turn to the “controversialisation” of the historic term Planters?

Let’s go back to the last time it emerged (less controversially) in the Northern Ireland public square, which was in Martin McGuinness’s 2008 speech when Peter Robinson took over as FM from Ian Paisley.

It’s not simply that Twitter was not the giant influence on political journalism or the various publics they were tasked to communicate with, but that McGuinness himself took care to contextualise his own words.

In a speech in the United States in 2006, the new First Minister made the following remarks;

‘I hope that the sons and daughters of the Planter and Gael have found a way to share the land of their birth and live together in peace.’

I share that hope and as joint First Ministers, the new First Minister and I, as the leaders of the Planter and the Gael, are charged with the responsibility to lead the way on behalf of the Executive. [added emphasis]

It’s easy for me to recall the circumstances of the time, because my colleague and friend Pete Baker took the time and the effort to record it in the memex of Slugger O’Toole. Something I cannot do with Twitter.

Clearly Robinson took care in his first mention of the term to imply that in the progression between the Plantation of Ulster (1600s) and today 15/16 generations of folks have been born natively on the island.

It was a poetic nod to the narrow ground of Ulster’s history adverting to the fact that we now have the political means (GFA/SAA) to progress beyond it. But this is not how it was rendered in the Twitterverse.

Planter is a commonplace abuse with a thick (in both senses) veneer of racialist/exclusionist thinking that oight to be ridiculed or sent up in pub conversations rather than taken seriously in public debate.

It is also used as a form of resistance to the simplifying communal splitters that have beleaguered our homeplace for far too long: this dialogue between Montague and Hewitt for example.

But there’s little sense of irony on Twitter or Facebook. Their purposes are make money by exploiting our proclivity to engage with the emotionally inflaming and in the process to lose our sense of perspective and the ridiculous.

How ridiculous? Conceive, if you will, of a Gameshow called, Planter or Gael? You could bring on two mates of mine from school, one called O’Hanlon, the other Morgan. Planter or Gael?

Two lads named Adams and Morrison, each life long devotees to the political unity of the island? Planter or Gael? Three plots from the Protestant side of the graveyard, Connolly, Behan, O’Neill. Planter or Gael?

I’d beg Tim McGarry to compere it and make us think again about the dumb way we’ve come to use our language and force us to think again about we  continue to amble our handcarts back towards the nearest abyss.

God save all here from Twitter and/or a tragic loss of our sense of humour and irony and keep us safe.

“Oh, good, you made it here in one peace.”

John Kellden

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