Smart Thinking

Put your handbags away Twitterati – losing doesn’t always mean you’re wrong

David Baddiel reminds us that some arguments can take more than 280 characters to articulate

We love a social media spat, don’t we? No matter how much one professes to be all about peace and love, it’s impossible not to enjoy two public figures exchanging bitter barbs on Twitter. February’s highlight was JK Rowling v Piers Morgan.

Piers, in his role as #TrumpyGuyUK, had gone on American TV and been told to go forth and multiply by Australian comic Jim Jefferies. JKR chose to unleash a few wizardly words on her Twitter feed. Piers – would you believe it? – didn’t rise above this, and soon they were at each other’s Twitthroats. It was handbags – or Mail columns v wands – at dawn, as each tried to expelliarmus the other.

Perhaps you can guess which side I took. But I’d rather you didn’t. Because, for me, the key tweet in the spat was when Piers said, ‘So @jk_rowling loudly backed Ed Miliband, Remain & Hillary. Takes some wizardry to be so wrong so often’.

A fair amount – 7,600 – of #TeamPiers liked the suggestion that JK Rowling, in supporting positions that lost in democratic votes, was also wrong.

“No-one wants complexity anymore. They want simple answers, and no answer is more simple than ‘F*ck off, I won'”

Yes, she was on the losing side, but that doesn’t make her wrong. This, though, is a distinction growing more blurry. Brexiteers close down arguments against their agenda with ‘You lost, get over it’; and the champion of winning=right/ losing=wrong, obviously, is Donald Trump, for whom nothing else makes any sense. For him, the worst insult in the world is loser. He cannot refer to his critics in terms of their critique – he has to say that The New York Times (every bloody time) is failing, or that CNN is tanking. His obsession with numbers – from inauguration crowds to Schwarzenegger’s ratings on The Apprentice – is because figures allow victory to be quantified, and therefore crowed about.

But actually, there is only one arena in life where winning does equal right, and losing wrong, and that is sport (alright, gambling, but that kind of is a sport). In politics, winners, whether democratically elected ones or dictators, tend not to be on the side of the angels. It’s possible, in fact, to suggest that the opposite is true: politics is a greasy pole, and truly good – truly right-thinking – men and women do not have the deviousness to climb it.

But really this is about something else. I only have one motto in life, which is: the truth is always complex. And it’s complexity that is being screwed over here. No-one wants complexity anymore. They want simple answers, and no answer is more simple than ‘F**k off, I won’. Twitter is partly to blame, because all statements on it are short, which doesn’t allow for nuance, and also because it’s a place of polarised argument: somewhere people can be burnt and where numbers are quantifiable in likes and retweets.

So here’s a little complexity to restore the balance. It’s worth remembering that losers are often winners, in the end. Van Gogh, Galileo, Jesus – what losers they were, in their time. I’m sure Jesus, while crying out ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ had to put up with Roman centurions shouting up ‘You lost, get over it, snowflake.’ JK Rowling herself was a loser for many years, suffering 12 rejection letters for Harry Potter. But it turns out she was right. Even when she was losing, she was right.

Anyway, I try my best to stay out of Twitter spats. I did get involved in this one, briefly, by offering my opinion on Piers’ original tweet. I replied: ‘The idea that victory, in politics, equals “being right” is the category error of our time.’

And obviously, the last thing I’d like to do is point out that it got more likes and retweets than Piers’ one. And that therefore I won. And was right.

David Baddiel is a comedian, novelist, scriptwriter and broadcaster. His My Family Not the Sitcom is at London’s Playhouse Theatre March 28-June 3. Visit davidbaddiel.com for more