Paul “The Thinker” Richards

I’m still feeling very unhappy with the behaviour of Paul “The Thinker” Richards, so, at the risk of flogging this particular horse to death, I want to revisit the latter part of the exchange that took place yesterday on the comments section of his new-look blog.

(If you’re bored by my sniping at this guy, feel free to ignore what follows: I promise that normal blogging will be resumed reasonably soon — assuming that he doesn’t try to antagonise me still further.)

I quoted a chunk of the exchange below. Here’s the next contribution, from Jon (and, Jon, if you read this here and would rather I took this down, just say, and I’ll replace the quoted text with a link):

Regardless of whether or not your correspondent is a pub bore, you, Mr “Thinker”, are most definitely the virtual equivalent of David Brent. Not since Gervais� marvellous portrayal of that character in The Office have I seen such a combination of petulance, insecurity and comical triteness. Like Brent, you know what sounds like an impressive idea � thus, �most importantly [of all the wonderful features of your blog] it has space for comments and debates,� in order to combat an atmosphere of discourse that is, �reduced to gossip, smears and plain old getting it wrong.� Well, debates aren�t engaged by calling people �pub bores� (strategically identical to Brent�s favourite get-out when beaten in an argument, that of accusing his adversary of not understanding because they weren�t �with it�), and your serious allegations about Michael Howard, without evidence, ARE either just smears or �plain old getting it wrong�. Witness Brent�s meaningless aphorisms of management-babble when he explains his job description; witness the Thinker�s attempt at profundity, declaring that �Politics is dead. Long live politics�. How do you want others to see you? Look back at the pose Brent strikes whenever he prepares for a photograph, and look at the impressive stone figure in the top left hand corner of your page � they are identical, except Gervais was taking the piss. And, finger firmly placed on chin, what is it that the Thinker actually spends most of his time thinking about? Once more, like Brent, the topic seems to be ego, with special reference to pomposity; �Can blogs be beautiful as well as thought-provoking?� Dare man dream such a thing? Quite what the rest of the world has done to be �thought� about in this manner, only you can tell us. You�re the sort of person that makes me want to go into politics, and that�s about as polite as I can be. But ignore everything that I�ve just said (not so much water off a duck�s back as off two ronsealed planks, I should imagine) � you�ve got some important charges to answer above; charges which only a man without any regard for integrity could leave levelled unanswered. [November 8, 2003 04:52 PM]

Thus, with wit, wisdom and the right pop culture references, Jon skewered Paul “The Thinker” Richards, and in doing so usefully added evidence to the dossier of the various kinds of hypocrisy that his blogs have evinced over the last week or so.Now it would be nice if it were the case that it was Jon’s witty wisdom that shamed Paul “The Thinker” Richards into removing the offending and offensive words from his old blog, where my own heavy-handed “pub bore” moralism had failed. But that may not be quite right, for this comment is timestamped 4.52pm, and I noticed that the objectionable words had gone by 4.43pm. So it may be that my earlier comments had given “The Thinker” at least something of a bad conscience which had prompted him to act. Who knows? Not all timestamps are in sync with one another, and I don’t claim to know exactly when computers stamp various posts and comments, so I’m not going to claim to know for sure what happened and in what order.

But if you’re tempted to think that Paul “The Thinker” Richards has begun to behave honourably by cleaning up after himself, do pay careful attention to the way he composed his reply to Jon a few minutes later:

Dear Jon,thanks for your comments. You’re dead right to point out the erroneous quote about Howard, which I have removed. It appeared as part of an email which claimed to have been checked and properly sourced. An important lesson there for us all. The rest of the quotes about Howard are accurate as far as I know.

Thanks for taking an interest in The Thinker – and yes you should get involved in politics. Keep the comments coming! [November 8, 2003 05:02 PM]

Now there are a few interesting things here.

  • First, as Jon pointed out in a follow-up comment (in which he also quoted the poet Martial!), the claim that “You’re dead right to point out the erroneous quote” is in fact false: Jon did not point it out; I did (on the comments board), and, before that, Anthony Wells did (on his blog). This is pretty trivial, but it is, I submit, revealingly trivial.
  • Second, more importantly, do notice the lack of any kind of apology to his readers — let alone to Mr Howard — for circulating the smear in the first place: “The Thinker” just provides a weaselly get-out excuse that the email he received “claimed to have been checked and properly sourced”. (How often, I wonder, and on similar grounds, does Mr Richards provide his bank account details to Nigerian businessmen who insist that they have bona fide opportunities for him which must, owing to the peculiar circumstances in which they arose, be kept a strict secret?)
  • Third, and this, I think, is what I’m most interested in here: notice the way in which, as a part of his non-apology, he blithely and blandly writes, “An important lesson there for us all.” So let’s think a bit about what he means: “for us all”? For Jon? For Michael Howard? For me? For Anthony Wells? No: in this instance, surely, there’s just an important and shaming lesson for Paul “The Thinker” Richards. (A glance on google, incidentally, suggests that nobody else in all of cyberspace decided to circulate the “spiritual nazism” smear on the worldwide web: an earlier claim that Tom Watson might have done on his excellent blog was erroneous and was retracted.) And, further on this point, note also that he doesn’t say quite what he thinks the precise lesson is, but leaves it vague. The context suggests to me that he thinks the appropriate lesson is just that it’s a good idea to check sources before blindly circulating false allegations.Alright: what are we to make of all of this?I’d say that “The Thinker” — who has twice stood for election to Parliament and may do so again — needs to learn some different and much more important lessons about decency and contrition if he’s ever going to persuade intelligent students of his conduct that he has the appropriate qualities of mind and character that would render him an admirable person to serve as a representative of the people in a modern democracy.
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