A little while ago I joined a certain online medical discussion group. It’s lively, informal, and iconoclastic – just up my street. But in one aspect I found it disappointing.

Doctors, being highly educated and having at least some degree of sophistication, you would expect to take a little thought before committing themselves in writing on a semi-public forum. Indeed, the great majority do – but not all.

Soon after I joined I was mildly discomfited by someone expressing his disapproval of a certain health service policy. Well, disagreement is fine – that’s the one of the purposes of the group. What I didn’t expect, however, was to see the word ‘sh*tty’.

So I contacted the writer on his personal email and politely asked him to refrain from such vulgarity in the future. His response? He expressed disbelief that I should find this word objectionable and made it clear he had no intention of acceding to my request. So I let it go.

Many of the contributions draw attention to published articles or YouTube videos. This is a valuable activity and is often the start of an animated discussion. Fine – it’s another of the group’s important functions.

Now, it must be admitted that one particular article to which everyone’s attention was drawn was egregiously stupid, and if I had cared to describe it as such I don’t think anyone, other than the author, would have taken exception to these words.

Yet someone felt he had to say: ‘Absolute, unadulterated pseudo philosophical dangerous bollocks.’

That was relatively mild. Another contributor so far forgot himself as to rant: ‘I think this article is a crock of delusional sh*t from the belly of the liberal elite.’

Although several people applauded this assessment, I sent a mild public reproof: ‘There is surely more than enough vulgarity in the world today. By all mean disagree and criticize – that’s what the [group] is for – but PLEASE do it without degenerating into abuse.’

To his credit the miscreant immediately apologised. So that should have been the end of the matter. Not a bit of it. Here is a sample of the backlash to which I was subjected (slightly paraphrased for literacy and confidentiality):

There is more than enough woke editing of other folks’ lexicons in this world, Gabriel. At the present time we are an emotionally activated group of clear and critical thinkers responding to a public health crisis of ideological and pharmacological toxicity on a global scale. Occasional departures from the norms of polite academic society in the face of the above are both understandable and necessary to preserve our sanity if nothing else. It may be a cultural thing but you do appear to set the bar quite low for the sin of vulgarity. In my spiritual tradition it is called plain speech.

Vulgarity: ‘The quality or state of being vulgar; mean condition of life; the state of the lower classes of society.’ The trend of preferring to sneer at the ways of common people rather than at the rapacious violence of the rich may go deeper than you think, Gabriel.

I don’t know which dictionary the writer was using, but according to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary the definition of ‘vulgar’ as ‘characteristic of or belonging to ordinary people’ is dated; in the current context it means ‘making explicit and inappropriate reference to sex or bodily functions’.

Although I certainly don’t sneer at anyone, ‘the ways of common people’ in some respects are indeed the problem. This is shown all too obviously on what I understand are called anti-social medias. Apparently they go by names such as FakeBook, TwitFace, and one which seems to emanate from China called Toxic.

When I last glanced at these, a lot of the content seems to consist of abusive messages going back and forth. That’s why I don’t engage with these platforms. They seem to me to be a boring way of wasting time.

Medical doctors, of all people, surely can do better.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash