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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Thinking with the wrong head

The comedian Eddie Izzard has come out in favour of Scotland staying in the United Kingdom. He said: "I'm proud to be British but I am also proud of Britain. I love the vibrant, tolerant, diverse, confident, country we have become."
He’s entitled to his view. We shouldn’t have a problem with a British citizen expressing an opinion on the potential break-up of the UK. That sort of thing can only be an issue for those of an absolutist state of mind, like –it seems- many in the Scottish arts fraternity (witness the recent furore over David Bowie’s remarks).

The latest to wade in to the debate is the actress and comedian Elaine C Smith. In responding to Izzard’s statement, she unwittingly provided further evidence of the intellectual complacency underpinning some of the 'Yes' campaign’s rhetoric.

She said: "I know he loves Scotland and I am sure he'll be very funny, but, to be serious, I think most of the media and London-centric elite need to understand what's going on here in Scotland. It seems to me that there's a huge number … who don't have an accurate view, and have no idea what Scotland is like since devolution and the progressive country we are and how we want to live. If Eddie was living here I'm sure he'd be voting 'Yes' because the independence movement encompasses all of his progressive ideals and his desire for a better and different society."

The fact that Eddie Izzard is as bien pensant as they come led Ms Smith to tread a little gently with her criticism; his ‘progressive’ credentials spared him from the flaying that others have suffered for daring to express the wrong opinion. The emollient language, however, failed to conceal the ugly essence of Ms Smith’s message, namely that Izzard had only expressed that opinion because he happens to live in the wrong place. If he lived up here, he’d have an ‘accurate view’ and wouldn’t be labouring under this false consciousness. Needless to say, anyone who doesn’t have the same views as Ms Smith clearly doesn’t want to live in a ‘better’ society.

This is weapons-grade arrogance, although I’m not sure that even that is a pejorative enough term to describe what we’re dealing with. Imagine, if you will, how Elaine C Smith would react if, say, Jeremy Clarkson had said something like this:

"She’s very funny, but, to be serious, I think most of the Scottish chattering classes need to understand what's going on down here in the south-east. If Elaine was living here, I'm sure she'd vote Conservative because she’d understand that the best way to achieve a better and different society is to move away from the corrosive, outdated and ruinous ‘tax and spend’ economic model. If she lived here, I’m sure she’d see things like that.”

You can rest assured that, before you could type the words ‘angry mob’, a fatwa would have been issued against Mr Clarkson.

Ms Smith has made it perfectly clear that she is incapable of understanding that another person might look at a situation and form opinions that don’t correspond with hers. Sadly, she’s far from being alone in that respect. She believes that Eddie Izzard -by all accounts an intelligent man- didn’t arrive at his views on the referendum through rational, independent thought; rather, he made the wrong call because he was not looking at it from the 'correct' position. If he lived in Scotland he would surely vote ‘yes’, because he’d see the world the way she does and would, perforce, come to the same conclusions.
This kind of ‘thinking’ isn’t just stupid; it’s pernicious and wicked and it shouldn’t get a free pass from anyone who cares about intellectual diversity. In essence, it’s about the denial of another person’s right to form a coherent opinion that would be deemed worthy of respect. When you ‘think’ like this, there is no real need to argue your case. The other person is always wrong, because guess what … they’re not using your head to think.

It was a favoured tactic of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century to pathologise dissent within their citizenry. 'If our citizens can’t see the world the way that we see it', the argument went, 'they must be suffering from some kind of cognitive dissonance'. Dissenters, by definition, were ‘wrong-headed’ in their thinking and probably mad; perhaps dangerously so. Corrective work, usually by way of imprisonment, was often required.

Elaine C Smith is an actress and comedian. Her views should carry about as much weight as the average taxi driver, plumber or shop assistant, but it so happens that her chosen profession allows her significant access to some major media outlets. But it could be worse; she could be a politician and actually in charge of stuff.

What a frightening thought. I’m tempted to paraphrase that old Carlsberg TV advert:

"Scottish showbiz ‘progressive’ types don’t make political regimes. But if they did, they’d probably be the nastiest regimes in the world."

1 comment:

  1. Raymond, I was only a couple of days away from pulling the plug on my FB account because of the dismal standard of the majority of the posts. You've restored my faith that there are still people in Scotland who can put forward a reasoned grammatical argument....without photos !
    Well done, keep it up, I'll read it .