Kevin McKenna puts a lot of effort into establishing his “right-on” credentials. Perhaps too much effort, methinks. All that stuff about pandas and Fairtrade products seems more than a little overdone. It’s a lot of foundation for what turns out to be the flimsy structure that is his argument in defence of Neil Oliver. Or, to give him a faux historical name fully in keeping with his TV persona, ‘Oliver the Odious’. A man who rose from obscurity to insignificance after he stumbled upon three witches stirring a cauldron and reciting the recipe for their potion:
Skin of celebrity and eye of opportunist,
Tongue of toady and toe of social climber.,
Hair of romantic poet and jacket of geography teacher…
In one of those great coincidences which so frequently staple together the pages of half-arsed histories, ‘Oliver the Oleaginous’ just happened to have the final ingredient for the witches’ concoction – a pinch of ersatz academic authority. The rest, as they say, is history. Or, least, a range of products branded with the heraldic stare, scarf and smirk from the Oliver coat of arms. Products which we know to be about history because it says so in the barcode.
McKenna’s defence of Neil Oliver is fashioned from the flimsiest of materials. Firstly, there is the straw man argument that Oliver is entitled to his opinion. He has every right to hold and express whatever views he pleases. This is a false argument. It is false primarily because nobody is attempting to deny Oliver’s right to his own opinion. But if he has that right, so do others. Including those who criticise his views and condemn the manner in which he expresses them.
That everybody has an equal right to an opinion does not mean that all opinions are equal. Opinions based on reason and fact must always be of greater value than opinions founded only in prejudice and ignorance. Those who demand that all opinions should be respected are applying relativism to rationality in a way that is exceedingly dangerous To insist that pseudo-science, conspiracy theory and religionist superstition be afforded the same status as scientific method, dispassionate analysis and principled pragmatism is to deny our common human intellect and abandon the enlightenment which underpins civilisation.
In a democracy, the right to an opinion extends even to those who would undermine democracy. So Neil Oliver is totally at liberty to describe a fundamental part of the democratic process as “cancerous”. But those of us who would champion democracy in the face of such an onslaught have, not only the right, but a solemn duty to denounce such corrosive opinions.
Of course, however inflated his ego, Neil Oliver is just one individual. What does it matter if he rails against democracy with such dementedly vituperative rhetoric?
Which brings us to the second part of Kevin McKenna’s case for the defence. Which, basically, is that none of it matters. To challenge Oliver’s maliciously false portrayal of Scotland’s independence movement, not to mention his outrageous characterisation of a democratic campaign as a malignant tumour, is to emulate the “false outrage of Unionist commentators” who pound away at the ‘vile cybernat’ meme. Frankly, I don’t see the comparison.
Kevin McKenna seems to suppose that being so nonchalantly dismissive of Oliver’s offensive attitudes, and so casually disdainful of those who are offended, affords him an air of metropolitan sophistication. I’m sorry to be the one to tell him that he missed that target by a considerable margin. He has come across as nothing more than a rather thoughtless apologist for someone who represents the very worst of British nationalist bigotry.
If Kevin McKenna imagines we can ever afford to appease extreme anti-democratic ideology, wherever and however it manifests, he not only isn’t attending to the lessons of history, he’s not paying attention to what is happening right this moment in Catalonia.Views: 5744
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