Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Shame by Association Is a Fallacy.

Billy and Tim are sectarian bigots. Billy and Tim are Scottish. Therefore, all Scottish people are sectarian bigots. The fact that the people involved in the attacks on Neil Lennon are Scottish is as much an irrelevance as is the colour of their hair. The idea that the actions of an individual should result in the collective guilt and “shame” of the many is an “Association Fallacy”. It is one that nobody should agree with. And its time for the vast majority of people in Scotland to reject this argument.

Background: A series of threats has been made over time to Neil Lennon the manager of Celtic Football Club, some players and three prominent fans. These have taken the form of bombs and ammunition being sent through the post. These parcels have been posted from Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is generally accepted that this campaign is motivated by religiously motivated sectarianism. Lennon was also attacked by a spectator during a game against Hearts at Tynecastle. In some quarters this has been deemed to have brought shame on the country as a whole.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has said that the attacks, threats and intimidation directed at his club is “Scotland’s shame and its high time Scotland addressed it.”
(For those, and without doubt that’s the majority who live and breath on this planet, “Scotland’s shame” is the much loved accusation levelled by Rangers and Celtic fans against each other in their endless battle to secure the moral high ground. The use of the phrase by Lawwell should therefore be seen as calculated.)

Lawwell is not alone in the opinion that these incidents should be seen as shaming an entire nation. The question asked on BBC Scotland’s phone-in programme “Call Kaye” the morning after the Tynecastle attack was, “Are you embarrassed to be Scottish?” The usual suspect package of football writers and pundits turned historians and social commentators, “look at me” journalists and politicians with season tickets for the band wagon have been unable to order a pie and Bovril in the last few days without telling the rest of us that it is somehow our fault. And no one has made this clearer than the former Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy who wrote, “There are too many sectarian morons in Scottish football, but it is part of a dark underbelly that shames Scotland.”

This is based in the belief that we, including Lawwell, Murphy, et al, are somehow accountable for the actions of other individuals by association. In this case, the entire population of a country is held responsible for no other reason than that they are the population of that country.

Collective guilt, or guilt by association, is an idea that has roots in the Old Testament in such stories as “The Food”, “The Tower of Babel”, and “Sodom and Gomorrah”. However, it is an idea that most advanced systems of criminal law dismiss in favour of the principle that guilt is personal. That is the position in Scotland.

For any group to feel collective shame there must be an acceptance of collective responsibility and guilt. As such, in this case, it can only belong to a sectarian ingroup. It is doubtful, though not inconceivable, that any individual within this ingroup will view the actions as unjustifiable. However, no one outwith that ingroup can in anyway be held accountable for their actions.

Murphy’s assertion that the ingroup is the entire nation and that we collectively give approval to sectarianism is a sweeping generalisation to say the least. It may come as a surprise to Glasgow-centric commentators but, the vast majority of people in Scotland live in communities where sectarianism is not an issue. In fact for many, religion is an irrational irrelevance in their lives. There are lawmakers, law enforcers and courts to punish lawbreakers. That is how it works in a democracy. And it works that way to allow decent people to get on with their lives without having those lives sidelined by the actions of some religiously motivated retards. They quite rightly refuse to be dragged into the cesspool of intolerance that is the result of ignorance and superstition.

Sharing a social, cultural and national identity with other individuals is so inclusive that it is unreasonable to consider it in terms of an “ingroup”. Holding all Jews responsible for the death of Christ, all Germans for the actions of the Nazis, all Roman Catholic priests for a child abusing minority or all Muslims for the actions of extremists are a few examples of this. It is not difficult to see that such arguments are not only irrational but also irresponsible. Indeed, in recent times, we have been told, ad infinitum, not blame Islam for the actions of a few. No talk of a “dark underbelly” there.

There may be those in Scotland who do feel shame for some misguided reason. However, I have in the last week, taken a seriously unscientific vox-pop survey and found no one who agrees with the “Shame on Scotland” team. When asked “Do you feel ashamed by the actions of these people?” the answers were unequivocally “No. Why should I?” One other thing that they also made clear was that they found the idea that they should be held responsible to be ridiculous and offensive.

As distasteful as the attacks on Neil Lennon are, the responsibility, guilt and any shame lies with those who carried them out. No one else. And certainly not an entire nation.

And it is time the majority made this clear.