Saturday, 14 February 2009

Is Gordon Brown Scottish?

Is Gordon Brown Scottish? Well yes, we know that...

Is Gordon Brown "one-eyed"? Yes we know that as well, not least because he's told us; it was the sad result of an accidental kick received whilst playing rugby in his youth.

Is he an idiot? Well arguably no, he's actually quite well qualified, with a PhD and all, I believe. So he's probably not an idiot in any objective sense. Of course wherever there is freedom of speech, this allows him to be called an idiot, and not even GB himself would object to that (well the freedom of speech bit anyway).

So is he a one-eyed, Scottish, idiot? Is the question offensive? Can linking two objectively known facts to a supposition create an insult?

Lets assume for the moment that it's the last of the three assertions that's the known fact, the other two being unknown, and also concentrating just on the Scottish assertion. So we know he's an idiot but we don't know if he's Scottish. Is asking if he is a Scottish idiot offensive to Scots? I don't see how, the "Scottish" is just a qualifier: given that he is an idiot, this serves to separate him from those English idiots (for example). Seeing that the word "Scottish" is a qualifier, does this make any link between being Scottish and being an idiot? Again no, other than that the qualification implies that there are Scottish idiots. If we knew that there were in fact no Scottish idiots then you could argue that the question is unfair, in that it presupposes something that is somewhat offensive and isn't true. But we are pretty sure that there do exist Scottish idiots, so identifying GB as one of them is merely an observation and therefore not an insult. This applies regardless of which of the two assertions we previously knew to be true, we assumed for the sake of the argument that it was the idiot description, but the argument remains valid if we start with the knowledge that he is Scottish.

How about the one-eyed aspect? This is where Clarkson is arguably out of order as anything that hints of a disparaging attitude towards the disabled is going to get you into trouble. So we shouldn't be surprised to hear that Lesley-Anne Alexander, chief executive of the RNIB, has weighed in with the following comment:
"Mr Clarkson's description of Prime Minister Brown is offensive. Any suggestion that equates disability with incompetence is totally unacceptable. We would be happy to help Mr Clarkson understand the positive contribution people with sight loss make to society."
Here we see where the problem is supposed to lie, by calling GB a "one-eyed idiot" we haven't offended GB we've offended the one-eyed because we've equated the one-eyed with the incompetent. Well the idiotic actually (Lesley), idiocy and incompetence are not the same. But never mind that, is the RNIB assertion true? By qualifying idiot with one-eyed have we made a link between the two? Have we in fact equated a sight impairment with idiocy?

If we have then such an equation would persist however we changed the words. Lets see: "Paris Hilton is a blonde woman". By the RNIB's understanding of English syntax and semantics this ought to equate "blonde" with "woman", but clearly it doesn't. How about "Paris Hilton is a blonde idiot"? Well here some might argue that I am making a link between being blonde and being an idiot; "Paris Hilton is a blonde genius" ... Somehow I don't hear any complaints about this one.

Why the difference? It seems that the link of equivalence is only suggested if a less than complimentary assertion is made, at which point those on the side of the blondes immediately cry foul. Well I say, if the hat fits wear it. If you don't mind the compliment, you can't complain about the insult. If Clarkson had called GB a one-eyed genius would we be hearing the RNIB announce a link between sight impairment and high intelligence? I don't think so, the reason being that there is no such thing. In other words English sentence structure does not equate a qualifying adjective with the noun it is qualifying. Blondes are not idiots because they are blonde, Scottish idiots are not idiots because they are Scottish and Gordon Brown is not an idiot because he is one-eyed or because he is Scottish.

(This post relates to a comment made by Jeremy Clarkson in a press conference in Australia in which he referred to Gordon Brown as a one-eyed, Scottish, idiot.)

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