It is with a truly heavy heart that I write this post. The reason for this malaise…
I have to defend Piers Morgan.
I know dear reader, I know. Be assured though that there’s nothing you can say to me that I haven’t already said to myself. But in the pursuit of truth I must call things as I see them and in the case I am about to write about, Morgan was not in the wrong. Even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day.
For readers fortunate enough not to have heard of Piers Morgan, he is a former newspaper editor who has recently carved a niche for himself on UK and US television. He was a judge on Britain’s Got Talent in an attempt to rebrand himself as a national treasure and when that failed, he hosted talk shows on both sides of the Atlantic. I can’t be constructive about him – he’s an idiot.
His latest hosting gig is on the breakfast news show Good Morning Britain, which I don’t really watch. Apart from anything, Everybody Loves Raymond is a far better companion for my morning coffee. However an interview broadcast on Tuesday September 5th grabbed my attention.
The interviewee was a doctor who specialised in the utterly abhorrent practice of gay conversion therapy. Dr Mike Davidson stated that he had in fact cured himself of homosexuality, which he called “an aberration”. Lovely chap (!)
The content of the interview isn’t relevant here, but suffice to day, Piers Morgan expressed his utter contempt for Dr Davidson’s opinions, which is to his credit I suppose.
The following day, Morgan interviewed Patrick Strudwick, the LGBT editor on Buzzfeed (I have no idea what a Buzzfeed is, but it’s a thing apparently). Patrick was understandably offended at the previous day’s interviewee and I don’t criticise him for this. However, Patrick then proceeded to castigate Piers Morgan and Good Morning Britain for providing such a small minded bigot with a national platform. The basis for this criticism was that expressing views was one thing, but drawing attention to the actual practice of conversion therapy was akin to saying that chemotherapy shouldn’t be given to people with cancer. Patrick Strudwick then argued that the most vulnerable people in society could be harmed by the decision to air the interview with Dr Davidson.
The interview eventually became so heated that Piers Morgan ended it, after Strudwick proclaimed that Morgan had gone from journalist to narcissist. (for the record, I wholly dispute this assertion on the grounds that Piers Morgan has been a narcissist from the get-go) . Morgan defended GMB’s decision to air the segment because ultimately, if offensive opinions are censored entirely, there is no scope for these views to be challenged through debate.
I am not in a position to second guess just how heartfelt Morgan was in his denunciation of Dr Mike Davidson – it may have been exaggerated for opportunistic purposes. But let us leave that aside for the moment.
The sad fact is – on this issue, I’m with Piers [shudder].
Actually I’m probably going to be fine because Morgan is not the first person to have made this point, nor is he the most articulate person to have done so. I only use the GMB interviews as a framework to discussing the issue at hand, namely, the toxicity of the illiberal left.
Let me clarify – I do not say that the left as a whole is illiberal. Indeed, my own core values hover between the centre and the left of centre. But it is now abundantly clear that the way things are going, the left will eat itself.
As repellent as I personally find the practice of gay conversion therapy, I absolutely fail to see how merely airing an interview with one of its proponents would in any way amount to an endorsement of the practice. Whilst anybody has the right to feel offended at anything, offence is always taken and never given. It is entirely subjective. I personally find the music of Ed Sheeran offensive but I am not lobbying to have his recent cameo on Game of Thrones edited out.
Although irrational prejudices such as homophobia and racism are considerably more taboo than in bygone days, the sad fact is that we are not a post-prejudicial society. Bigotry must be exposed by having a light shone on it so it can be challenged.
The best way to combat prejudice is not simply to throw our hands in the air and just declare ourselves offended. Whilst our offence may well be entirely justifiable, it does not constitute a concrete argument. I am not for a moment saying that there is a valid argument in favour of gay conversion therapy, but then I am blessed with a modicum of intelligence. There are plenty of morons out there who do not have the benefit of coherent thought, so their stupidity needs to be spelt out. This cannot happen if organisations are vilified for bringing such stupidity to our attention.
Of course the major limit to free speech is when it is being used to incite harm towards another individual. In some cases the potential harm can be readily identified – A Neo-Nazi openly encouraging the murder of non-whites for instance. However, identifying a potential harm is not always so straightforward and this is something which the illiberal left seem unable to grasp. I submit that simply being offended does not constitute sufficient grounds for censorship or ban. In the case of the Good Morning Britain interview, the viewer is free to turn over. I apologise for over-simplifying but to me that is the bottom line there was nothing in the aired interview which suggested that homosexuals should be hunted down. The interviewee was unequivocally denounced for his views, not celebrated for them.
Good Morning Britain did not give Dr Mike Davidson a platform. Democracy did. It also provides a platform for others to challenge bad ideas through civil debate. However this counter platform is being used sparingly and badly. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that it is only the alt or extreme right who seem utterly incapable of such a civil discourse. When alt-right professional troll Milo Yiannopolous was invited to speak at Berkeley University, did the protesting left-wing students raise their objections through a carefully worded email to the head of department? Not quite. Instead, 150 masked idiots threw rocks at police and passers-by, set fire to property and pepper sprayed others being interviewed for the news. The end result? Yiannopolous’ autobiography goes to the top of the US book charts. Nicely done.
When did the illiberal left lose all sense of perspective? Milo is quite insanely unlikeable, but he is not Pol Pot. He was not planning to talk about the virtues of ethnic cleansing on his book tour. His views are so flamboyantly over the top that he comes across more like a performance artist than a serious intellectual. If a student can’t cope with hearing offensive views without turning to arson, they’re unlikely to be able to make it in the real world.
I must emphasise again –we all have the right to be offended. If we spent enough time thinking about, it, the world provides enough impetus for us to be constantly offended. I am far more sensitive than is perhaps useful, so I am talking about myself here more than anything. However, democracy does not provide anyone with the right not to be offended. If your dress sense offends me, so be it, but I cannot insist that you go and get changed. I must accept your red velvet bell bottoms or leave the room.
Nevertheless, being offended at something does not automatically invalidate the offending view. In many cases it of course does, but even then, unless we are directly under threat, we are free to challenge, dismiss or ignore. The illiberal left have totally lost sight of this to a frankly dangerous degree. Whilst I dislike most of what the right stand for, I see no better behaviour from some so-called liberals. Patrick Strudwick had a chance to engage Piers Morgan in a debate about why gay conversion therapy is so damaging. He preferred to attack Morgan instead, which, let’s be honest, is shooting fish in a barrel.
Morgan himself has played the role of illiberal idiot as well, when ‘interviewing’ former English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson. For the non-UK reader(s), The English Defence League is a far right-wing activist organisation who campaigns against what its members describe as the “Islamisation” of Britain. In plainer English, they’re anti-Muslim bigots. Their former leader Tommy Robinson since left the organisation because he felt that the EDL supporters were too reliant on violence and anti-social behaviour during their rallies. He has since co-founded PEGIDA UK, another anti-Muslim organisation. Plus ça change.
Robinson appeared on Good Morning Britain in response to the recent terrorist attack on Finsbury Park Mosque, when a white supremacist attacked worshippers in a van. At one point, Robinson held up a copy of the Qu’ran (in fairness, he did give the impression that he had actually read some of it) and stated that the book had caused a myriad of problems in the UK. He was then admonished by Piers Morgan and told to put the book down and “show some respect”.
Read that last sentence back. Sounds like the kind of thing a religious fundamentalist would say does it not – “put that book down you heathen blasphemer!!”
Now, I have no time for Tommy Robinson. If I actually believed that he was merely critiquing the doctrine of Islam and not Muslims as people (as he always claims), then I’d have little issue. But I don’t believe that. His actions over the last few years totally undermine his claims here. However, the fact remains that although the timing of his interview was poor to say the least (mere days after the attack), he is nevertheless entitled to voice the issues that he raised. I didn’t especially agree, but that is entirely by the by for reasons I have explained already.
So Piers Morgan here assumed the role of the community leader, sticking up for liberal and tolerant Britons everywhere. And he did this by coming across just as illiberal and intolerant as he accused Tommy Robinson of.
The illiberal left appears now to delight in identity politics every bit as much as the right. Any perceived injustice is met with a victim narrative and as a result, the actual issue is never dealt with properly. Criticism of Islam as a set of ideas is automatically racist (despite Islam not being a race); The gender pay gap is evidence of a global patriarchy hell bent on the utter obliteration of womankind. The list goes on.
To further illustrate my point, I am now going to go on record for the first time and say that I have issues with the Black Lives Matter movement. Yes, yes, before you all start gasping at what a terrible racist I am, let me clarify that I have issues with the methodology of the movement and not the ideology behind it. Clearly the issue of police violence towards black citizens is something that needs to be taken very seriously; however I do not see this being dealt with in a nuanced way. The message I’m getting as a result of Black Lives Matter’s activism is that any shooting of black citizen by police is automatically racially motivated. There is little consideration of the possibility that there were other reasons for the shooting and that the person’s race was incidental. Perhaps that is not the message they were trying to convey, but shouting “What do we want? Dead cops!” during rallies is not helping the cause. It only mobilises right wing nut-jobs to react in kind with disingenuous catchphrases like “All Lives Matter”.
However problematic things may be, the fact of the matter is this: in many ways, things are exponentially better than they once were. Racism may never go away, but slavery will certainly never return; gay marriage is legal in the UK and in much of the US; misogyny is still a thing, but women by and large have far greater rights than in previous generations. There is much work to be done, but the illiberal left are now privileged and entitled enough to entirely ignore the vast amount of work that has already been done.
As things stand, the left is fast becoming irredeemable. I’d like to say that this post is the only time I’ll be commenting on this issue, but it is unlikely given how toxic things are. But hey, if I can start a post by defending Piers Morgan, then maybe there’s hope yet.
In the meantime, consider this wonderful quote by Maajid Nawaz:
No idea is above scrutiny, just as no human being is below dignity
Til next time,
(PS: Yes I do watch Everybody Loves Raymond. What of it…?)