Friday, 20 January 2012

Why are left-wingers invariably allowed to employ the "JK Rowling Gambit"?

Right-winger: “We should discourage single motherhood in this country. Too many of them treat the state as a surrogate father, which means the rest of us have to pay for them and their offspring. Statistics show that children brought up by a single parent tend to do worse at school, are more likely to end up unemployed and to become criminals. In general, that’s bad for society and the economy”.

Left-winger: “But I’m a single mother and my son has just qualified as a brain surgeon after picking up the best degree in his year at Oxford and being awarded the Nobel Prize for Social Responsibility.”

If you’ve ever listened to the Today Programme or Newsnight (in fact, if you’ve ever consumed any of the BBC’s current affairs offering) you’ll be familiar with this tawdry ploy – the so-called “JK Rowling Gambit”.

It was even deployed en passant during the third part of BBC 4’s Story of Musicals series last night when the writer of the hit show Mama Mia (not if you held a gun to my private parts) revealed that she’d made the heroine a single mother because she was a single mother at the time (bless!), and that the government of the day was “demonising single mothers” (i.e. the "Demon Gambit”, which is essentially an admission that, because an argument is sound, the responder has started tossing pejorative terms around in the hope that their opponent will waste time trying to defend yourself against irrelevant and unsubstantiated charges while their central point fades from view).

It reminds me of that old joke, where a man says to a woman “Women always argue from the general to the particular,” and the woman responds, “I don’t!”

When I – or any other right-winger or conservative – make statements about single mothers or immigrants or racial groups or the police or nurses or teachers, of course we’re not deranged enough to think that what we believe applies to a group as a whole applies to every member of that group: in fact, it often doesn’t even apply to a majority of that group. 

That’s not what we’re saying

Most single mums are no doubt terrific, hard-working saints whose children grow up to be decent adults. Most immigrants do doubt work hard, pay their taxes and we’d miss them if they left.  Even today, I presume that the majority of nurses and policemen are selfless, dedicated types doing a great job in difficult circumstances. But, we argue, a statistically significant number of the members of each group are a skiving, dishonest, uncaring, workshy, free-loading waste of air. Picking out one or a handful of admirable members from a specific group and imagining that that somehow settles the argument is cosmically silly.

I’m always astonished when I hear one of these discussions taking place on radio or TV, because the naysayer’s tactics are so transparently dishonest and so childish that one assumes the average ten-year old could tell what’s wrong with this picture. Yet most radio and television interviewers – no matter how intelligent or experienced - appear to be only too ready to be duped by arguments they must be able to see through: in fact, many use the same tactics themselves.

What’s been bugging me for years is how many current affairs media performers seem so breathtakingly uninterested in whether the arguments their guests are employing are logical or not. Listen to any TV or radio discussion about, say, the EU or climate change and they’re invariably weighted in favour of those whose sole aim is to obscure the truth by using the “JK Rowling Gambit” or the “Demon Gambit”, or one of many alternative moves designed to leave the audience in the dark (just like Chris Huhne's climate change policies, come to think of it).

I spent years working with the sort of people responsible for media debate about social and political issues – in fact, I was one, in a humble sort of way. They’re generally pretty bright (mind you, there’s few who could respond “I’m not!” to that statement without fear of successful contradiction). They spend their lives planning, setting up and bossing discussions, so they’re perfectly capable of spotting a pathetic argument when they hear one. So why do they so rarely object when a guest is taking the logical piss?

The main headline in my morning paper tells me there are 370,000 migrants on the dole in Britain. That stinks. It’s the first time those figures have been compiled, let alone released. Given that the majority of Britons are opposed to Britain’s open-door policy and that right-wingers have been warning about the consequences of thatn policy for years, you might expect a number of intelligent, searching discussions about it on TV and radio. But I can guarantee the BBC’s approach will be to wheel on as many honest, socially useful migrants as possible, while allowing left-wing politicians and commentators to attack critics with a whole series of downright nonsencial arguments (ending up with ritual accusations of heartlessness, racism and fascism).

And the presenters will aid and abet the liars and obfuscators. All very odd.

Of course, I shan’t bother listening to any of it.

1 comment:

  1. Just read Delingpole on the migrant spongers issue in the Telegraph ( One classic "JK Rowling Gambit" comment below his post is the following:

    "This article lacks context. I am one of the people who came between 2000 and now (one of the 2.3 million) I set up a business that employed 30 British people, paid tax, sold the company (paid cap gains tax), the company is larger now. I left without using the NHS even once and my children did not use a state school. I have no complaints. The UK was a decent enough place to start a business - not great but decent enough. So my revenue contribution was more than a million pounds. I am not typical but there must be others like me in the 2.3 million who will pay a lot of tax then leave and never draw a pension. This article does not shape or define this but rather identifies a sponger of 25 thousand a year. Without a decent analysis of the 2.3 million and their net contribution I rather feel that the writer is using a cheap and easy way to stir up racism."

    Yes, Delingpole mentions the Roma sponger begging behind the Big issue while simultaneously fleecing the British taxpayer. But the commente, while asking for context, sort of forgets that Delinpole's main point is the other 370,000 migrants living off our taxes. And, of course, ends up deploying the "Demon Gambit".