There is something not quite right in the psychology of individuals who seek out signs of bigotry in others, in order to vent the type of false moral outrage that we have become accustomed to these days.
Particularly when they begin to see manifestations of bigotry in perfectly innocent situations and are no longer able to tell the difference between the largest Island off the coast of Ireland, for example, and the second largest religion in the world (completely misconstrued, of course, as something to be offended by).
What we tend to see is heavily influenced by a mix of subconscious beliefs, attitudes and emotions; it is not uncommon to impose our own expectations of reality onto the naked facts in front of us. We respond to what we think we see, and what we want to see, rather than what actually is the case.
When the background beliefs and attitudes have been built up over the years in what can be described as a tense, embittered and contentious context at best, it is not surprising that our ability to make clear eyed judgements diminishes. Too often we get it wrong.
Part of the problem in Scotland is that this tendency to get it wrong has been exacerbated by the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, recently described by Dundee Sheriff, Davidson, as ‘horribly drafted’ and ‘mince’, and which has succeeded in putting most of us off the scent entirely in terms of what, from a legal perspective, now counts as offensive and what doesn’t.
Be that as it may, we have reached a point where some individuals feel compelled to pounce on any scrap of evidence they can find, or think they can find, in order to promote the idea that there are other groups of individuals with a greater propensity for bigotry than the one to which they belong – ‘shameful…’ and ‘disgraceful…’ are among some of the commonly used epithets.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is partly about trying to balance the books by sharing out the guilt. It is something most of us did as children and many continue to do into adulthood. The mince legislation fits this immature notion of balance like a glove. It also makes it so much more likely that we will point the finger in the wrong direction.
If nothing else, one man’s embarrassing error last Sunday helps to highlight the more general truth that, thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation, it is now part of Scottish football culture that some groups of supporters will try to vilify innocent behaviours, gestures, banners and songs, by throwing their own unchecked belief systems and ugly expectations over the facts.
Rather than help eradicate bigotry at football matches in Scotland, this legislation has actually succeeded in creating an added dimension to the bigotry that already existed, because so many individuals now think that they can see signs of bigotry in places where no such bigotry exists. They themselves become the bigots they claim to despise.
I think bigotry by misperception would appear to be a more serious problem than the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act could ever have anticipated – not least because the hastily written legislation helped nurture this embarrassing problem along.