Liam Gallagher's Been Pontificating on Knife Crime – But has he Heard of the 'Dunning Kruger Effect'?
Otto English on why celebrities, who know very little about the political issues they are offering views on, should stick to their métier.
For no particular reason, a gaggle of famous names, including Liam Gallagher, Geoff Boycott and Morrissey have all been lining up this week to opine on the political landscape. At times, it’s been almost as if Breitbart founder Steve Bannon had bought Hello! magazine and decided to put out a ‘celebrity bigots special’.
First up was former cricketer Boycott, who set the ball rolling by giving his views on Brexit and why it was all like D-Day and the Western Front. “We fought two World Wars and we came out on top. Why?” the Yorkshireman barked at the hosts of ITV‘s Good Morning Britain. “Because of the spirit and the determination of the British.”
Now, putting aside the notion that 66 million people are somehow all of one character and one spirit, there’s a problem with that ‘we’. Boycott was four when World War Two ended and his contribution to the big push on Berlin was presumably limited to sucking on an oat biscuit. But, he wasn’t finished. Why couldn’t everyone else see how easy it all was? We could trade with China (which we do already) or America (ditto) or India (which we also do) – if only we could leave that wicked EU.
In such a climate, stupid ideas can prosper and the former host of a reality TV show can become the President of America.
Piers Morgan was impressed. “That is one of the greatest mission statements I have heard, probably since the era of Churchill,” he thrilled – neglecting to mention that he (Morgan) had been born two full months after Churchill died.
Next up, was Liam Gallagher, former lead singer of Oasis, who joined the chorus of celebrity voices including 1970s ‘comic’ Jim Davidson who have decided to have a go at Sadiq Khan over knife crime. “I’d have a word with that Mayor,” he told BBC Breakfast during a plug for his Glastonbury appearance later this week. “He seems to not be doing a good job, all them kids getting knifed and all that. The only thing that ever comes out of his mouth is, ‘London is open’. What, open for knife crime and dying and stuff?”
Now, knife crime statistics are complex.
The problem is not confined to London, although it is true that the capital currently has a higher rate of knife crime proportionally than the rest of the UK. And, yes, Sadiq Khan has a responsibility to keep his city safe. But, falling police numbers and a multiplicity of complex factors have fuelled the problem and much of the focus on ‘Sadiq’ – on social media and elsewhere – has an unambiguously ‘dog whistle’ element to it.
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There has been a concerted effort in many quarters to imply that a Muslim Mayor of London has, by his very appointment, been directly responsible for the rise in knife crime within the M25. It’s a malignant narrative which conveniently ignores a nation-wide epidemic that has exploded during ten years of a Tory-led Government. It’s a trope that has been fed by Trump and the Far Right and, by weighing in, Liam Gallagher unwittingly did their work for them. Almost immediately the nastier corners of the internet were knocking out approving clips and j.pegs.
Gallagher is a parent of teenage kids growing up in London and, of course, he’s concerned. But, as a ‘rock star’ he is afforded a status different to that of ordinary mortals. During the BBC Breakfast interview, Gallagher was simply allowed to spout his views, without any attempt made to counter his narrative.
David Dunning and Justin Kruger completed their research into “illusory superiority” – a cognitive bias where people overestimate their aptitude or understanding relative to others.
It was the same with the progressively disheartening manifestation that is Morrissey. Interviewed by his nephew, the former Smiths frontman obsessed about The Guardian, Brexit and why the word racism “is meaningless now” before adding: “If borders are such terrible things, why did they exist in the first place?” To which the answer is, of course: “They didn’t”.
So, what? you might say. They are entitled to their opinions. And, yes of course, they are. But, there’s a problem here.
In 1999, the social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger completed their research into “illusory superiority” – a cognitive bias where people overestimate their aptitude or understanding relative to others. They concluded that those with little understanding or insight of a complex issue “are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge”. This phenomenon has become known as the ‘Dunning Kruger’ effect and its ascent into the mainstream over the last 20 years has been vertiginous.
In and of itself, the Dunning Kruger effect is not a problem. We all have opinions on things we don’t fully understand – but when mixed with that magic celebrity ingredient, its effect is much the same as when the Ghostbusters cross their beams.
It’s been almost as if Breitbart founder Steve Bannon had bought Hello! magazine and decided to put out a ‘celebrity bigots special’.
We have sadly yet to reach the bit in evolution where we deduce that people who sang hit songs or had careers as sportsmen are not ‘higher beings’ whose views carry no more weight than those of some random bloke in the pub. And, in such a climate, stupid ideas can prosper and the former host of a reality TV show can become the President of America. So, it matters. Yes. And it also matters that it is called out.
Stick to singing Liam. We like it when you sing.