W.B. Yeats wrote many moons ago: ‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer/ Things Fall Apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’ [‘The Second Coming’] And, the late Chinua Achebe wrote a brilliant postcolonial novel on Things Fall Apart in 1959. I wonder what both Yeats and Achebe would make of post-Brexit UK and post-2016 US elections. For sure, while not surprised, they will both be struck by how some people in responsible roles and some parts of the media have become architects in normalising hate and make evil look like a virtue worth dying for.
Over the years, any sensible observer would have noticed how public discourse and public life is becoming more accepting/polarising of foreigner bashing, demeaning representation of the ‘Other’ whoever they may be, down playing and reasoning away bigotry and hate, and mocking any negative reaction to inappropriate and dehumanising acts. In the process, the public becomes more insensitive and less discerning to hate and evil directed at those who have become the ‘Other’. It is not insignificant that a recent and former Mayor of London behaviour leading up to the Brexit vote has more than often been put down as a ‘joke’ and he seen as a buffoon. Well, this is precisely one strategy aimed at normalising inappropriate and uncivil behaviour. When we start making excuses for such people, be wary!
To those who protest and offer counter habits to hate and bigotry you would not be surprised to find the icons of the status quo ganging up in an all-out onslaught with comments such as: ‘stop being judgemental’; ‘give the person a chance, those around them will not stand for the hate’ ‘why can’t you just let go’; ‘this is the people’s choice’ (meaning about 34% of the population!)’. Normalising is manipulation at work and some of the media under the banner of ‘free speech’ and ‘democracy’ are big-time players in getting the job done (sometimes unwittingly). Just take stock of the media time and space given to the loud-mouth far right voice in the UK (you know who I am referring to!). Try protesting to the TV channels about their support of racism, Xenophobia and such hate and see what you receive back as their response! Money rules.
Research done with a select group of participants on sexist/misogynistic/racist jokes and demeaning comments has shown that participants were unable to distinguish between the jokes/comments and the statements/confessions by actual rapists and racists. Yes, we think we are smart-ass and that our technological advancement and systems will save us from ever repeating the mistakes of almost total annihilation of fellow human beings who are different from us. Look around, be honest, and think again! Our hands are not clean – all of us. From politics to business to religious life, there is a tendency to deploy human psychology in marketing our products (be it candidate, product or church attendance/doctrines) to manipulate opinion and behaviour. What we do not reckon with, however, is whether we have the resilience to counter the psychological pressure. In fact, many of us are unaware or prefer to let designed unawareness take over. The pressure affecting our unconscious instincts and those which make us change our conscious choices and opinions should not be underestimated. These are all contributing factors to any normalising process. Like chains around our minds, hearts and bodies we must find ways to unchain ourselves!
It is troubling – very troubling, when you hear from and read of family, friends, people you consider intelligent and thoughtful, and public figures in influential role appealing to hate, deploying rhetoric that is unwittingly ‘foreigner bashing’, and quoting dubious media sources to justify their argument to appeal to hate and in-hospitality. The smell is nauseating. You feel like retching. Why? Because here are people who allow ‘functional stupidity’ to take over as they make ‘legit’ unacceptable behaviour, normalise hate, and encourage violence. Almost all such people will put up their hands pleading innocence and deny they are calling for intolerance, hate and violence. There is a total lack of accountability for the harm and hate they have given permission to be unleashed – especially from those who might have harboured such thoughts and beliefs but lacked endorsement!
Karen Stenner’s 2005 volume (The Authoritarian Dynamic) ought to be a must read. Her work explores the basis of intolerance and she contends that there are two underlying factors: individuals’ innate psychological predispositions to intolerance (‘authoritarianism’) and the interacting with changing conditions of societal threat. The crucial bit for our purpose is her naming of the dynamic as a ‘theory of activation’. Public Figures and Media do not have to batter up a Polish migrant, a bearded Muslim man, a LGBTI person, a wheel-chair user, or a Black Youth. All they have to do is paint and represent them as scroungers, threatening, to be feared, and outsiders. These agents of the ‘theory of activation’, then sit back and see the stats on intolerance, abuse, bullying, hate and violence jump off the scale of what bodes well for the common good and the beloved community we all dream of.
Let us not underestimate the counter/repair task ahead of us. This is besides even considering the direct consequences all of this is having on the victims – the ‘Others’ who are being demonised. There is much challenging work for those who walk the transgressing and non-normalising way of the one who offers full life for all.
© jagessar November, 2016