BeLIEve – Look what’s back?

“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out” wrote G.K. Chesterton some time ago. The level of functional stupidity around today from so-called open-minded people would make Chesterton’s quote more relevant than ever. The film “Look Who’s Back,” (2015)[1] is no laughing matter. What is striking is how close the film is to the truth of our reality. The largely positive reaction to Hitler from sensible people is a sobering reminder, of the current growth of far-right politics, populism and how easily intelligent people are gullible and duped. What is it that feeds such latent prejudices and the fear of the ‘other’ (of difference)? Where is it coming from? Hope in the future may lie in a ‘deep understanding of the past” (Aimé Césaire): but one needs to be aware that such bile and deep-seated prejudices will not disappear or can be wished away. They will find ways to resurface taking on many avatars.

The scary part is how those who ought to be reasonable people, considered/thoughtful media and progressive groups, will roll out all form of excuses to genuflect to the crap and even lick up the waste from certain people and ideology. I am referring to the recent visit of that strange earthling from a bullying and arrogant nation. The current occupant of this nation’s high-priestly seat is only different from most of the others in the Office in the way he offends everyone. The ethos and outlook of this nation: having its own way – bullying – bulldozing – building walls – propping up proxy governments – deploying trade wars and more continue to rule. Manifest Destiny, big, bad and powerful, gung-ho and more continue to thrive and run things. I am amazed how the presence of this leader here at this time cannot be seen as an interference into domestic politics. Such designed unawareness while accusing others of meddling into our political processes is hypocritical. I think the late CLR James (to paraphrase him) was spot on: ‘all the world has been converted and Washington is the modern temple before which all bow’

I am interested, though, in the gullibility of the public – especially in our current political context (at home and abroad). What do you do when the pressure around you is for everyone to endorse a particular-way, view or person? It seems like the ‘herd mentality’ takes over. Gullibility overcomes us. Ours brains fall out. Perhaps we may do well to re-read “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, as a proto-type for the current state of such gullibility around us. Or how about Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson” that highlighted the gullibility of a whole town that believed that an African-American child was white? Are there insights here and in other writings to understand the psyche of his nation and ours? Perhaps the current BBC series of ‘years and and years’ may be too close for our own comfort!

I am not sure why pundits are shocked at the following that the current Republican president of the USA has received when so many from that nation and ours believed the BS about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction or that one of its former President was Muslim? If this is not gullibility, then I suppose this must be a nation of dumb people (where by the way friends and family reside). Gullibility and credulity have become important issues as a deluge of raw, unverified information is readily available instantly. Consider how fake news have been influencing news, polls and most importantly voters. Stories that generate fear, scaremongering and promote a narrative of lies are being designed to bolster support for extreme sorts of parties and politics. And we can be complicit in perpetuating it through our own eager desire to get in there and post!

Imagine a surname like Abboud, Smirnov or Kweku as your next possible candidate for the leadership of any UK political party? Are you able to contemplate the extreme anxiety and brutal discourse that such would elicit among the British population and across the press? Consider the example of the name ‘Obama’ in that bullying nation I am referring to and distressed that caused. You may wish to come up with your examples across class, social location, and religion. The bottom line is that names such as the ones I mention will not stick: they will cause all sorts of anxiety in a context that has been shaped by ‘whiteness’ and its associated narratives and myths. Names such as those above will not fit the myth of ideal leadership. No wonder every effort of the current USA leadership is geared at erasing the nation’s memory and the contributions of Obama.

Maybe to help us grasp this we may do well to consider what some psychologists refer to as ‘cognitive fluency’. This is that which tells a story that is simple to imagine or will feed into and prop-up our dominant and established worldview. If something feels neat, smooth and easy to process (meaning it fits into our narratives and myths) – then our default mode is to expect it to be true. It must fit into and reaffirm our beliefs. So, it would not be unusual for some to say wholly fake things for many people to believe them. Religion is no exception. Something as seemingly inconsequential as a person’s name and how its sounds will sway people and trigger all sorts of responses. The easier it is to pronounce, the more likely we are to accept their judgement to be credulous and trusted. This is not the place for me to list past and current examples from my own journey. Whether in ecclesial communities or in the wider nation the gullibility from all walks of life reflect the social conditioning, prejudices and world-views that shape us. It is predominantly one that finds it very difficult to accept differences and foreignness. So, look who or what is back and with greater aggression is no surprise to me. More is yet to come. In the meantime, I wish to build on Chesterton’s advice not to allow either my open-mindedness nor narrow-mindedness to let ‘my brains fall out or rot’.


June 8, 2019

[1] This film is based on the bestselling novel (2012) with the same name by Timur Vermes.

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