Monday, May 13, 2013
Death By a Thousand Cuts
There has been some discussion in the newspapers about ‘contextualizing hatred’. It was Britain’s own minister for the Middle East, Mr Alistair Burt who said this. We must never accuse our politicians of ethical thinking. ‘Context’ is a nice way to say that we can justify bigotry and even, joy of joys, sympathize with racial prejudice. There is nothing as comforting as familiarity. I grew up in Australia and my winters were ‘cold’ but the flora was green and the skies grey. Our suburban flora changed very little between the two seasons of summer and winter. I immigrated to an even colder, temperate climate and discovered the reality of experiencing two more seasons. Spring and autumn were spectacularly beautiful but winter was filled with deciduous death and decay. It was visually depressing. To many people born into this cycle, winter induces a recognized psychological illness called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). My point is that we are as accustomed to celebrating our fears and our prejudices as we are, our seasons of hibernation and renewal.
The problem is that in times of disruption and change in our life we cling to the familiarity of our past experiences and learned behaviors because the familiar, even the negative, is a kind of comfort. Racism and religious bigotry does not need logic to flourish, just a means of dispersal and a justification (or ‘Context’).
The pampered years that followed the 1970’s nurtured us towards an understanding that anything was possible and that instant gratification was desirable, because if you did not get there first someone else would. It was fun while it lasted but it also taught us that we did not need to respect those with whom we disagree because having the self-confidence to achieve an aim is not dependent on that aim being correct or desirable, only achievable.
When the bubble burst it dashed the hopes of the many that missed out! And it led us into the worst economic crisis since the Depression of 1929. It also led us into a democratic crisis of confidence that continues to unfold across the globe. The British media corruptly obtained information through subterfuge and dishonesty but everyone did it and only the (foreign) Murdoch Empire was punished for it. The judicial public inquiry (The Leveson Inquiry) that examined the overall industries failures and made a series of recommendations was a waste of time because no-one in the industry accepted their culpability – except of course Murdoch. It was a classic snow job.
Frustration and anger requires an outlet. Traditionally, we human beings have engaged in warfare to satisfy the urge for revenge. It remains a ‘necessary’ release that protects the ruling classes from the inability of the ruled to accept that they are powerless to attain justice when they are wronged. It is why Western law accepts that justice must not only be done but must also be SEEN to be done. The cynic would modify the aphorism to: Justice does not need to be done; it only needs to BE seen to be done.
This is where we weave warfare into the social tapestry. With its royal tentacles spread throughout Europe (the Russian, German and British Royal Families were all related through Queen Victoria’s offspring) World War One was seen as an exciting adventure by its most upper of classes, an adventure that ultimately led to the violent deaths of over fifty million people.
In order to foment conflict, humanity bathes itself in a comforting pool of self-righteous superiority and self-assured contentment. When we are all wrapped up in multiple layers of a familiar and consoling prejudice it is easier to accept a bleak future knowing that deep down it is all someone elses' fault.
And so we return to ‘contextualizing hatred’. It is reason enough to fight every insult or imputed slander. In an era where identities are confused or in transition we should be wary of any slight. It is not oversensitivity but awareness that the cumulative effect of the accusation or lie is more important than the single barb. It is not necessarily a single cut that kills. Methodical slicing incapacitates the victim until the delivery of the coup de grace.