When I was growing up George Bush became President of America. I thought the world was ending. I couldn’t believe that such a monster would be voted leader of the free world. So when Trump got in I wasn’t surprised just disappointed.
The older I got the more it became clear that people do not always agree with me. Even worse, some people believe wholeheartedly in things that I feel are intrinsically wrong. I found this all very worrying. I realised that we live in a world where our rights are determined by our gender, race and sexuality and I didn’t like it. Why did people believe in things that I knew were wrong? How were there so many people that did not agree with me? Did they not know that they were wrong?
My response was typically…
YOU CAN’T SAY THAT. YOU’RE WRONG. SHUT UP.
I didn’t have patience to listen to other peoples opinions especially if they were going to say that gay people shouldn’t be gay or that abortion should be illegal or that white people are better than black people. Nope. No. Not interested.
I don’t think I’m the only one to have that reaction, that guttural response, that instinct. However by reacting in such a way are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? Are we losing our ability to agree to disagree? Can we no longer have a discussion when it comes to difficult, challenging and uncomfortable subjects?
Nowadays if someone has an unpopular opinion instead of having a measured conversation we seem to get angry and incoherent really quickly. We file that person under an undesirable category and call them a name. We pick a side for them and leave them in that box. We only want to hear the side we agree with and a dangerous intolerance edges toward those we disagree with.
Have people stopped hearing the words they don’t like?
This thought crossed my mind when getting into a semi-rant about Orthodox Jews in my community the other day after which two things occurred to me:
One. I am not above a bit of casual racism that I actually don’t mean. I don’t have a problem with the Jewish community anymore than I do with any other religious community, I am pretty anti-religion in general but I believe everybody deserves the freedom to worship whoever they want. Live and let pray. However my brash statements would suggest otherwise and reminded me of something I had heard Jordan Peterson saying, a Canadian Clinical Psychologist. Humans have developed a disgust mechanism which originally served a protective function. This was because when one isolated community met another isolated community, for example Native Americans and Spanish Conquistadors, they met, shook hands, mixed pathogens and diseases like flu, small-pox and typhus decimated the inhabitants of the New World. It is this disgust mechanism that makes us naturally, biologically a little bit racist to protect communities from unknown pathogens and proving the point of the famous Avenue Q song.
So you could read the above, take from it the simplest meaning possible and call me racist. Or you could read it, try to understand the point and say hmmmmm that’s interesting recognising that this disgust mechanism could maybe explain some things about human behaviour throughout history.
That’s your choice I wont judge you.
The second thing that cropped up was that my friend (who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of receiving ‘bad press’ for his views which kind of proves my point as he traditionally votes to the right) said that I shouldn’t worry about what I had just said as the left wing (his name for my political beliefs) are historically antisemitic.
I asked him to provide me with examples of left-wing antisemitism and he sent me two articles about Miko Peleds comments at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton and Hove in September this year. Miko Peled an Israeli-American author was called a Holocaust denier and antisemitic at said conference. It was implied publicly in Labour Councillor Warren Morgan’s blog that his comments were racist for stating that it was important to debate openly.
Yes he is against Israels occupation of Palestine and called for a boycott on Israeli goods. Does that make him antisemitic? Not to my mind. If he were to say ‘I hate all Jews’ that would be antisemitic. If he were to say ‘Jewish people shouldn’t be allowed the same rights as other people’ that would be antisemitic. However I do not think that an opposition to what is happening, and has been happening for a long time in Palestine can be classed as being against Jewish people or their religion. The United Nations has criticised Israels treatment of the Palestinian people. Are they racist and antisemitic too? Because a man is standing up against something that may be politically unpopular he is coloured with the term racist and all of a sudden Labour moves to publicly prevent antisemitism within the party so that they appear in the papers to be doing the right thing.
What I liked most about what Miko Peled said was his honest attempt at bringing to the forefront the real issue of tolerance and our lack of it. He stated that we do not invite people we disagree with to explain to us why they think they are right like the Nazis, like the Zionists, like pro-Apartheid South Africans. He said there should be no limits on the discussion.
And look what they did to him.
The Labour Party was so terrified of being called racist and antisemitic that they completely ignored his call for freedom of speech, resorted to calling him the names they didn’t want to be called themselves and stated publicly that such things should not be spoken about.
Alarm bells are ringing Jeremy.
Could this disgust mechanism be responsible for intolerance on both sides? I feel disgusted when I hear bigoted and racist comments. I don’t want to believe that those people that think those things are like me. I don’t want to be associated with them or even talk to them. And yet the flip side of this is a person or a group that is not told when they are a child that to be racist is wrong. What happens then?
Hitler. Donald Trump. Charlotesville.
If we are unable to recognise that all people are capable of being racist or violent or breaking the law then we group the people we are against into something else. Otherness ensues. We say they are not the same as us. And it is then that we are really in trouble. The dehumanising of the Jewish people was what Hitler did so well in order to get a country of law abiding German people to go along with his massacre. The more we shout down opposing views with hyper-aggressive and offensive language the more likely we are to commit war crimes ourselves. It is not morally justifiable to say ‘well they are right wing racists so they should die because they are wrong’ because in doing that you are giving them the ammunition to do that to you based on your beliefs.
Another perfect example of this is the Bret Weinstein saga described in The New York Times as ‘When the Left Turns on it’s Own’. Bret is a Liberal evolutionary biologist who taught at Evergreen State College in Washington. Annually this College followed a planned Day of Absence where African American teachers and students could voluntarily leave campus, if they chose to participate, as a symbolic act to represent the significance and value of the Black Community in society. This year students had decided to reverse the races instructing white students to leave campus instead. Weinstein objected to this which the students deemed an act of white supremacy. He felt that by instructing all white students to leave campus those who did not want to participate on the day would be branded as racist, something that would have been less likely to happen to an African American in reverse. He sent a letter to one of the College Directors stating that he felt it was an act of moral bullying.
However you feel about Weinsteins view on this subject what is interesting is what happens next. Instead of having a productive discussion, which I would kind of expect from a progressive Liberal university, violent protests ensued, Mr Weinstein was branded a racist and forced to leave his job.
By the students.
There are examples online of Mr Weinstein trying to explain himself to emotional students refusing to listen to what he has to say. Were they so disgusted by the implication of racism that they were incapable of listening, conversing and finding out whether it actually was? Have they been so exposed to and damaged by techniques of Trumps bulldozer government that they are now behaving like them? Is there such mistrust, unhappiness and anger in America that the progressive left are becoming oppressive?
It seems that we have fallen into a trap of not being able to say anything for fear of being called out by someone. Tolerance is at an all time low. Alt-right, alt-left, socialism, Nazism, Trotskyism; as soon as we start grouping people together and sticking a name on them, a name that to another group has a negative connotation we have already lost the argument. We are not allowing any room for freedom of opinion, broad discussion and the possibility of changing ones mind.
If we say categorically that the things we disagree with cannot be discussed however unpleasant, repellent and wrong to our beliefs and opinions then we run the risk of that same logic being used against us when defending our own rights and beliefs. Yes it’s terrifying to me that people think these things. That some Americans associate themselves with Nazis or agree with ethnic cleansing and racial segregation. It is incredibly frightening that some people are intolerant of our human nature to love who we love regardless of which gender society thinks we should love or even be. It is horrifying that we are not all treated equally on this earth. I understand a revulsion to hearing these things spoken about or enacted in any way. But instead of erupting into anger and name calling can we not gain more by talking slowly, connecting with each other, listening and trying to understand and educate? There is good and bad in this world and we should never dictate when it comes to belief.
We can only engage, inform and hope that decency prevails, humanity overcomes and equality rules.
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com