It has always been there, this uncivility – jingoism, nationalism, the unsavory undercurrent of racism that seems present in even the most civilized of societies. But over the last few years that undercurrent has swollen to become something of a flood, a rising wave of intolerance and hatred in a growing ocean of mean-spiritedness that like a gathering tsunami has spread around the world from country-to-country, creating an upheaval that threatens the foundations of what so many have fought so long and hard to achieve.
There used to be a reasonable assumption that as our civilization matured we would leave behind the worst of us, those traits that in the past countenanced slavery, cruelty, and barbarity. The more educated we became, the more exposed to other cultures and other ways of thought, the more it was reasoned we would begin to see the folly and sheer stupidity of racism, sexism, and discrimination in all their many guises. After all, what point can there be in reviling and/or marginalizing a person merely on the basis of skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or point of origin? In what possible way can any of these in any form contribute to the progression of society?
There is a myth that we were once islands, isolated pockets of homogeneity, and all was good and right and the world was so much better for it. But the worst days of humankind brewed in that cauldron of insularity, and from it sprang the likes of Hitler and Stalin and a raft of equally odious characters who led humanity down a path of darkness.
The world was not better when we built walls and closed our hearts and minds to others. Ignorance (of one’s fellow humankind) is not bliss. The notion that if we somehow turn back the clock and recreate our mythic islands of homogeneity – countries populated only with people of like mind and race – then all the problems that beset us will be solved and miracles will abound is a delusion steeped in nothing less than an out-and-out fear of the other. It is a racist fantasy that overnight there will be a bounty of jobs, crime will vanish, the streets will be safe, and our sacred “values” will once more be enshrined.
And yet, people are willfully drinking this poison, fed it by opportunistic politicians and outright racist goons who couch their intolerance in the trappings of economic sleight-of-hand and pie-in-the-sky proclamations that no penalty is to be paid for closing oneself off from the world, that there is much to be gained. You can have your cake and eat it too, so-to-speak.
Whether it’s Islamic radicals of the sort who make up ISIS and the Taliban, or the people spear-heading BREXIT and the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States, the thrust of the argument is the same: That we are better off alone, surrounded by those who think, act, and look like us; the world beyond our borders is a cesspool of degenerates, thieves, and the unworthy clamouring to get in and take over what is ours and they are responsible for all that ails our society. By this way of thinking, the only path to salvation is to erect as many barriers between “us” and “them” as we can. We must build walls – both literal and metaphorical – and hunker down in our castles, outlasting the siege. If that image seems Medieval, perhaps it is because the mindset of those who would separate and tear us apart rather than bring us together is no less unenlightened.
Nothing is gained by shutting our hearts and minds to the rest of the world. The entwining within nations of a multitude of peoples from different cultures, schools of thought, and places around the globe must surely reduce the risks of war, violence, and social upheaval that have often walked hand-in-hand with the scourges that are racism, sexism, and discrimination of any sort. It is by understanding those who are different that we come to see that they are not the enemy. Differences are not a threat, they are not to be shunned but to be celebrated and embraced. They are certainly not harbingers of impending anarchy and doom and the end of the “values” we believe – rightly or wrongly – must be protected at all costs (even if doing so entails violating the very principles that underpin those values).
There is a disease afoot and it is spreading. It risks destroying us all, because it is a sickness embedded in the narcissism that has infected much of our civilization. Increasingly, humanity prays at the altar of self, where the tenets of the new world faith center on the individual and satisfying the desires of the one, rather than considering the needs of the many. It’s all about “me,” as they say.
There is no sense of shame among those who believe that anything is acceptable if it feeds into the neurosis of self. Indeed, many are proud of the fact that they focus only on themselves at the expense of others. They see this as a virtue. And while this may be most obvious in the stratosphere of celebrity and within the machinations of opportunistic politicians, it touches almost every level of society to some degree.
We have become a civilization wherein cheating and lying are too often regarded as perfectly appropriate practices when one is engaged in the pursuit of furthering one’s place in the hierarchy of the social pyramid. Similarly, it seems that growing segments of society wilfully countenance intolerance and consider it a legitimate form of free expression. All of this can, to some degree, be attributed to the inward reflection of more and more people. It’s all about “me”; about “my” freedom to say what “I” want to say and to “believe” what “I” wish to believe. No one should tell “me” what to do.
Sail the waters of the Internet and you will quickly wreck upon the dark shoals of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so much more for which there should be no accommodation in any reasoned and compassionate society. Without even the guise of anonymity, far too many gleefully partake in spouting scurrilous dissertations that are couched in the foulest of bigotry, misogyny, and unfettered hate. Debate on substantive issues is invariably reduced to racist, sexist, religious, and homophobic slurs, to the extent that one is left to wonder when being openly prejudiced assumed the quality of an asset.
Instead of moving forward, we seem to be moving backward. The goal of humanity should have been toward more unity rather than the disunity being proselytized by those of the same ilk as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump. There is no triumph in seeing the world headed along a course that could very well end in the same destructive forces that led to two world wars and has fueled many conflicts before and since. Nations that conduct a free exchange of people and trade and live within the paradigm of a common set of principles are far less inclined to go to war with one another, because the misunderstandings and disagreements that have long ignited hostilities are invariably avoided as a result of the deep and abiding connections that have been fostered through the free exchange of people, trade, and ideas.
Nations with a shared sense of community are stronger than those that exist in isolation. United we stand; divided we fall. Maybe it’s time we stepped back and seriously examined what we have to lose if we allow ourselves to be torn apart as a community of human beings. Maybe we need to stop thinking about what the world can do for us, and think more about what we can do for the world. The narcissism that has helped fan the flames of racism, sexism, homophobia and all manner of discrimination needs to end. We must be forward thinking, and not live a past that was never anything more than the deluded fantasy of those with a much darker agenda.
Peace and prosperity are a shared responsibility. We are not only citizens of countries; we are citizens of the world. As such, we are beholden to all others who share this planet with us. To think otherwise is to shirk our duties as human beings.