The world seems to be sinking ever deeper into a desperate state. Iraq and Afghanistan are adrift in the doldrums of death and suffering, poorer nations cry out for food, Robert Mugabe rules his evil empire in Zimbabwe beating and imprisoning all who stand in his way, and over all hangs the specter of global warming, nuclear terrorism, and prohibitive oil prices.
There’s no doubt the blame for much of the mess we find ourselves in today, lies with politicians and world leaders, but can we hang it all on them or should we, perhaps, look a little closer to home?
I was reading an article in the Times Online today regarding the situation in Zimbabwe. The piece itself was well written, and factual, and as I came to the end my eyes drifted casually to the “Comments” section, now so prevalent in these online resources since the advent of blogs. I was taken aback by the viciousness and contemptuous hatred of some commentators, not towards the subject matter of the article, but to responses from fellow reviewers.
In fact, the snipes weren’t about Zimbabwe directly, but over whether the US, or Europe, should intervene. Surprisingly, while one Brit slagged off the US and its citizens for lack of action, a Canadian reviled Europe and Europeans in general for also sitting back doing nothing.
It caused me to ponder how frequently I peruse similar “Comments” sections, not in the small personal blogs where such acrimony is thankfully relatively rare, but on the big, institutional, media websites where, sadly, it’s prevalent.
I realized I’d long ago given up browsing these areas just for that reason. Vitriol abounds in the online press, not from its writers but through its readers. The opportunity to “have a go” at another person for daring to express a contrary opinion is, it seems, just too good to miss.
Of course, such interaction isn’t limited to newspaper “Comments” sections. Examples are readily available from almost every aspect of human life. We find it in spectator sport, religious organizations, even in shopping malls, and most of all in the American media, where it’s used as a grotesque form of entertainment. Anyone who’s ever watched Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly lose his cool and verbally assault a guest not in tune with his own opinion, will know exactly what I mean.
I’m not suggesting it’s wrong to address another’s viewpoint when it’s directly opposed to one’s own. The fault occurs when we deride and insult that person, or their country of birth, or some other aspect of their being, simply because they dare to hold an opposing perspective.
After 9/11, George W Bush made a speech to the world in which he denounced three other nations as an “Axis of Evil”. Not one of those three had any involvement in the 9/11 attacks, yet Bush denounced them for holding opposing views to that of the American social system.
Our leaders are quick to try and turn us against those they see as “enemies”, even when those nations have neither the ability nor desire to attack us.
Should we, then, blame our leaders for teaching us to assault those who dare to be different? I think not. Politicians don’t teach us anything. They just mirror our behavior. They have to, or they’d never make it into office.
It is we, the people, who elect them, and we choose those we consider most like ourselves. George W Bush was elected because many considered he was “one of us”, not one of those starchy, distant beings many politicians rapidly become. When George W Bush aroused support for attacking the people of Iraq, 84% of Americans were solidly behind him, and woe betide anyone ‘unpatriotic’ enough to suggest it was a wrong decision. And they stayed there – until matters went badly wrong.
Recently, Barack Obama was personally attacked by the media and his opponents for the crime of ‘elitism’. He dared to tell his perceived truth about the problems facing many small-town Americans. Yet we all suffer from the crime of ‘elitism’ – every one of us. Whenever we make a personal assault, whether verbal or physical, on another human being we are expressing elitism – our own sense of superiority; the feeling we generate that somehow the other person is inferior to ourselves.
Until we lose this need to bolster our own insecurities by making others look small and insignificant, we can hardly expect our politicians to behave in a proper and responsible way.
Or, to put it differently, while we behave like mindless hooligans, we’ll continue to elect mindless hooligans. Not only that, our media will continue to provide us with entertainment fit only for mindless hooligans.
Filed under: Less hate, more tolerance