Again the leader of the “free world” is caught up in violence and racism – the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally by America’s growing neo-fascists was last week’s top news.
Yes, Virginia is not here, although Canadians were reported present. We face our unenviable position as one of the world’s great echo chambers. First we echoed our colonial lords; today it’s our economic masters. We’re not immune. And, besides, how could we be immune to anything done in the name of the human race anywhere, as embarrassing as it often is?
So, to jump right in, why is our human race so attached – addicted? – to violence and so susceptible to the fears and hatreds from which violence grows?
That’s an unanswerable question (in 500 words), so a better handle might be to ask how a free society such as our own can challenge and mitigate these prejudices and fears – before they even start.
Not only are these fears primitive, they are so abstract! We fear, in most cases, the least likely of things. Many men, for example, fear women or the feminine spirit which women represent. We fear strangers, fear the new (except for gadgetry, of course, but this we might fear), and we fear what’s different. Why have we been unable to grow past these fears, and past our predilection for the titillation that fear brings to our lives?
Where do such abstract fears come from and what keeps them alive now that we’ve left the caves behind?
How do we outgrow the childish notion that hatred and aggressivity are effective reactions to our fears?
How do we so easily lose our humanity towards others?
Obviously, there are some answers to these questions in early education, family attitudes, our media’s dumpster-diving, religious messaging, and so on. And, by and large, these do carry helpful messages. Maybe not emphasized strongly enough?
We’ve seen a shift in education – and in the ambitions of students – towards economic-success skills. Education can shift. Given that Western societies’ educational systems have been able to shift to career-training, perhaps there’s room for a similar shift of emphasis in teaching – something like the move toward combating bullying that we see in many schools today.
And we’re smart to have largely avoided the for-profit and ideology-driven schools of the USA.
A big step in combating these cancerous prejudices – racism, sexism and patriarchy, homophobia, hyper-nationalism, etc – rests within each of us. So many stereotypes litter our daily conversations – sexist jokes, for example, or nasty digs at immigrants – that the world would soon be a much nobler place if we each not only ceased expressing these little hatreds but also called out those who make these remarks.
Our personal contributions to making the world a worse place – our remarks and wisecracks – are bad habits; we have nothing of ourselves invested in them. We are each better than that. Afterwards, we can look at larger, institutional measures to make humanity slightly more humane.