There’s an old Wall Street saying: “Financial markets are driven by two powerful emotions – greed and fear”. It might be true, but our society is driven by two other emotions, fear and contempt.
Let’s start from the beginning. The phrase “All men are created equal” was included in the US Declaration of independence.” John Ball, the Lollard Priest included in a sermon preached during the peasants’ revolt the phrase “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” We have to give him points for political correctness over and above Thomas Jefferson, but still not a bad effort for both gentlemen.
Then we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…”
Are we agreed on these? Because frankly, if we aren’t, then you’re probably wasting your time reading further.
So actually then, if all people are equal, if all people are of equal worth, (In the old phrase created alike in the image of God) then they are equally worthy of respect. If they disagree with you then their opinion, whether it is right or wrong, is just as worthy of being aired as yours is. You might disagree with me on this, if so, I respectfully disagree with you but fair enough.
Except as a society we don’t respect it. Various groups, various subgroups are regarded by the leading core in society with contempt. I’ve blogged about this sort of thing before in https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/the-rebirth-of-secular-religion/
But things have been thrown into starker relief because of the atrocities in Paris.
We use contempt to ‘monster’ groups. They stop being people; they become ‘rednecks’, immigrants, wags, chavs.’
And as groups turn inwards the fear starts. Oppression comes out of fear. Various churches oppressed others because they feared that they would be swept away by the new interpretation. Islam lives in fear, in the East they’re losing people to Christianity, in the West they see their sons and daughters being secularised. They can see the writing on the wall and they are afraid.
But then we fear as well. We’re surrounded by these groups we’ve ‘monstered’ and we’re afraid of them.
We have now got groups in our society that have been so marginalised by contempt that they no longer belong. The contempt of the metropolitan elite of the ‘white van man’; the contempt of those who regard church people as homophobes.
Indeed it’s been fascinating watching the intellectual gymnastics that have gone on over the ‘Black Churches’ and their absolute refusal to tolerate Homosexuality. Eventually it seems that their refusal to tolerate homosexuality (obviously bad) outweighs the fact that they are by definition from an oppressed ethnic minority background (obviously good) which is compounded by the fact that they’re Christian churches, (obviously stupid.)
It’s interesting how completely we monster groups and deny them any legitimacy. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Someone like Winston Churchill could be interested in Islam, could study Islam, and indeed could be so impressed with it that his family wrote to him pleading with him not to convert to Islam.
Or look at Kipling with his Fuzzy Wuzzy.
We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,
An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not:
The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.
We never got a ha’porth’s change of ‘im:
‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,
‘E cut our sentries up at Suakim,
An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed
We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.
Both Kipling and Churchill could see merits in others who they fought both with and against.
But then they were men comfortable in their own skin. The desperate need to monster others, to create groups of ‘untouchables’ and ‘morally reprehensibles’ is fear. The fear that actually history might show that we aren’t right, the fear that we’ll not keep our place in the sun, the fear that unless we grind down others, others will grind us down. When we’re frightened we lash out.