We live in an age, for better or worse, where ignorance is no longer an excuse for bigotry. Back in the 1500s, you could excuse the populous for joining a bloody fight over a few flavours of Christianity. Even though the printing press had been invented in 1436, it would take us another 600 odd years until we are at the point where almost everyone in the developed world can access enough points of view to come to a sensible conclusion. Obviously if you live in in China, Russia or under the Taliban in Afghanistan, your chances of access to conflicting points of view is severely limited, but in the affluent west, anyone with an iPhone or a local library has the world at their fingertips.
Back in the 1500s, the illiterate populous was forced to listen to the priest of whatever religion held power threaten them with terrifying tales of the evils of the other side. Whether it was science, witches or heathens, the balance of access to information and its creation and dissemination was entirely in the hands of the elite, the church and its ruling pawns (or the other way around, as the case may be).
In this environment where a monopoly is held on information it is much easier to encourage humans to take up arms against other humans and commit the most heinous atrocities. I am writing specifically about the recent events in Charlottesville. For anyone who doubts the thinking of the white-supremacists that marched there on 12 August, you can watch this interview with some of them.
The most telling point of the interview, which was a repeat of what Justin Moore had said in a voicemail to the reporter:
“I’m sorta glad that them people got hit and I’m glad that girl died,” Moore said in a voicemail to WBTV. “They were a bunch of Communists out there protesting against somebody’s freedom of speech, so it doesn’t bother me that they got hurt at all.”
– Charlotte Observer, 15 Aug 2017
This is an example of where a person is indoctrinated with a hate-filled ideology to the point where they are happy to see another human die for no reason other than a difference of belief. To me this is the heart of any toxic ideology, whether related to race, religion, sexuality or class. If we as a society cannot identify the sources of these beliefs and respond to them effectively, we are doomed to a future of senseless violence.
Within 24 hours of the death of Heather Heyer, it was possible to read over 20 eyewitness accounts collected by different independent websites and media companies. Footage of the march and the clashes from multiple perspectives was accessible on social media and YouTube. My conclusion is that that Nazi’s had come to Charlottesville to incite a riot and the anti-Fascist people were there to protect the populace and demonstrate that a rise of violence and intimidation by far-right groups will be met with resistance. This particular set of eye-witness accounts is most telling.
It was largely expected that Trump would respond inappropriately, but his ‘both sides are to blame’ initial statement was a new low, even for him. Apologising for Nazis on American soil must have had every veteran of WWII shaking his or her cane at the TV (or Twitter feed) in their retirement home. The statement flew in the face of the mass of evidence to the contrary. Even after he seems to have been forced to address the issue with a subsequent statement (clearly prepared from him), soon after he went back to his thinly veiled pro-racist statements.
What I am witnessing amongst my sphere of Facebook friends and other Internet contacts is the deeply polarising nature of these events. Those who I suspect have a lingering racist streak (sadly not uncommon here in Australia) are quick to decry the Socialist/Communists for violence and imply that the Nazis should have been allowed to march under ‘Freedom of Speech’.
I strongly disagree. Freedom of Speech, does not and should not cover hate speech. Whatever your ideology, if you advocate the death of a race, religion or any other set of humans based on some common attribute you have no right to publicise that belief in any way. I have been encouraged by the Jewish community’s strong response against this ‘Freedom of Speech’ argument.
Billy Bragg had the gall to support the removal of statues celebrating the defenders of slavery on his Facebook page. The vehement backlash from some of those who are supposed to be his ‘followers’ suggested that this sentiment is not just an American one. A small amount of research would reveal that the statues were erected long after the events of the civil war in order to fight for the retention of racist laws during the Jim Crow era in the South. A good article on the issue here. If you want history, go and read a book. Statues serve the purpose of dominating physical space with an ideology, they are not about history.
While writing this post, I am listening to Phil Ochs. He was a crusader against the ‘alt-right’ back in the 1960’s. I Ain’t Marching Anymore is a fine example of his work. I wrote my own song about the events in Charlottesville. I like to believe that it was the songs of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie and their contemporaries that have helped keep the ideology of the extreme Right at bay for the past 30 years.
What is the answer to this challenge facing humanity? I think that educating our children to distil their truth from a broad basket of lies and half-truths is the best thing we can do to immunise them against these hateful ideologies. We need leaders and public figures who come out strongly and un-ambiguously whenever these ideologies emerge. That is a big ask when this particular event has shown us how many of these leaders are in the pocket of extremists.
Make no mistake, I know there are ideologies on the Left which are just as violent and dangerous as what we saw the Right exhibit in Charlottesville. However, the evidence of the behaviour and the goals of the anti-Fascists in Charlottesville does not support an argument that these ideas were present or being touted in this event. It is the tool of these extremist ideologies to point out one flaw in a group and use it to tar the entire collective and all its ideas.
I have to trust in humanity; believing that any person who is supplied with enough of the truth and the tools to interpret it will eventually put down their club, or nuclear warhead, and learn to see the humanity in all others. For those who refuse to give up their hatred, I am encouraged that there are people still willing to put their own safety at risk for the interest of the society and stand in the way of hate.