Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Deceit of Labelling: Bigotry and Prejudice

The Conversion of St. Paul - Rubens

It is a sad fact that bigotry and prejudice appears to be the norm, rather than the exception, in an increasingly complex world. Most people seem satisfied to offer, or seek, simple-minded explanations to complicated matters affecting different peoples around the world who have their own grievances, views and aspirations. There will always be extremists and radicals who seek to subvert peace efforts and continue to perpetuate hatred and distrust. It is part of the nature of humankind. 

Many Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other believers in the supernatural, may know what they believe, but not why. Some accept creed without scrutiny which may have been inherited, rather than arrived at, and consequently are unable to articulate the foundation of their faith in the face of open minded discussion and critique.

Agreement on the meaning of the term religion is a Herculean task: the answer dependent on who one asks. The theologian, secularist, sociologist, psychologist, cosmologist, philosopher, writer, sports enthusiast et al., may each proffer a different explanation.

The arts and nature provide activities through which individuals achieve contentment, and which they may pursue with intense passion and devotion, for example: music; literature; poetry; painting; philosophy; wildlife preservation. An 'unbeliever' may admire religious paintings: The Conversion of St Paul by Rubens is a prime exemplar. The meaning to an individual of a work of art may be philosophical, inexplicable, provoke wonderment, or engender a spiritual sensibility.

This may also be true of 'falling in love', viewing a beautiful landscape, listening to the gentle murmur of a brook, or the lapping of ocean waves. Language cannot always express such experiences, as there may be, and usually is, an 'indefinable something more' about them.

Those who believe in the supernatural, and those who do not, may get pleasure from the same phenomenon - the difference being interpretation. The super-naturalist may interpret these experiences with reference to a deity; those who do not, regard these as manifestations of nature.

How many times have you heard an individual replicate a headline from a newspaper, or other media source, or quote verbatim from a sacred text, regarding an issue they patently haven’t thought through themselves? Some people are only too eager to offer their opinion on a myriad of issues without knowledge of the facts, which can be verified as sound or unsound.

Some parents consciously instill nationalistic, racial and religious ideological dogmatism in their children: hatred of other races and religious groups other than their own; belief in a class based superiority to others. Until a child forms associations outside their home the attitudes articulated by their parents can remain sacrosanct.

The same moral views and behaviour instilled at an early age may remain embedded in the memory for many years or a lifetime. Our knowledge of right and wrong may be obtained from a variety of sources: parents; society; peers; the law; God; our conscience. The values held by people and groups we associate with - family, friends, work colleagues, church or political organisations - influence the views we express as are own. Indeed, individuals may change their values and views dependent on whom they are talking to, and as a result conflict may arise.

Ultimately most people reach a position where their view on moral issues is lucid, but may change in light of new experiences, the way they perceive things, and when the issues arise.

How many times have you heard the quotation, 'Let your conscience be your guide?' History is littered with appalling acts which have been, and still are, carried out with a clear conscience. The consequence of conscientious differences of opinion can be catastrophic.

During the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics tortured and murdered each other; the mass hysteria of the witch trials in Europe resulted in the executions of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Today, throughout the world, individuals are still being imprisoned without trial, and tortured and executed by those blinded by ignorance and intolerance.

Altitude assists significantly when dropping bombs on other people as evidenced by the U.S. military on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. From an airplane houses below resemble minuscule dots. If you can’t recognise people, see their faces, and are not familiar with their name, it seems to be relatively easy to push the button, if deemed to be in a good cause by 'those in power'.

How easy it slips of the tongue to say one abhors violence, fabrication, and indoctrination in all its forms. No more so when 'religion' is used as a label by those perpetrating murder and violence. Nietzsche turned this observation into a principle, 'In individuals insanity is rare: in groups, parties, nations and epochs it is the rule'.

The control of information and knowledge, and the capability to influence the way people believe and perceive the world, are important to those who aspire to exercise and preserve authority. The mass media - nationally, and worldwide - has a powerful incentive to sell newspapers and attract television viewers (the battle for commercial survival), and can be relied upon to change facts and distort truth as and when directed by their 'wealthy' owners.

The mass media may 'intentionally' portray those who do not have power in dehumanizing terms: parasites; scroungers; wasters; animals; and by using degrading terms: the poor, the underclass, the drop out, when in fact the individuals are genuinely homeless, penniless, unemployed, asylum seekers, mentally and physically ill.

The deceit of 'labeling' individuals distorts the truth, and the victim(s) may be portrayed as responsible for their circumstances, not the state, or society. The media can be used to great effect by those wishing to use power for political, military, religious, business and monetary purposes. Also, with modern technology, globalisation, the internet and faster means of communication, localised conflicts can swiftly become internationalised.

It is not difficult to understand the intentions of those who openly engage in activities to denigrate and destroy the lives and memories of other human beings. However that may be, individuals should aspire to learn more and to think for themselves, to attack prejudice and ignorance, and help to eradicate hatred, violence and racism in all its manifestations. 

Each human being on this earth should be free to live in dignity, to be treated with dignity, and respect the dignity and rights of others.