One of the funniest – yet unintentional – ironies I’ve heard of in recent years was the time a local ‘peace action group’ were charged with possession of unlicensed firearms. That’s right. A ‘peace’ group apparently felt justified in illegally having weapons. Apparently, in order to stop violence and promote peace, you have to fight and kill.
It always intrigues me how easily a cause or ideology leads certain types of people away from reason and tolerance and towards anger and hypocrisy, usually directed against whoever is immediately in front of them at the time. I saw other examples during my student days, when campus leaders espoused the virtues of acceptance, inclusiveness, equality, and kindness – all of which are wonderful. But these students demanded absolute adherence to the way they wanted to get it, including to their vocabulary; if you did not use it, you were advocating what they demonised. Dissent from the ‘party line’ was forbidden, punishable by ostracism, ridicule and abuse. Anybody who dared even try to discuss the fact that this thinking was being viciously enforced with authoritarian zeal was dismissed as (wait for it)… a Nazi.
The irony was lost on those behaving this way. As was the hypocrisy. Needless to say, all was pursued with a thin-skinned, utterly humourless zeal that made baiting them easier than catching fish in a barrel by dropping a grenade into it.
Such conduct is still around today, of course. I don’t buy that it is political, either, not at all. The intolerant and angry students I was at university with imagined themselves to be ‘left wing’, but I’ve seen that precise same sort of behaviour also expressed by those who identify with the other side of the political spectrum. And the whole, of course, reflects a much more fundamental aspect of human nature than the narrow artifice of modern-era western political views – both ideas, including the ‘left’ and ‘right’ labels, were originally products of the French Revolution in the late 1780s, which historians regard as the beginning of the ‘modern’ historical era.
In particular, it seems to me, behaviours such as ‘authoritarianism’, ‘liberalism’ and so forth are more reflective of the complex mix that dictates human conduct. And this is not a binary opposition. What drives it, I suspect, has less to do with political orientation than with a desire to validate one’s own self and ego. People look for ways of validating themselves; and authoritarianism is an easy way to do so. Why bother being self-confident when you can simply bully others? It’s an easy-win position.
I think that putting a political orientation on things serves only to mislead. I think that the values associated with caring for others, with inclusiveness, with kindness and with tolerance transcend the frameworks western society has so often put around them. I think they are broad and underlying human values, to which we all need to pay attention, without burying argument in immediate ideas.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019