Sorry, this is going to be a long post. TLDR version: We’re all human. Stop thinking in terms of us and them.
Earlier today, someone mentioned something about fences, how it’s up to each of us to decide which side of the fence we’re on, but do we all even see the fence? I gave the most obvious reply – The only ones who can’t see the fence are those standing too close to it. And then I went into the basement for one hour for a simple, dumb paint job, all the while his and my comment revolved around my brain, accompanied by a line of a Gogol Bordello song…
“Of course there is no us and them, but them do not think the same.”
(Side question: Would the world be better off without sarcasm, what do you think? Most of the time I doubt it, what with it being such a perfect refuge…)
The brief discussion had originated from a Puerto Rico meme – you know, one of those that tell you that all is fine there, they have all the help they need, turn off CNN, they lie. Comments below ranged from “I knew it!” to Puerto Ricans chiming in on how that was a load of crap and that while it might be true for San Juan, it’s certainly not so for the people in the mountains, who’re still out of power, have to climb across fallen trees to even check on their immediate neighbors and haven’t seen any help in all the time since Maria trampled all over them. However, talking about ‘fences’ in the middle of a humanitarian crisis seems odd, to say the least. Have we really reached the point where instead of providing unconditional help to those in need, we talk about sides and question their narrative? If you’re in favor of Trump, it’s compulsory to believe that CNN lies? Because why? Because the party is always right… Who else just felt a shiver run down their spine?
I grew up with two of my (much older) siblings working as journalists. As a result, to me, journalism meant ethics. Telling the truth no matter what, because that was how my siblings handled their jobs. But that was around 25 years ago. Over the past decades, we’ve seen a decline of journalism and a rise of opinionism. These days, I regularly read German, Austrian, British and American news, and while the first two are comparatively low on opinionism (Example: During the 2016 presidential election campaign, my more or less trusted Austrian weekly paper, for the first time ever, wrote an endorsement for one of the candidates, which almost made me unsubscribe, because that’s a journalistic no-go in my opinion. Don’t tell me whom to vote – give me the facts and let me decide.), it’s incredibly hard to find non-biased articles in UK or US media. There definitely is a fence, and it’s being constantly maintained. Both sides have their narrative, and both suppress or at least quietly leave out any detail which does not support that narrative.
The party is always right. And sadly, this appears to be true on both sides of any aisle.
Last week saw the parliamentary elections in Austria. The Green party, who’d spent the time since the presidential elections believing themselves on an all-time high (it was their candidate who won, thing is only, he didn’t win because he was so awesome, people couldn’t help but flock to his side. He won because the other guy was so horrible, people would have done virtually anything in their power to prevent him.), squabbling amongst themselves, kicking their own party youth out and driving away one of their most prominent members (who promptly ran off to found his own party). What they didn’t do was, sell their message (which should have been easy – I mean, how hard should it be to sell social justice and equality, and a healthy environment?). During the run-up to the elections, their main focus was (and I’m not even exaggerating much) on telling everybody that if they didn’t vote for them, they were sexist, racist, stupid scum. Apparently, the campaign staff learned nothing from Hillary Clinton’s defeat, and never watched Jonathan Pie’s analysis on why Trump won. Basket of deplorables! Seriously, how long did they think that voters would take being insulted? We have the answer now, and it’s: until 2017, because with a pathetic percentage of 3.8%, the Greens won’t be representated in the future Austrian parliament. Not because no one is interested in social justice, equality and a healthy environment, but because they absolutely failed to talk to the other side, and thereby managed to lose their own. What an absolute shame.
I talked to members as well as supporters of the Austrian Green party before the elections, and I always got to hear the same: “They’re evil. I don’t even want to talk to them.” Them being the people who voted for the two available right-wing parties. Who turned out to be the majority. Why did that happen? Because, due to the fact that Austria ranked pretty much on top of the countries who took in refugees over the past two years, the right-wing parties grabbed the refugee topic, rolled it out, seized people’s fears, distrust, whatever, and played the prevalent emotions like the experts they are, while the Greens had nothing in response other than labelling everyone a racist. They never considered, not even for a second, that fears and distrust can be alleviated by facts, by information, by exposure, even as the statistics told them. Your average right-wing voter in Austria has a low level of education and lives in a rural area, where they never even see a refugee, as most of them are drawn to the big cities. Not every right-wing voter is a racist. Polls tells us that they have a multitude of reasons, ranging from being fed up with the establishment to feeling overwhelmed by the future to feeling left out and not taken seriously. Engaging those people might have done wonders, but you don’t engage with a basket of deplorables. Yours is the moral high ground, right? They should simply understand that and bow to your superiority. Oh for crying out loud.
Question 1: Are we so insecure of our moral high ground that we believe we’ll lose it if we extend a hand to help someone else up?
Question 2: If that moral high ground is so high, how come the view is so bad that we don’t see other people’s needs?
The answer may be that it’s not a moral high ground after all, but a high horse. One that blindly tramples all over everyone else, and yes, I’ve been told that a sane, healthy horse would never deliberately run down anyone, but when you’re riding a horse, looking at the back of its head, can you see its eyes, how crazily they spin? Can you really tell if it’s sane?
There’s a fence, and while we might argue that it’s been built by those in power, who strengthen it by feeding people’s fears, the one who maintains it is my most favorite mythical beast: society. Which, all things considered, is just another word for us and them. Only your neighbor is one of us and his wife is one of them, and your kids’ teacher is one of us and their best friend’s dad is one of them, so where does the fence actually run? When will we, whoever we are, realize that they aren’t some abstract, negligible construct but real people, who we talk to on a daily basis?
What if the view is best if we all stepped back from the fence, the better to see it? Cut holes as and where we can, the better to see through? Or maybe just sit on it, all of us, and look for the truth each side has to offer, no matter the narrative?
Or do we need them to define us?