There are no cages in nature, save the ones we build in our own minds. But, as societies, there are many cages of our own making. As I’ve said before, if you want to pull down those structures – if you’re gunning for disruption, revolution – it’s best to poke the cage first to see what kind of beast might be inside before throwing open the door and tearing down the walls.
Post-Brexit, it feels like all our governmental, financial, societal and cultural structures are wobbling (if not quite toppling); the door is off its hinges, and the beasts we’ve released are running wild.
At least, that’s how it feels. None of us has any way of knowing how fatal the fights between these beasts – the Conservatives, Labour, the EU, the big cat corporates – could be. Brexit has pulled the tails of the lions and tigers; in shock, they’re fighting like alley cats.
But it’s not just the wild fluctuations of the global markets, the wild speculations of media pundits, the wild protestations of just about everyone that voted either way, that have us feeling lost in the wilderness; it’s the sense, the knowledge, that no one seems to have the answers – and that some now are being hunted.
We are used to sickening. To shocking. To scenes of the inhumanity our species inflicts on itself on a daily basis. The frequency only ever intensifies. This month alone we’ve witnessed the horrors of Orlando, the murder of Jo Cox, more devastation in Syria, terror in Istanbul. Scenes of vigils, candles, people weeping, are becoming shockingly commonplace.
We’re not so used to seeing governments in chaos – sit-ins, booing, a level of political discourse previously more likely to be witnessed in a pub than in a seat of power. No wonder we feel so desperate. It all feels so desperate. And the people in power are looking as helpless as we feel.
It’s this helplessness that brings us to the loudest scream of all we’ve heard in British society post-Brexit, and that hunt for a scapegoat to hang all that pain on.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading when the hashtag #PostRefRacism popped up trending on Sunday night.
Sure, I knew, for some, the failure of successive UK governments to adequately invest in housing, healthcare, education and regeneration was an issue totally eclipsed by the very fact of ‘The Others’ being here; I knew a lot of the Vote Leave campaigning had tapped into this sentiment in a pretty explicit, and shameful, way (that poster featuring Mr Farage and the get our country back narrative spring to mind).
I knew, for some, immigration was, by far, the biggest issue (and, to be fair, I also knew, talking to a lot of people, this wasn’t a concern about ‘otherness’, an expression of racism or xenophobia, but purely a concern about sustainability).
But I really didn’t think, as I’m sure even the likes of Boris Johnson didn’t think, that a Leave result would result in an explosion of xenophobic and racist abuse of a kind we haven’t seen in this country since the days of the National Front movement in the 1970s. As so many on the receiving end of this abuse have noted, “I haven’t been called that for 30 years.”
Did it ever go away then, did it just go underground to be passed down to another generation; has the age of social media in the terrorised post-911 world reignited it, or recreated it?
A blend of both, I would say. And it shouldn’t be such a surprise. We’re all haters now.
Think about it. Trolling. Body-shaming. Slut-shaming. Twitter-Typo-Tyrants. The very idea that a social justice warrior is a bad thing (because, who in their right mind would want social justice?). We spend our time picking holes in one another, maybe because in that moment it makes us feel good, better, powerful, listened to. Maybe just because we can.
We’ve all become extremists in one way or another. I won’t follow you if you don’t agree with everything I say. I can’t believe you came to my dinner party not wearing make-up. You don’t deserve that award people gave you. You put on weight, you’re a slob. You lost weight, you’re a narcissist. You disagreed with me, you’re a psychopath. You didn’t side with me, you’re a sociopath. You’re not like me, you must be on some kind of spectrum. You’re not like me, so I can’t like you. On and on and on it goes.
So this is my plea. If we really want to clean up this hateful mess, we’ve got to start denormalising hate. We’ve got to see we’re all responsible. It’s no good just shaking it off.
Broadcasters have a huge responsibility here – stop making displays of hate the most popular form of entertainment. Tell some others stories. Make kindness the new normal. Show how decent people are. Show what unites. Show how attitudes can radically change when people come together and talk them through.
And you, dear reader. Think for a minute before sending that Tweet. Is it necessary? Will it take the conversation further, forward, or just play to your fans and get you a few more likes or retweets? Is it worth it? (I’m not preaching here, I know the temptation, I know I’ve fallen into the trap, but, in the midst of all this helplessness, this is something we can all do to be the change in the world we wish to see).
As for those real haters, the racists and the xenophobes, we’ve got to talk to them. They’re screaming at us to tell us they feel forgotten, powerless, marginalised. They’re not the cool kids in a world where the currency of cool is one of the most valuable there is.
Shutting them down will mobilise them further. Ignoring them, as we’ve done for so long, will ingrain the hatred within them. However sickening their words and actions might be, we have to understand they’re the most lost of all.
It’s up to us, through dialogue, through our actions, to show them the way. When people are screaming, they need attention.