On Being Human
I'm pretty white. I live in possibly the whitest county in England. But this...essay, I guess you could call it, really isn't about being white or black.
I know nothing about America, I know nothing about race, I don't know what it means to live in fear, to live under a different set of rules, to tell my children to be careful when they go out at night. For the longest time I lived under the illusion that race didn't matter, that the world no longer needed to think in terms of colour, religion, social background, origin, nationality...
But it does matter, it matters still, and wishing that people never had to think in terms of colour is akin to sticking my head in the sand. It is an issue.
No, that's not accurate. It's not an 'issue'. An issue is running out of toilet paper after a curry shit. An issue is finding a lump on your balls. Those are things you can deal with in a sensible, reasoned manner. Either one might end up messy, but mostly, you can live with a dirty arse, or losing a ball.
Is that mildly offensive? Tickles your sensibilities? Good. Because worrying about going out at anytime of the day, worrying about the people you love, that's offensive. It's not an issue. It's not something you can make a poster about, thinking it'll all go away.
Being human's a strange thing. Wonderful, frightening, sordid, amazing, beautiful. We can think, reason, love, work shit out. We can do maths (yeah, I'm English. Our maths is plural. Weird, huh? Small differences...) and travel, should we wish, to the stars. Instead, as a race (it's the human race, not the English, the British, the European, the American, the Africa, the Chinese, Russian, whatever) we get stuck on petty things, like French people like cheese, Puerto Rican's like beans, Welsh people love sheep. Little things escalate into big things. That's my point, I think. Or one of them. Here, in England, people mock other's accents, or the clothes they wear, or the cars they drive. All the while, others can't afford to eat, or are stopped for random searches daily for being black or Asian or wearing a top with a hood. Really.
In the UK, apparently, we have the highest concentration of CCTV anywhere in the world. Why is that?
In the US, people shoot people just for the hell of it. Personally, I think a country that loves its guns should show a little more temperance. You know all those horror movies, where a town's built on an ancient Indian/native American burial ground? I wonder...the US is basically a nation built on the burial ground of the indigenous people, built on a history replete with slavery and civil war (not a rude war...God no). Does that make citizens of the US crazy enough to shoot each other, crazy enough to breed racists, or cops with lonely triggers that just need a hug? Is it right to make light, to use such terminology, to explain away the countless deaths of black people in the States?
Is it just the US? No, of course it isn't. The UK? The Romans killed the hell out of all our druids. The Vikings raped and pillaged a fair bit, in days of yore. The Anglo-Saxons, the Normans...we're not even indigenous people. We don't have that many guns...but we, as most nations, are perfectly capable of being arseholes to each other.
Yes, it's true that in general societies are happier when neighbours know each other. We, as humans, tend to like people like us.
Sweden. In Sweden, people are laughing all the fucking time.
Actually, I don't know that for a fact. I made that up. Just like all people from Malawi have to make love to the local witchdoctor on a Friday. The food in Vietnam will kill you. But...hang on...if we like people like us...we're people like us, aren't we?
I don't think people care. There's a world of information right beneath our fingers. It's called the Internet. It's a global police force of information. But we don't use it. Well, maybe you and I, because we're reading this, maybe we use it. Plenty don't. But when education and intelligence becomes a subject for derision, then we have a problem.
Erudition, plain fucking sense, have become the enemy. Hatred and suspicion, fear of that which isn't exactly the same as us. These things rule us. The media reinforces it. Because fear divides more brilliantly that razor-wire. Do we need internment camps when we can be just as horrible to each other?
It's a bleak picture...but it's not the only picture. The bleak picture is there, on the surface. But look underneath, under colour, religion, xenophobia, there's the human heart. There's compassion, love. There are people being human across the entire world, and to be human isn't merely to exist, but to grow and love and live and enjoy.
To let people live and enjoy is to be human. To crush that spirit isn't innate, I think. We are social creatures...but if a man or woman roars at us, we roar back, don't we?
In psychology, it's called 'mirroring'. It's a simple thing. If someone shouts, we shout. If someone's angry, we're angry. If they're afraid, we...attack?
No. That's doesn't seem right, does it? Do people hate people who aren't like them? Some might...because human nature isn't uniform. Some of us, the best of us, love. Some hate, yes...but some are just doing what they know. Because they're told to fear that which isn't like them...told to fear, and fear leads to anger (Yoda, that...the wise green dude).
As I'm writing this piece, I realise I haven't actually come up with any answers. It's not meant to be an answer. It's an article about thought. Will it make a difference?
No. The simple answer is no. Alone, it cannot.
But together? As part of a wave, a movement, an ideology, a way of thinking?
So many times people have banded together to fight oppression, to fight evil and hate and misunderstanding and cruelty and fear. So many times those same people have been gunned down in the street, or imprisoned, or tortured, or disappeared.
To my point, then? Yeah, fair enough. I hate to outstay my welcome.
My point is that the things we fear - the differences between colours and religions...these things aren't our fears. We bought our fears, we paid for them. There are no refunds. But if you bought a shit takeaway meal, would you eat it? Would you cram down those funky smelling prawns, thinking, 'I fucking paid for this, I'm going to eat it even though I'll turn green and possibly end up in hospital'?
No. No you wouldn't. And hate is just as evil. You bought it, bought into it, bought shares, even. You own that shit, we all do.
But you don't have to swallow it.
Mirroring. You can rage back. Or you can just throw that shit away. Be lighter. Hate feeds hate. Violence feeds violence. It's an old message, hippy shit. Probably Ghandi, or Yoda. But it's true. Hate and killing and violence simply don't make sense. None of those things ever made sense, even when the Khans rode as a horde.
Yes, policemen and women shoot people in the States. Yes, cops stop and search and harass people in the UK. Yes, in other countries people are taken from their homes, tortured, killed, because they don't tow the party line or because they're not exactly the same in colour, or religion, or thought. And yes, we should fight it. Fuck yes. Because wrong is wrong.
I'm not saying roll over and take it. I'm not saying turn a blind eye. Fight, fight to your last breath, to our last breath. Stand and give what you're able. But to throw hate back to hate?
Is that the answer?
If your own Government and its institutions are wrong, and those things don't work, do you go to war? Do you turn to a democracy that doesn't work, that's skewed or just plain broken?
I don't think so. You can't vote to not be shot. That's not the domain of a political system that probably doesn't work anyway. You can spread education, spread love, and aim for a better society, a better people. If people, all people, understand that we're all in it together, rather than beating each other down in a vain attempt to reach some lofty height of wealth and power...then you have power. Not the people with their millions...but you. One person with a ton of money has no power if those people in the engines of society aren't interested in their money. And why do we want money, anyway? I'm not Karl Marx...but chasing after another dollar or pound isn't going to help...it's just divisive, like hate, like envy. We need to eat, yes. Do we need to eat caviar, or fillet steak? I think probably not.
If you say no to all the things those self-same institutions are selling, whether it is hate or guns or the latest mobile phone that you don't really need...then the power is no longer theirs. What I'm saying, I think, is that racism isn't the problem. Hatred is. Misunderstand is. Dividing humanity along arbitrary lines...that, to me, seems more dangerous than a single man or woman's hatred.
Once, people dreamed of the stars. Of being better. Of advancing, not economies, but humanity itself.
We gave this dream up for a big television that plays us advertisements for a bigger television.
Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Learn. Think. Fucking dream again. Let's dream. Iain M. Banks wrote two books, once. He's dead now. But one was called Consider Phlebas. One called Look to Windward.
Those titles are in reference to a poem by T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland'.
Here's the relevant part:
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
People analyse The Wasteland. I'm not going to bother. Iain M. Banks did it better than I ever could within the pages of those two books.
But I think it means beware pride, beware standing still and admiring what we've wrought. We reached the stars, once. So why not aim higher? And higher still?
Instead, we clamber over each other, trying to reach the promised land...when we should be holding each other up.
Anyway, fuck me, that's maudlin, eh? I hate preaching. I'm not a preacher. But we, humanity, don't need any more of those. Thinkers, maybe. Lovers, certainly. Humans? We've got plenty of those. I just hope we remember that. I really do.