Don’t let Fear replace Reason
I watched the 1951 sci-fi movie classic The Day the Earth Stood Still recently. I’ve seen it at least twice before, but this time it resonated deeply. In the movie, a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C., and alien visitor Klaatu announces he has an important message he must deliver simultaneously to all the world’s leaders. This being post WWII, cold war Earth, Klaatu is told his request can’t possibly be met. He is held under armed guard, but escapes, and is hunted down, while being helped by a human boy and his mother. Long story short, Klaatu’s message was that having become aware of Earthlings’ atomic capabilities, the folks from other more advanced planets had decided they had better warn Earth to settle down—or else. The idea being that Earth could choose peace or be destroyed. Pretty heavy handed but hey, I’m starting to think we Earthlings do need a little slap down. Klaatu’s explanation was that humans had “replaced reason with fear”. That line has become my mantra of late. It helps me get my head around the garbage I’ve been reading and seeing on social media.
Last week I encountered three in one day—three Facebook meme messages of hate couched as “opinions” and calls to “preserve our way of life”. Now, I don’t have a problem with people having opinions or speaking out on things they feel strongly about. My problem is with what constitutes both an opinion and “our way of life”. Is a meme designed and written by some nameless person and shared by another, considered an “opinion”? Or is it just a blank statement? I like to consider opinions something that I can engage with and something that the opinion giver has spent time mulling over before expressing—and not just a study in semiotics. Is it that we are so used to clever images with trite reductionist statements that we have lost our ability to say things in our own words? Or is it that we are just too lazy to say them? Here’s a description of one of the memes that showed up on my Facebook feed: it was an image of three Muslim women in hijab (not burqas) at a protest (faces contorted while yelling) with the caption: “France and the Netherlands BAN the burqa on security grounds, SHARE if you think Canada should do the same!”
Now, what was I supposed to take from that? That the poster is an Islamaphobe who believes in their right to an opinion, but doesn’t believe in freedom of religion or freedom of expression for others, and has an unreasonable fear of burquas to boot? Because that’s what I got from it. Why didn’t the poster, who I had only known to be a caring and thoughtful person, write: “I think Muslim women shouldn’t be allowed to wear what they want to wear because they might be terrorists”? It seems the poster isn’t afraid to hold those opinions, since they publicly share them on the internet. So why don’t they write them on a banner in front of their house as well? Do they fear outing themselves to their neighbours and having to engage or explain themselves?
Usually, when I see such memes and posts, I query them. I feel it is important that these messages of fear be countered by something else—preferably reason. The other day, I came upon a meme that said something about “our rights being taken away.” I asked “who is taking
your rights away?” Of course, I received no response. I’m not as ease with poking the bear. I’m not naturally confrontational but after one or two of these things I think, do I quietly de-friend (as many people I know do), block certain posters messages, or do I say what I want to say, which is, seriously people, put your thinking cap on! Read something. Or more importantly, critically read critically written material. An “opinion” that is racist is a racist opinion. It is not right or good. An opinion that is Islamaphobic is dangerous and harmful to society.
One meme that was “shared” carried a mixed message of fear and indignation:
“Why is our government so willing to help illegal minors
When so many of our own children are homeless and need help?”
Again, seriously, as if we can’t do both? If we know anything about homelessness, it’s that it can be ameliorated through public policy. If there is a will there is a way (and to swerve off topic a bit here, that is a plea for everyone to vote their interests. If you believe we should eradicate homelessness, vote for a party that says it will work towards that goal.)
So what about this “preserving our way of life” thing? That’s a statement that frustrates me. Basically, it says we have only one way of life and that’s the dominant one. But we are a nation of many cultures. Even those whose ancestors arrived here hundreds of years ago were, in many, many cases, escaping some form of tyranny. The irony is, we set up shop and inflicted a new brand of tyranny on the original inhabitants of this land. Is this our hazing ritual? Everyone gets hazed at sometime, but some more than others? If we truly are a multicultural nation, and I haven’t met anyone yet who wasn’t in some way proud or cognizant of their ancestry, do we not have to back that up? But I’ll get point, how is Zunera Ishaq, the Muslim woman who desired to say her public citizenship oath in the niqab she customarily wears, a threat to “our way of life”? I’ve named her here, since most who point to her beliefs as an oppression imposed upon her, seem do not seem to give her that courtesy or respect as a fully actualized adult. She has to identify herself in private prior to the ceremony. If anything, Zunera is embracing the ideology represented by the Charter of Rights by asserting her individual right (and the rule of law). This means she is embracing a fundamental belief that we all accept. We lose nothing by being inclusive.
I cannot adequately convey how these memes and messages on social media and in the media sadden and anger me. They tear us apart but implanting seeds of contempt.
I have often wondered how ordinary people in 1920s Germany could have been induced to support and vote for the Nazi Party. I mean, how do you get an entire nation to support a hateful, racist ideology? Clearly, it didn’t happen overnight. In 1928, the year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression, the Nazi party had 12 seats in Germany’s Reichstag. By 1932, the party had 230 seats, and shortly after, Nazi leader Adolph Hitler became chancellor. The rest is a brutal and bloody history of repressing and eliminating opponents, creating racial villains who must be exterminated, and waging war. It took time, a skilled propaganda machine, an economy decimated by the Great Depression, and ineffective opposition, but the Nazis managed to harness and enflame the post World War I and depression-era anger, bitterness, and fear of the German public. I know most of us like to think we are morally superior to the German masses that supported the Nazi party’s brutal rule. The thing is, we aren’t. In fact, we don’t even need an all-controlling fascist political party to help us get our hate on. Today we have Facebook and its endless trite memes, and online newspaper comments sections that allow people to spew venom with anonymity, and hate factories that masquerade as right wing “opinion” blogs. Fear does seem to be replacing reason. And if we allow it to consume us, we risk destroying what makes us good.