Reading time: 3:30 min. | Instead to acknowledge diversity, we are on the fence to slam the door in ours neighbour’s face and turn the key for good.
As we all are, personally or in the media, I’ve been lately repeatedly confronted with an obnoxious mixed bag of racism, xenophobia, ideologies, liberal neglect and shadows of the past that I’ve considered being mitigated to a bearable amount of digestibility (I’m talking to you Christian churches).
I was hoping that the pandemic as a common enemy would suck up some of the pressure. But I was wrong, and it all seems to blow up in our faces. I admit I’m not innocent. I carry my own bag of biases (and there are many).
There’s been a time when a big chunk of the society was thinking along the lines of the famous crime writer and poet Dorothy L. Sayers in 1938: Indeed, it is my experience that both men and women are fundamentally human, and that there is very little mystery about either sex, except the exasperating mysteriousness of human beings in general…If you wish to preserve a free democracy, you must base it—not on classes and categories, for this will land you in the totalitarian State, where no one may act or think except as the member of a category. You must base it upon the individual Tom, Dick and Harry, on the individual Jack and Jill—in fact, upon you and me.
If it were so easy today!
Identity is today’s catchphrase. In fact, it’s not just a catchphrase. It’s a battle cry in the identity war of Jack against Jill and Tom against Dick and Harry.
I’m not going to let myself get burned by talking about racism in detail. But I can say safely this: it’s everywhere, it’s systemic, it’s bad (to say the least), and it’s a long way to go to leave all of that behind. And I can safely add: the ugly face of racism looks different in various societies. There are societies with a colonial past. Some societies have been built upon slavery, and some societies were indulging in an illusion of race theories in the past. I’m not finger-pointing here, but all of that has lead to an extremity of misery, uncountable deaths and outrageous injustice that persist until today.
Almost as bad is xenophobia. It’s like racism, just without the race ideology. Or it’s both. We are experiencing that everywhere in the world, regardless of the continent. Brexit was driven by xenophobia. Trump’s presidency was built upon xenophobia, so are all authoritarian rules. Xenophobia is the foundation of nationalism and fascism, making strongmen in democracies so dangerous because the line they walk is thin.
Ideologies are bad too. They shut down conversations and free-thinking. They are, by definition, one-way roads. And they never have an end because if the ideal were to be reached, the ideology would be moot. That’s why socialism must end in a dictatorship, waging an eternal war against a virtual ubiquitous class enemy.
The German liberal politician Karl-Hermann Flach wrote in 1971 in his book Noch eine Chance für die Liberalen (another chance for the liberals): when serious danger threatens their ownership positions, (…) the ruling circles in capitalist states may prefer salvation by a fascist regime to their decline. Under socialism, an established ruling group would instead resort to Stalinist practices than expose itself to genuine popular control, free public and its removal from power.
But we shouldn’t consider liberalism to be a solid vaccine against these illnesses. Liberalism brought us Neo-liberal capitalism with the cancer of inherited, merit-less ever-growing private fortunes and unhinged billionaires with god-like status, who are more undermining democracy than anything else.
What’s more, endemic to its ideal, liberalism includes necessarily a pinch of neglect that can also be described as a priced-in disregard of anyone less successful or poor. And because liberalism is a vital part of capitalism, it will end, as Karl-Hermann Flach rightly argues, as an illiberal fascist state under an authoritarian rule if the ruling circles’ fortunes were threatened. There is only so much liberalism.
Religion, of course, isn’t a universal remedy either. It can be of value for the individual as a spiritual stabiliser and can contribute to essential values such as Matthew 7:12: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. And, of course, there are many uncountable members of parishes who do valuable social work. But, in the end, churches are ideologies. We know how that ends if that takes a considerable space in society. Just have a look at Iran, or, to a much lesser extent but nonetheless still absurd, at the USA. It’s interesting how US presidents often invoke God in their speeches—from a German, British, or French perspective that’s way off the secular mainstream in liberal democracies.
So, what’s the cure? Having faith in the powers of diversity will strengthen liberal democracies and safeguard our environment with the miraculous forces of healthy biodiversity. Diversity is the best answer to racism, helps mitigate xenophobia, makes liberalism more attentive, ideologies more realistic, and provides denominations with the desperately needed understanding of the mundane but vitally important matters of the mortal world.