History is filled with the consequences of silence and passivity.
By Thom Hartmann / AlterNet
This is a particularly interesting week to be traveling across the French countryside, as news fills the papers and the airwaves of another assault weapon-of-war used in another mass shooting done by another frightened—and thus hate-filled—American.
The Europeans know well the wages of hate and fear. And it goes way back into the dim mists of history, well before the era of the names we all know so well from the 20th century.
“The Other” is the key.
Once a demagogue successfully turns a person, a group, a gender (or gender preference), a region, a nation, or a race into the Other, the consequences are terribly but consistently predictable.
An Other is, virtually by definition, less than fully human. They’re not “us.” They may be alive, they may be able to feel emotion, they may be able to communicate, but they’re not us.
Therefore, what we do to Them isn’t as important or consequential as what we may do to Us. (See “slavery”; U.S. history 101.)
And when this de-humanization is used by those with economic, religious or political power (the lines between the three are often indistinguishable), it becomes weaponized.
It seems one of the most fatal flaws of the human race is that we keep forgetting this lesson—or that those elites lusting for wealth and power keep remembering and enthusiastically using it to rally their less-powerful, less-fortunate peers.
Yesterday, Louise and I visited a castle here in the Loire Valley where Joan of Arc helped plan a history-changing battle against an Other of that day. Slaughter and looting ensued, and one group of elites ended up ceding power and land to another. And while all the details of the elites and their fantastic lives are on display, both in the castle and in any history book, what is almost entirely missing from the narrative is how the use of wealth, religion and ancestry to “other-ize” the defeated people impacted the lives of what the Bernie Sanders of that era would have called the “ordinary working people.”
While the elites marched into the history books, the “little people” were subject to rape, pillage, torture, murder and a shift from the service of one elite group to another.
It’s a story you can find in the Bible over and over again (read the Book of Joshua for some particularly startling accounts of this phenomenon). The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the same story from millennia before Joshua. Every war in every part of the world in the 65 years of my lifetime tells the same story.
And so you’d think that people like Mitch McConnell would realize how powerful and dangerous it is to, as one of my elderly German friends once said, “Gently look the other way.”
Instead, so far, like so many of his mostly Republican colleagues and much of the right-wing media, McConnell has so far refused to even acknowledge the role the systematic and even organized (both by party and by religion) other-ization of LGBT people played in the Orlando gay nightclub massacre.
The peasants who fell victim to Joan of Arc’s visions and their exploitation by the political and economic elites of her day played no role in their own other-ization and subsequent misery and death. Similarly, the people partying at Pulse had no idea that their own other-ization by both Muslim and Christian demagogues and so-called “conservative” political elites would lead to their specific grisly fate.
But we all should have known, If not specifically, in general.
If history teaches us no other lesson, it’s that hate directed by elites, and the fear which that hate incites in the followers of those elites, always ends badly.
Over the short-term, the elites may think they’ve won.
Republicans who use hate of LGBT people as a political tool will see a bump in the polls.
Companies that make and aggressively sell weapons of war to civilians have already seen huge increases in the value of their stock and, thus, their fortunes.
And Christian and Muslim demagogues basking in the revenge fantasies of their acolytes are already promoting another round of hate and fear from the pulpit to the mosque to YouTube.
These people and their strategy is not new. And neither is the silence of those cowed or who simply think, “This is not my fight.”
Pastor Niemoller told us of his tragic realization that he, himself, had become one of the silent ones—and eventually paid the ultimate price for his and his colleagues’ silence. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King told us, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
It is all of one cloth.
Bigotry, intolerance, hate and fear represent a historical arrow that points in only one direction.
And there are some brave voices, from groups like Muslims for Progressive Values calling for full rights for women and gays, to politicians like Bernie Sanders saying that, “My religion is that when you or your child hurts, I hurt,” regardless of who “you” are.
Silence and passivity are no longer options. History is filled with their consequences.
When the billionaire funders/owners of the Republican Party (and a few Democrats, tragically) smile while hate-promoting websites and radio/TV programs funnel ever-more-frightened people into their ranks; when hate-promoting pastors, priests and imams jump forward to use hate and intolerance to increase their followings; when politicians use these most primal and easily-manipulated emotions to maintain and even build their own power; it’s time for all of us to say: No.
Too much, in fact.
We either stand together as a human family, or we die together in misery.
To paraphrase Woody Guthrie, it’s time for Republicans to take account. Which side are you on? And how much longer will you stay silent?