The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: bigotry

Hibernating Bigotry

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WITH A FEDERAL ELECTION HEATING UP, the political establishment will come after citizens once more, asking them what they want and promising to give it to them if they would but vote. You’d think that after a time, especially following years of political dysfunction, that this being catered to every four years or so would begin to grate on us somewhat. And perhaps it has and that is part of the reason voter turnout continues to decline.

But politicians know something about us that they would never say and we would never admit: we aren’t just a people of myriad opinions, but of latent prejudices that we quietly live out each day but which we never let fully out into the open. Thus the political order, perhaps even especially in election time, plays to that part of us. ill Clinton, alluded to this tendency in his 1995 State of the Union address:

“If you go back to the beginning of this country, the great strength of America has always been our ability to associate with people who were different from ourselves and to work together to find common ground. And in this day, everybody has a responsibility to do more of that. We simply can’t wait for a tornado, a fire, or a flood to behave like Americans ought to behave in dealing with one another.”

And then Clinton opened up about the prejudice politicians often have for citizens, and it wasn’t pretty: “Most of us in politics haven’t helped very much. For years, we’ve mostly treated citizens like they were consumers or spectators, sort of political couch potatoes who were supposed to watch our political TV ads either promise them something for nothing or play on their fears and frustrations.”

And, so, there it was, how politicians see us. That sad part is that they might, in part at least, be correct. Clinton’s solution to this “silo” form of citizenship was a “New Covenant,” in which citizens get back to the prime task of getting to know one another and working together – something most Americans never got around to.

Recently, Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University, gave a major speech to educators, in which she called up the ghosts of what she called “hibernating bigotry.” She quoted from the book, Taking on Diversity: “We stay away from the interpersonal level where bigotry implicates us all, refusing to acknowledge it. We leave it to our children to carry our baggage on their backs.”

It is easy to spot outright bigotry, and it’s likely our kids see it quicker that we do, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s not about race riots, public violence against women, or the comments by the haters on social media. Most of us rightly avoid such things, even taking stands against them. No, were talking about the “subtle” forms of bigotry. It’s about the distance we place between ourselves and those struggling in the mental health cycle. It’s our quiet avoidance of people from ethnic populations who might make us feel uncomfortable, as we do them. It’s about how we tolerate a growing poverty in our nation, attempting to ameliorate our conscience with the odd donation. It’s the anonymous despair we feel when we increasingly learn of hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women but somehow don’t get around to joining a movement to get the feds to finally deal with it.

But it goes even deeper, this legacy of taking democracy for granted without ever really entering it or truly fighting for it. It’s about how we pull back when we come to understand that the solution to poverty will involve the sacrifice of all citizens, sometimes with taxes, other times by joining together to end homelessness in our communities. And it’s when we become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change but can’t quite manage to alter our lifestyle to play our own part more significantly in healing the planet. I wrestle with all the issues within myself, so I’m presuming many of us face the same battle. Except, in my case at least, it’s not so much a conflict as it is a quiet prejudice of placing myself and my family over truly taking part in healing society and the environment at the same time.

Presidential candidate, John Dewey, put it this was in 1937: “Democracy has to be enacted anew in every generation, in every day and year, in the living relations of person to person in all social forms and institutions.”

Are we ready for this? Am I? Because the political order is banking on the fact we aren’t and that we can be played according to our prejudices. Perhaps this is the worst aspect of politics, but it represents the shame of citizenship if we can’t transcend our own limitations and persuade politicians to make the tough choices. If we can, though, then this next election will not only bring about a new life of democracy, but a higher kind of politics in the process.

 

 

Up Periscope

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TWITTER’S NEW LIVE STREAMING APP, Periscope, has been all the rage in the last two weeks and perhaps represents an entirely new direction for social media. And yet each time a new tool is developed to help with communication, it eventually gets hijacked by the haters, the trolls, the bigots. No sooner had Periscope launched than it ran into some trouble.

Scott Kelby is an Adobe Photoshop expert and a digital design specialist who immediately took to Periscope for its ability to get a messages out. But then he began to spot some troubles and wrote a piece titled, “Seven Things They Need to Fix in Periscope.” Most were just technical enhancements he recommended, but one has serious social consequences and he used it to challenge Twitter to up its game.

“I have seen some absolutely mortifying, disgusting, and downright filthy comments appear on screen while watching a Periscope broadcast, particularly if the person broadcasting is female. I’m stunned at some of what I’ve read . . . If Periscope doesn’t do something meaningful to curb this type of very inappropriate comments, it maybe its undoing.”

Kelby is only the latest well-known person to start pushing back at social network forums that continue to let hate in through the back or side door. The head of Twitter said only a few weeks ago that he was “ashamed” at what his own service was permitting and that concrete action would be taken. Celebrities like Adele and Naomi Judd are also fighting back against the trolls and haters after they became two of the better-known victims of online attacks.  Two women have committed suicide in the last year over online attacks.  It’s serious stuff.

For a number of years now the door has swung wide open to online comments of any kind in most digital venues, but it appears that things might be about to change. Over a half-century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. shouted out that, “Hate speech is not free speech. It rips people to shreds and destroys society in the process.” We are increasingly understanding how prescient that observation was. A quick search on Google regarding online “trolls” and “haters” quickly turns up numerous research findings as to the twisted reasoning of such individuals and how they seek to use any new invention to better the public space as an opportunity to stalk individuals beyond any sense of decency or respect.  Beyond any good measure, researchers say, such individuals become infatuated with certain people, troll them, seeking to destroy their reputations and place in society.

As citizenship itself takes on new importance in a time of fundamental change, it will be inevitable that permitting any kind of hate language in the name of free speech will be to undermine the very essence of citizen responsibility. Even newspapers, online and traditional, are understanding it better. Large papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are now rethinking their online comments sections in light of the abuse they engender. Most newspapers don’t have the staff to sift through all the online entries in order to remove the bad ones and so anything goes. But now many of these papers are coming to terms with the liabilities that come inherent with providing a venue that could result in hatred, especially if proved those comments had direct damage on victims. Perhaps even worse, newspapers that refuse to moderate such comments are watching their readership decline due to their permissive attitude. A growing number of good people are not only getting off of social media, but no longer reading the newspapers either.

That old champion of liberty and right of free speech, Thomas Paine, understood what would happen if it was taken to excess. Challenging the leaders of his time, he wrote, “A body of people holding themselves accountable to nobody out not to be trusted by anybody.”

As with so much these days, it will likely be citizens that take the lead in demanding that the public space be an honourable and respectful place. As more and more studies are being released showing that online hate is slowly poisoning that place, taking action will involve more than just “blocking” or “unfriending.” Eventually pressure will have to be brought to bear on those organizations and venues that blindly serve as a forum for the worst of humanity.

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