Thursday, 2 December 2021

Aberration or just extreme example?


A few days ago, the press carried a picture of a small child in tears wearing a lifejacket wading ashore from a small boat in the Channel. It was graphic, but different people will have seen different things as they interpreted the picture to fit their own views. I saw a small and vulnerable human who was absolutely terrified and in desperate need of care and protection. I don’t know what horrors that child had suffered or witnessed, and struggle to imagine the desperation that parents must have felt to have undertaken such a perilous journey with children. I know, though, that others will have seen something quite different. They will have seen a threat to ‘our’ way of life; potential future competition for housing, jobs or health services; someone who is not ‘one of us’ and should be immediately returned to the country of origin; or even maybe a potential future terrorist.

The gulf between those two views is enormous, and it cannot be bridged by rational argument or mere fact, because it is based, ultimately, on deep-seated prejudices and attitudes. To be fair, there is a natural human tendency to divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘not us’, and none of us are immune from it; trying to pretend that it is not so is futile. The best we can hope for is to reduce it to a question of which team to support on the field of play, rather than a basis for treating large groups of our fellow humans. Over time, the group considered to be ‘us’ has grown in size: from tribe to town to nation. There is a sense in which the EU can be seen as part of that process – an attempt to create a common feeling of being ‘European’ whilst continuing to host and nurture a diversity of cultures and languages. It’s an aspect of the EU from which the UK has always been semi-detached, and which it has noticeably tried to reverse over the past five years, retreating to a smaller and more insular definition of ‘us’. But even the EU’s best efforts still leave plenty of scope for the rest of the world to be considered as ‘not us’.

However, all the world’s really big challenges can only be solved when we start to recognise that ‘us’ is the whole of humanity; that it is only by working together that we can address climate change, war, hunger and poverty. It’s no coincidence that that list matches pretty well the list of causes which lead to people becoming migrants and refugees. If we choose instead to keep part of the world in poverty so that the other part can enjoy an unfair share of wealth or, to put it another way, to look after ‘us’ and leave ‘not us’ to their own devices, those problems will never be resolved. And for the remainder of the shortened lifespan of humanity which will result from such a decision, all of those problems will still be with us.

Taking a wider view of ‘us’ doesn’t mean an end to diversity or difference, but it is the key to our collective future. Whether it’s achievable or not is an open question. If the UK can’t even manage to accommodate a few desperate refugees, I doubt that it can adapt sufficiently in the time available. When I see the sort of hatred of ‘not us’ which is evidenced by the recent incident in which people attempted to prevent the launch of a lifeboat, and the PM doubling down on his unlawful and immoral plan to push boats back into French waters, I can only take a pessimistic view. Our best hope is that the UK under its current regime is simply an aberration. Whether the UK is indeed just an aberration, rather than a particularly egregious example, only time will tell.

1 comment:

Gav said...

Good to see Mr Farage in his new role as unofficial fund-raiser for the RNLI.

More generally, if you're ever looking for an antidote to a surfeit of mean-spirited nastiness then I'd recommend the TV series "saving lives at sea". A recent episode featured a "shout" from Eastbourne to rescue a number of asylum seekers, including 3 small children, whose boat had got into difficulties. The crews' account of the rescue and of how it affected them was quite something.