My thoughts below were inspired by a piece I just read on Medium entitled, "A Few Quick Thoughts on Brexit". I have heard a number of decent people voice similar concerns and I'm sympathetic.
In particular, I understand what this writer is getting at here:
"Simply saying they are not valid, or lesser, or they are stupid. Or they are idiots. That is racism’s ugly cousin elitism, so don’t turn it into a fight of the ugly. You think that is going to help people feel included?
If you hate racism, then you really really really should hate any economic and social system that creates and rewards massive inequality. Because when you get that. You get racism."
I often find myself frustrated and adopting a highbrow tone with people when discussing emotionally charged and complex issues that constantly confront us in the media. I could spend page after page on ad hominem attacks on Donald Trump for example. In my opinion, he is a fool and not qualified to be president. But I don't believe that my friendly neighborhood Trump supporter is equally a fool or an idiot for supporting him. I can have conversations, sometimes very productive ones with Trump supporters and gain insight into their concerns.
I am nostalgic for the days when people liked arguing with people face-to-face in cafes. "We argue to discover, knowing we can't injure ourselves." I'm paraphrasing a quote by French Situationist, Guy Dubord from his book, "Society of the Spectacle".
I understand Chris Arnade's point that inequality may be a cause of racism. At the moment' though, I don't want to get into that. The subject of what causes racism today causes many conversations to shut down. My intuition is that pernicious identity politics have infected our use of language to a point of semantic stress that is rather unusual historically speaking.
I do know this however, we need to make an effort to communicate more carefully with people who are simply concerned about their future and tired of being disrespected.
Many people find it difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in culture, technology, science, global business, trade and all the many complex aspects of our world today. We live in tender times, even calling attention to this can be seen as insulting or high-minded.
If we take a moment to think about our unprecedented global circumstances it’s not hard to understand why so many people are frustrated with the status quo. It seems that fewer and fewer of us know what's going on inside the black boxes that we've all come to depend on. It can easily feel like we're losing control. (I can't fix my carburetor, but my car always starts.)
When have humans lived connected to a global, digital network? It seems like it all started for most of us just a couple of decades ago. The technology has evolved and so must our institutions, governments, businesses and ourselves. But how best to inspire this evolutionary process is one of the most complex and irksome questions of all? We are facing coming to grips with processes that lead us towards solutions rather than dogmatic solutions that have existed all along and merely been ignored by the elites, or the intelligentsia, or the technocrats, or the atheists, or our enemies, or _______. Just fill in the blank.
In some ways we are all spoiled consumers who have lost the plot and stopped participating in community building in favor of witnessing the entertaining spectacle of progress with its proliferation of cool stuff and labor saving devices.
Many of us can travel the world and yet we don't, or if we do we do so aimlessly and superficially. This is sad. We live in a world where we have access to many cultures and many of us still prefer to hunker down with the familiar and enjoy commiserating about our trepidations.
I know, you can tell, I'm urbane. But I am not an elitist, far from it, I simply miss the intellectualism of simple workers. Cities and towns used to be full of them; these thoughtful, down to earth, extremely intelligent people who wove the fabric of society and defended families and their communities.
Some of the best, and I do mean best, intellectuals I have known were red necks, farmers, workers, taxi drivers, plumbers, waiters, cowboys, teachers, etc. There was a time when it was fashionable to read a book after work and play pool with friends at the local pub while talking about things that were a challenge to understand. This was, of course, before we could easily live in the comfort our digital silos. This was way back when little Republican children went to the same school with little Democrat children in Washington D.C., and people of different ideological stripes felt a responsibility to collaborate with each other for the greater good, for their children’s future in other words.
The fact remains that there is no turning back without throwing away the tremendous progress we have made, without turning our backs on our human potential, and the better angels of our nature. Our world is not going to get any easier to understand. We’re all going to have to work hard to keep ahead of issues that convey true existential risks.
Think of what kind of economy you want and what the tradeoffs are. We all need the time, patience and self discipline to educate ourselves. We have the resources if we choose to activate them, if we chose to invest in them. Then we need to talk with each other and figure out how to get things done. Many of us do this, but far too many of us just sit back and watch. (Was Chauncey the Gardener really wise, or just simple.)
Beating up Polish workers in the U.K. isn’t going to help you get back to mining coal, weaving cloth or tending land on huge estates. Things are always changing so we must learn how to think ahead and prepare for the future that’s coming, not just the future we are nostalgic for. Only tomorrow is coming and what tomorrow will be like is much harder to predict than it used to be.
No one is going to listen to a sanctimonious jerk drone on about his or her concerns. We need to start by listening to each other and really making an effort to understand each other. We can’t afford to talk over each other anymore. The changes are coming hard and fast and we need the force multipliers born of intelligent and careful collaboration across cultures and ideologies.
And yes, we need to tell it like it is and call it as we see it. Dishonestly has no place in the discussion.
We all need to participate in whatever ways we can to make positive connections and contribute to improvements in our institutions and communities, no matter what silo we live in. If we all open up a little, we might be able to find solutions to our problems, and relieve some of this social and cultural pressure that’s been building up recently.
It all starts with honest and careful communication.