“Language, culture — these are not enough to make you belong to a people. Something more is needed: a common life, common experiences and memories, common aims.”
— Frantz Fanon, from “A Dying Colonialism”
Here in the “America made Great” by a popular mythology, there is good cause to feel anguish for all the victims that made this nation what it is. The blatant failure to act upon the principles so nobly articulated in the U.S. Constitution bear this out. But then, perhaps there was little possibility that it could have been different, given that the majority of immigrants were essentially forced to leave their homelands due to religious intolerance, economic disparities or political persecution. Perhaps it is really no surprise that they brought the “virus” of intolerance with them along with all the other European contagions that would then decimate the indigenous populations they encountered. Certainly the “authoritarian” form of leadership that had driven them out of Europe was likewise not left behind but instituted from the earliest beginning of the Plymouth Bay Colony. If intolerance was not already in their blood, then it followed them to the “New World” like a plague.
Intolerance is observable throughout human history. My own conclusion is that it must be a holdover from a more primitive mindset that utilized it as a strategy of social organization. Much like a loyalty oath to the immediate clan or tribe that was required for inclusion, it became a means of maintaining separate and distinct identities. Examples of this behavior can be identified in every ethnic grouping the world over. Such patterns of interaction are indeed difficult to abandon. Over so many millennia, they seem to be “baked into our daily bread.” Even in the advancement of science, I see defects in Aristotle’s methods of arranging all of existence into varying categories. His emphasis on differences had, as a consequence, provided a basis for denying the essential connections that have made the phenomenon of life even possible.
All life forms may have differing genetic codes, but all share identical sequences within those unique formulations. We are all related. There exists no possibility for humans to conclude that we are somehow outside of nature. It, including us, are a composite whole. And yet, the focus on differentiation as opposed to a shared commonality continues to occupy the minds of too many the world over. Why?
In reviewing historical human interactions, a pattern emerges where sedentary, agricultural people are conquered by nomadic, warlike tribes who either destroy the previous inhabitants or establish a vassalage that fundamentally becomes a means of extorting labor and the goods necessary for them to acquire the great wealth that necessitates great poverty. kingdoms, empires and today’s globalization all utilize some semblance of this strategy. The objective of sustained growth as the mantra of corporate existence becomes the mechanism for the elimination of all smaller business entities. Nations with the largest representation of corporate titans are then the centers of affluence that continue that same system of vassalage which has come down to us through the centuries. Technology changes, cultures evolve or dissolve all to the same old song and dance: ‘the exploitation rag.’
Recognizing that exploitation is not just a phenomenon of outward growth, but has likewise been applied to domestic social and economic interactions, there are no sectors of our society that are sacrosanct. To assign injustice and focus on only one time period, place or people is a necessary beginning, but unless we go on to add the context in which “human history” and the motivations of mankind are further explored and linked, we will once again fail to exorcize the demons that have accompanied the quest for power, wealth, resources and their justifications that are written into so many false historical narratives.
A good beginning could be made in primary school. The teaching of more than one language from kindergarten on, the introduction of ethics, philosophy, and comparative religion throughout grade school and high school — these efforts would help in demystifying other ethnic groups and cultures. The words of Ozaki Yukio, the Japanese parliamentarian and past mayor of Tokyo come to mind from his autobiography subtitled: “The Struggle for Constitutional Government in Japan”:
“Long ago the world was like a rock. You could have struck it on any side and done it no harm. As life and human society developed, it evolved into a plantlike organism. If you cut off a branch on the right, another would grow on the left. Such was the world as we knew it until quite recently. Nations that lost their wars would wither and those that won them would prosper. But with the march of civilization, the world became at length a single body like a living creature. Now the whole body — the arms, the legs, the head, and every part — shared in the pain and comfort of all. One country in ruins would bring injury to the whole world.”
When nurtured by a prejudice that sees only differences, intolerance is the seed that grows into hate, segregation, racism, and all those biases that falsely provide the rationale for the “exceptionalism” that divides humanity throughout the world. Possibly we will remain locked in a battle between good and evil until evolution ultimately decides our fate. But the slavery of Africans in America, genocidal practices directed at Native Americans, serfdom in Europe, the caste system in India, Buddhist intolerance of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Chinese concentration camps for Uighurs, the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews, the victimization of Palestinians by Israelis and the Rwandan genocide are all historical facts of an underlying malady that begins as “intolerance,” which is then nurtured within families, schools and like-minded groups in our communities and on the internet. How will it all stop? Possibly when each of us questions the biases that we encounter throughout our lives. The idea that “human will” can triumph over “human weakness” was so succinctly suggested by Nancy Reagan who offered: “JUST SAY NO!” to which we could then add, “TO INTOLERANCE!” and you would then arrive at a revolution of the mind. As a common enterprise we could finally become one humanity.
— Hugo A. Roller resides on St. John.