Generally, I like to believe that I am a cool and collected individual, with the patience of a kindergarten teacher. With that being said, certain situations have the ability to crawl under my skin and boil my blood to magma levels – few more so than the classic condescending stare. That pitiful look you get from your racist “oom” at Christmas dinner when the conversation somehow turned to something more controversial than whether or not potato salad should be sweet. The look that says, “Poor boy, how naive you are,” or “Ag shame, you just don’t know what the world is really like yet”. Believing in anything remotely resembling an equal and fair utopia is often viewed as juvenile and inexperienced, because the world simply doesn’t work that way. It simply isn’t practical.
Even “liberal” American pop culture often depicts the right (politically speaking – not “right” in the moral sense of the word) as scoring higher on the realism spectrum.
In one of my favourite guilty pleasures, Bree Van de Kamp is a gun-owning Republican who would rather pretend to be pregnant herself, than to allow her underaged daughter to get an abortion. Marc Cherry’s most elegantly dressed character on Desperate Housewives brings a touch of conservatism to the show, together with Martha Stewart-like talents and more pearls (and spouses) than Elizabeth Taylor. On a show like Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, however, the open-minded Frankie (Lily Tomlin), is a hippy with her head in the clouds. She’s got great ideas and big dreams, but is also a professional procrastinator who often needs a push from her more proficient friend, Grace.
If Oscar Wilde was right about art imitating life, then the fictional portrayal of conservative versus liberal values has something to say about how hate is often packaged, branded and sold. While the Wisteria Lane resident might hold some more traditional views, she is also a go-getter, someone who gets things done with a very pragmatic approach towards life’s challenges, whereas Frankie is less of a problem solver.
While it is completely possible to love all these characters on the small screen, it becomes more complicated when dealing with opposing views in the real world, where there are no writers to provide redeeming qualities on both sides. Here in the real world where we do not have enough bread to go around, not enough jobs to make more bread, some people who have bread and some who don’t, people who have to eat bread while others eat cake, people who worked hard for their bread, people who think they’ve worked hard for their bread, people who prefer not to eat bread but are forced to eat bread by their parents, church and society – the list goes on – things are simply not black and white.
When trying to solve these global problems, the more discriminatory routes are often sold as being more practical and easier to comprehend.
“Two genders, one sexuality” is much easier to grasp and implement than The Kinsey scale, The Benjamin scale and a redefined list of pronouns. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. Simple, easy and practical.
How could we answer a complicated question like immigration?
You and your family are taking your seats for dinner. You are a close-knit family of 10 with three loaves of bread among you. Three loaves are already stretching it, as you need some for tomorrow’s lunchboxes. You’ve worked hard for those heavenly carbo-loaded loaves. There is a knock at the door. Four complete strangers want to join you and eat some of the bread with you. What do you do? It would not be feasible to let them in, even if you wanted to. There is simply not enough bread to go around. You could sacrifice your own family’s gluttony, but that is not fair to them. The reasonable solution is to close the door in your uninvited guests’ faces, but not before stuffing a note in their hands, telling them to go back home and eat their own bread there. It is not that you don’t care about hungry children. It is simply a case of charity starting at home.
What about poverty and inequality?
Simple, the poor should get jobs.
What about someone who struggles to find a job?
They should get a job.
What if there aren’t enough jobs?
They should look for a job.
What if they are held hostage by Hitler or Kim Jong-un on a small rock, surrounded by landmines and fire-spitting dragonflies?
Uhm, they should get a job.
Recently, polling reports in America suggested that a large portion of Trump supporters are not blind or ignorant towards his lies, hate and exaggerations, but their perception of him as someone who can “get things done”, and who is “tough enough for the job” far outweighs his regular bigoted Twitter meltdowns. Even a scroll over the comment sections of news reports about the US president on South African news sites shows massive support for the socialite-turned-president. In a country with a history of politicians disappointing the people, it perhaps makes sense that people are willing to ignore some racial and homophobic slurs, in exchange for someone they believe to be a doer, someone with a practical approach to politics.
If identity politics simply gets in the way of progress, is it not logical to always choose the more practical route instead?
Philosophers and Ethics professors have been trying to solve this problem for centuries. One thought experiment that tries to find an answer for this predicament, is the renowned Trolley Problem. The Trolley Problem goes as follows:
You see a runaway trolley moving towards five tied-up people lying on the tracks. You are standing next to a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track and the five people on the main track will be saved. However, there is a single person lying on the side track. You have two choices:
- Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
- Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
When faced with this problem, most people agree that they would pull the lever and sacrifice one for the lives of five.
What if there is no lever, but there is someone standing next to you when the trolley approaches the five tied-up individuals? If you push the person next to you in front of the trolley, they would be killed, but the impact will stop the trolley before it reaches the other five people. Would you do it? Would you push them?
Now, let’s say the person standing next to you is someone you know. Someone you love. Your friend, your sibling, your partner or parent. Would you push them? Why not? Isn’t it still one for five?
It is here where the problem with hate and bigotry lies. It is all pragmatic and realistic, until you and your family are the ones standing outside the door, knocking to ask for a piece of bread. Hate has no boundaries. In its very nature it is volatile, and it can turn on you faster than a wild animal in captivity. We recently saw this when the Australian home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, suggested that Australia should fast-track immigration for white South Africans. The announcement was praised on numerous white nationalist Facebook pages (which I refuse to list here). Members of pages that praise Trump’s administration for his “build-a-wall” approach to immigration now started thinking of packing their own bags, longing for greener pastures – even if the dire state of our own country can hardly be compared to those places where civil unrest has left citizens with no other choice but to stand with their hats in their hands and beg for asylum somewhere else.
It is easy to be of the opinion that everyone is completely responsible for their own pursuit of happiness, until you are the one with your hands tied behind your back. It is easy to see how sympathising only with those similar to you can seem more practical, until it is you and your loved ones standing on the wrong side of the wall, asking for a crumb of safety, respect and happiness. Would it still be more practical for your would-be saviours to close the door in your face then?