After my recent “Jawbone of an ass“-post, and earlier two posts on populism “To Fight or to Write?” and “Populism – The Wave and current events” some people said to me that I am too outspoken. They accused me of making hate propaganda against populists…
What I mainly do is writing about things I see happening in our western society and how this has analogies to events and objects from the past.
And yes, I am outspoken about these things. I try to take a stand against the cultivation of hate towards minorities and religions. Especially when that hate is formed and fed by hearsay and wrong information. When people are dehumanized and reduced to numbers, or an aspect of their faith, culture, country of origin or skin tone.
But more than someone who stands up against all this, I am an advocate for freedom, equality and solidarity. These are vulnerable, hard to get and easy to lose or damage. The three achievements of the enlightenment, core values of our western society.
But also one of the most endangered. Some people will tell you that they are under threat by foreign powers, mass immigration and fundamentalist Islamic groups. But the solution they bring is to reduce that same freedom, by closing the borders, throwing out muslims and censorship of everything that isn’t to their taste.
One of the reactions even said: “Please note: anyone who throws around the word populist does not believe in democracy.”
Well, I do believe in democracy. It is by far the least objectionable form of government there is. A form in which – at least in theory – everyone has the possibility to put in their views and speak their mind about how a country should be led. But a democracy also requires responsibility, critical thinking and judgement of its citizens. Not taking anything for granted. Let’s not fall for the fallacy of thinking that a crowd is always right. You can brainwash people into thinking that a triangle is a circle. They will call it a circle, but it doesn’t change the pointy shape. In a democracy people tend to get what they vote for and in a way what they deserve. If the majority of the Italians vote for Berlusconi, they get him to be the president. If the largest group votes for Crusty the Clown or Vermin Supreme he will get elected. But it’s up to the people to take responsibility, listen to what the candidates have to say and especially what they do. Is it somebody who is really trustworthy and has the best interest for the people?
One of the treats to democracy is a totalitarian regime or a dictatorship. And that’s just what these populists try to let you believe: Give me the power, and I will do it for you. They give the comfortable illusion that we don’t have to be responsible, and that problems in our society are caused by the scapegoats that they bring up: Immigrants, Muslims, Jews. Give the power, and they will manage…
But we have seen to what monstrosities this has led in the past. A dictator has very seldom the best intentions with other people. In the end, it serves solely its own interest. Some see this as a default human condition, something natural. Philosopher Ayn Rand wrote about this egoism in her books “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”, both bestsellers in American republican and European liberal circles. But that something is in our nature doesn’t automatically make it ethical or decent.
To get back to the “anyone who throws around the word populist does not believe in democracy”: Populist politicians exist by the grace of democracy. They need the people to rise to power. In a way they are a product of democracy: smart entrepreneurs who say what the large public wants to hear, in order to get power.
And it is true that this is a direct reaction from the common people to the politics of, and faults made by the political establishment. But may I recall that these are the politicians they voted for and brought to power themselves? It is clear that people are fed up and have enough of it. But what’s the alternative? A totalitarian regime with a big leader? Someone who makes a mockery of everything? Whose only reaction to others consists of cursing, condemning and swearwords? If people want it they can have it, but I fear for the consequences.
One commentator assumed I hate Donald Trump (or Geert Wilders). To be clear about this: NO! I don’t hate anybody and believe everyone has something good to bring to the world. To hate them is easy, it is the thing they promote themselves. It’s vengeful and stands in the way of dialogue. To hate someone, he or she loses our respect and human value. That demotion makes it easier to regard ourselves superior over them.
The only thing I do oppose are use and feeding of fear and hate as a tool to control the masses and their dehumanizing and implicid racist ideas, speeches and actions. It adheres strongly to what Hannah Arendt (she was one of the teachers of Richard Sennett) in her works about totalitarianism and “the banality of evil”.
For the rest I would certainly like to have a cup of coffee with either of them some day. Or invite them over to make a guitar. In my experience people tend to be a lot different if they are in a workshop making something substantial, instead of standing and performing an act before a cheering crowd. I would really like to see what’s beneath that mask, to get to know the person, rather than only the loud-mouth politician…
Some will probably think this is hopelessly naïve or weak. But it is all but hopeless. It contains the hope that we can learn from the past, and get more friend-ly towards each other.