September 3rd, 1958. Two young men with saved heads, branded by signs hanged around their neck as teddy boys were paraded around the streets of central Athens by the police. They were the first to be arrested under the infamous law 4000. The legislation aimed young troublemakers, the so-called “teddy boys” and penalized from verbal insults or throwing yogurt or fruit to elderly. The law responsible for thousand of buzz cut and public humiliations was abolished just in 1983.
As the world seem to gallop carefree into an extremist epoch, with democracy in decline, the law 4000 seems to be making an unofficial comeback on social media. Amidst mysterious bots and attention seeking brands, users seem to be on a stake out left and right, pun intended, to catch that wrong tweet. The characterisms “fascist”, “feminazi”, “grammar nazi”, “neo-nazi”, and everything in between, just fly all over the internet, triavilizing some of the darkest times in human history. The reality is that most of the people that are characterized as such are not in fact fascists, but could be very well on their way to becoming one. The same goes for the people that throw out mindlessly such characterizations in anger. As phycological stress and anger filled reactions are slowly, but steadily,[1,2] taking over Twitter and Facebook can we blame it all on Russian bots, or is all this simply mirroring a polarized western world?
When I met some friends from US shortly after the elections they were apologetic for their new president. The truth is the power of a US president expands well beyond the US borders, and although each country politics has its own impact on the world, few countries can influence to that degree other countries regimes or obliviate the planet with the push of a button. If US was a smaller country we’d all sympathize with the US citizens, and would propably joke that they got their own version of Silvio Berlusconi, just with bad sense of fashion and bad hair. The silver lining of this dramatic election is that it reminded everyone in US and the democratic world the power and responsibility their vote holds. As well as that for good or bad anyone, from a struggling educational director to a gifted but troubled musician can gain political power.
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” — Pericles
When Trump won the 2016 elections I wasn’t as shocked as many of my friends. Watching pretty much any reality show out there informed me that the chances of a win weren’t negligible. Lets just say that my theory is that if you can identify more that ten Real Housewives that would vote for Trump, he stands a legitimate chance in winning. The same goes if you can identify more than ten people around your Thanksgiving table, which I guess a lot people mistakenly did not. Trump seems to not only separate families at the boarders, he has managed to seperate families within boarder too. Post election family festivities have been cut short to avoid conflict. But if we can’t find common ground and argue constructively with our own family members how can we do that with stragners from diverse background and different experiences and prospective? If we don’t talk, how can we not only understand each other, but also develop our thinking? It is easy to blame Trump for the apparent tears in the social fabric, but although he amplified the status quo, his election was the evitable result not the cause of an increasingly politically, but mainly economically, polarized society.
What’s happening in post-Trump US today reflects what’s happening in the rest of the western world. In fact in Europe it’s even worse, as openly far-right parties are in the parliament and gain more and more popularity. That is still a blessing in comparison with other parts of the world, where they don’t have the luxury of democratic struggles, or are deep in war and turmoil, often the aftermath of our current status. We still have the chance to correct our course.
There is a link, but also a difference between thinking something, saying something and doing something. There is also a link, but a difference too, between a democracy in crisis and a dictatorship. When Hitler was campaigning he wasn’t advertising the holocaust and 2nd World War, he was promising to break free of the restrictions of the treaty of Versailes, to reduce unemployment, to reinforce the amy, to prevent, as some perceived, the threat of communism and to give a leg up to German businesses over their Jewish rivals. If these promises ring familiar we need to keep in mind that going from this to Nazist Germany and mass murders was a little less than ten years ride.
Hollywood has its fair share of responsibility in depecting fascism as a far away threat. Stormtroopers did not only exist in a galaxy far far away, they existed in Germany in the mid 20s, stormtroopers was a section of Hitler’s party NSDAP. If you look at the villains in the majority of 80s and 90s films they were either Nazis, Aliens or had a Russian accent or supernatural powers. But fascists are not extraterrestrial beings, they are ordinary people, the shop owner in a small town, someone’s uncle and potentially you. The ‘98 movie American History X, which if you haven’t I highly recommend watching, was from the very few exceptions that portrayed modern day nazism and how easy to go down a path of destruction driven by hatred. It also portayed there is a way out through educating yourself and building relationships with the very people you stand opposite.
I think Pharell had a point when asked about Kanye West and his thoughtless statements over slavery as well as his vocal support of Trump he responded that he won’t abandon him because he fundamendally disagrees. A lot of people have gone to blocking spree on Twitter for people they disagree with or post a statement on Facebook followed by “if you disagree with what I’m saying please remove me from your friend list”. It’s a very tempting tactic indeed, suddendly you feel less stressed, and instantly the world is a better place. But can turning a blind eye bring change? Or does it simply promote tribalism, as we float further apart in our self constructed bubbles?
“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s easy to go on a rant or talk condescendingly when you hear illogical points or see someone sharing false news, but doing so you most definitely ensure the other person won’t listen. On top of that our own, safe but limited, worldview won’t widen. Socrates used maieutics, a form of cooperative dialogue to develop critical thinking and draw out new ideas. Only through calm dialogue we can explore all the legitimate points made by all sides, and surely there are such points on all sides.
That’s the biggest lesson we could take in a post-Trump, post-Brexit, post-Grexit era, that we shouldn’t overestimate personal dispositions over social situations. The only way to reverse our course towards extremism and division, is staying informed and simply coming together. At the end of the day this isn’t even about fighting for democracy, it’s about fighting for our very own humanity, about rising above our arguments, to see the good in each other.
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” — Anne Frank