Expose hate or risk catastrophe


Expose hate or risk catastrophe

The strategies of populists who seek to divide South Africans by stoking envy and fear can succeed only if the rest of us acquiesce. Rise up in defence of the truth, says DAN BADENHORST, or risk suffering evil consequences.


THE threat of anarchy due to mismanagement, corruption, crime, inadequate service delivery and greed occupies so much of our time that there is little talk about the danger of an orchestrated ideological divide grounded in hatred.

This peril is especially acute when it involves power-hungry ulterior motives which aim to subjugate the masses with fear and undo any existing sense of cohesion. And history teaches us that hatred stoked with artificial fear between racial, religious and other groups has the potential to cause catastrophes.

To be able to resist hatred, you need to know its nature and extent. Unlike mere distrust, disgust, resentment or animosity, it is a sentiment in which anger is inherently forbidden. And when it is politicised from a personal level of retribution into an ideology, there is no longer any trace of rationality.

The writer and TV personality Stephen Fry spoke about the significance of this evil in an interview with Holocaust survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch. She survived Auschwitz as a cellist in the camp's women's orchestra and once had to play Träumerei by Robert Schumann for the monstrous psychopath Dr Josef Mengele, among others.

When Fry asked her if Mengele thanked her afterwards, she replied: “Did he thank me? Oh, you poor man. You still don’t really understand. Do you thank your telephone after you have used it? Do you thank your music system? Do you thank your dishwasher? We were not people! We were Untermenschen, subhuman. You do not thank an animal or a machine.”

Fry also spoke to Lasker-Wallfisch about the book Schöne Zeiten (Good Times), which deals with letters written to their families by camp commanders and supervisors at Auschwitz. In these letters, there is no mention of the atrocities and inhumanities in which they participated or witnessed. But the evil is evident from exactly the sentimental nature of the letters to their wives, who are proud of their hard-working husbands for uncomplainingly participating in the war effort, or sweetly enquiring whether little Hansie has done his Latin homework.

It is an affirmation of the philosophy of Hannah Arendt (who had to flee Jew-hating Europe in mortal danger in 1941) about the banality of evil. And you have to ask yourself how the same people who produced Kant, Beethoven, Goethe and Einstein were able to descend to such depths.

When was the right time?

The question is, when should something have been done about that hatred in order to stop the endemic acceptance of such inhumane evil? Was it amid the poverty after World War 1, with the fall in the value of the German currency, or when Hitler staged the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923? With Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, it was already too late, and after Kristallnacht in 1938 the gaslighting of the larger German community had already progressed so far that Jews and Roma were considered objects without human dignity.

How do you prevent this from happening again? For Lasker-Wallfisch, the answer lies not so much in what happened, but how it happened. If the prevalent world view requires politically correct, intolerant wokeness to oppose racist, sexual, or other types of abusive and derogatory language, so be it. You can start by keeping your ears peeled for hate speech that dehumanises the victim as well as the perpetrator.

This is why the anger of Julius Malema's EFF and the RET faction of the ANC, as well as the hatred of the white right, must be countered early and directly. But not by giving them unnecessary publicity, as the Americans are doing with Trump, or by speaking well of their actions in any way. Nor by reacting softly to foolishness such as churches that aim to exclude people who do not conform to their narrow-minded sexual-cultural views and refuse to harmonise them with modern and inclusive insights. Religions that should glorify love but become proponents of hate should not be spared from harsh criticism. One can draw on  Arendt's philosophy that no one has the right to simply obey or conform.

Hate campaigns aimed at political division or exclusive gain must be exposed for the lies they are, every time. Self-righteous and absolutist definitions of these campaigns exclude any limitation on their influence. On the other hand, when evil is regarded as merely relative, there are excuses for all types of behaviour, however reprehensible. This does not invalidate the fact that there is a natural boundary between right and wrong.

A fish in your milk

Rather than giving a universally valid definition for this boundary, there are guidelines that help determine it for specific situations.

The limitation clause of the fundamental rights in our constitution provides a test that any right must meet: it must be justifiable in an open and democratic society based on freedom, human dignity and equality.

When it comes to actions in general, the golden rule endorsed by most religions states that you should treat others as you would like them to treat you. Of course, there is also common sense to consider, such as circumstances that indicate what is right and wrong. If you find a fish in your milk, you can only assume that the milk has been diluted.

In 1967, Arendt warned in the New Yorker that if truth becomes indistinguishable from falsehood because a sustained and total substitution of lies for factual truths has become the norm, the danger lies not so much in falsehoods being regarded as truths and vice versa, but in the destruction of what gives meaning and what we use to navigate through life.

Despite some residual mutual distrust, we have mostly succeeded in freeing the present from the racism of the past, and as different groups we live together amicably rather than with aversion, and in reasonable peace. There is no question of hatred on a large scale. In fact, a positive interpersonal atmosphere exists at ground level.

We must not allow our people's shaky engagement with each other to be further clouded by the exploitation of the natural and latent dynamics of their inherent lack of trust towards others. The Malemas, the RETs and the right-wing whites must be branded as the populists of envy and fear, as well as distorters of reality, that they are. Their covert and totalitarian hate campaigns must be constantly exposed before they spread like yeast throughout society and undo our fragile liberation from the obsolete and racially driven us/them syndrome.

We do not want to descend into something like the Germany of the 1930s. We and our children also do not want to have to say one day “mich hat Auschwitz nie verlassen” (Auschwitz has never left me).

♦ VWB ♦

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