One day, will there be no “them”?
“In an electric information environment, minority groups can no longer be contained – ignored. Too many people know too much about each other. Our new environment compels commitment and participation. We have become irrevocably involved with, and responsible for, each other.”
From “The Medium is the Massage” by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. published 1967 by Jerome Agel.
I think it is about time I re-read “The Medium is the Massage”. These words written before I was born pretty accurately anticipate the opportunities that have since become commonly seen in society.
The internet has been hugely democratizing; any minority, indeed any individual, can potentially be heard by any listener in the world. Niche groups can find like minded individuals anywhere in the world and build community. The “sharing” that goes on means that points of view can be stated and sometimes understood. Suspicion and guesswork about historical groups of “others” is reduced. (unless people over-self-select the echo chamber of their own thoughts, which they do…)
A similar idea was included in J.B. Priestley’s play “An Inspector Calls” where the mysterious inspector leaves with a warning for the other characters:
“We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Good night.”
J.B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls
Set in 1912 and first performed in the 1940s, it is thought that the inspector was warning the characters about the fire, blood and anguish of the first world war.
It seems that these writers are pointing towards a theoretical solution for peace – that if there was no “them” and humanity could consider itself a unity and be mutually responsible, then “blood, fire and anguish” could be avoided.
This theme is also touched on in E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India”, the tone of the passage gently mocking the missionary characters:
“All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt. So at all events thought old Mr Graysford and young Mr Sorley, the devoted missionaries (…) In our Father’s room are many mansions, they taught, and there alone till the incompatible multitude of mankind be welcomed and soothed. Not one shall be turned away by the servants on that veranda, be he black or white, not one shall be kept standing who approaches with a loving heart. And why should divine hospitality cease here? Consider, with all reverence, the monkeys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also? Old Mr Graysford said No, but young Mr Sorley, who was advanced, said Yes; he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends. And the jackals? Jackals were indeed less to Mr Sorley’s mind, but he admitted that the mercy of God, being infinite, may well embrace all mammals And the wasps? He became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud? And the bacteria inside Mr Sorley? No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.”
So the missionaries conclude, “we must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.”
In the world today, there is a sense of a large “us”. And there are a few pockets of “them” – at least, that’s the way the media presents the world to me.
Lines in the sand have been drawn separating the us from the them – when people overstep in regards to their oppression and abuse of others, war-mongering, intolerance etc.
The abuser, the terrorist, the person whose political views we find abhorrent, the ignorant thug, the hardened criminal, the infuriating philosopher – these are the “them” that “we” still have.
Despite the first quote saying “we have become irrevocably involved with and responsible for each other” and the second quote saying “We are members of one body”, “we” can find it impossible to identify with those that oppose the values and beliefs that we hold dear.
By being me, and thinking what I think, do I “exclude someone from our gathering”? I don’t think so. I hope not.
I think I am about to stumble into the paradox of equality and diversity. I’ll leave that for another day!