A Coalition of Dignity
When John Lennon wrote Imagine in 1971 he presented a universal prayer that envisioned a fairer, saner and more peaceful world for everyone, free of oppressive forces, violence and prejudice. Unsurprisingly it remains one of the most popular and widely performed songs of the 20th century and it never dates because the issues it addresses have not changed.
Lennon was a courageous visionary who was unafraid to use his power and influence to speak out. He was a great artist and thinker and with Yoko Ono he explored his existence and interrogated the world in order to come to an understanding of himself and his personhood.
Each and every person walking on the planet today has a right to understand their being, the very nature of their existence and what life means for them. Every human being is a wonder and a source of exciting possibility and potential.
The world is a place riven by war, greed, violence, intolerance and prejudice. We have created dominant narratives that enframe our lives placing limitation in the way of potential. We have enabled a culture of fear and suspicion that obscures our ability to see clearly and directly causes us to view many of our fellow human beings as ‘other’, as ‘not like us’ and therefore outside of the tribes to which we adhere.
The result of ‘othering’ people is always awful. In the UK homosexuality was once a crime and individuals were persecuted, criminalised and dehumanised for their sexual orientation. That has changed in the UK which is now a much more tolerant and open society but the othering of gay people continues unabated in other parts of the world. The othering of homosexuals in Chechnya has resulted in concentration camps where gay men are being tortured and executed daily as a homophobic narrative runs rampant across the culture.
However othering is not always so extreme and overtly violent. It is often so subtle that we barely notice it and accept it without challenge. Take as an example the attitude in the UK to care of the elderly. Health and social care policy has effectively othered elderly people in need of care and defined them as a problem to be managed. When this kind of managerialism takes over the human is essentially lost. We now accept as standard practice that vulnerable elderly people can have their needs met by 4 care visits a day to the home, lasting approximately 15 minutes. There are no guarantees of consistency as carers come and go, unsurprisingly as they are often on terrible pay under zero hours contracts. Between visits we seem to have accepted that the vulnerable elderly can be left to their own devices allowing efficiency to be served with minimum consideration for the needs of the cared for or the carer. Step back from the unexamined acceptance of this and the inhumanity at work is stark indeed.
We could go on, examining countless examples of the prizing of efficiency and meeting of targets over the needs of humans. It’s not just happening in social care, but in education, the health service and in businesses where humans are simply resources to be managed and organised and often exploited. This might explain the recourse to othering, which defines humans as problems to be solved, dehumanising people and removing them from our sphere of personal responsibility.
So what do we do? Firstly we think about it. From thinking comes action and action can take many forms but it all comes down to resistance and making a stand in the name of what feels right; imagining a better world and fighting for it.
James Baldwin, the American writer, public thinker and activist has much to say on how oppression works and how it can be resisted. Baldwin talks about a ‘ coalition of dignity’, the idea that humans agree on the sanctity of human dignity and put aside separatist concerns to create the possibility of a better world that serves the best interests of every human regardless of race, gender, sexual identity or political sensibility. It seems an incontestable principle that human dignity should be at the absolute heart of how we live and how we treat each other. Imagine a world in which people are put first, in which at the centre of all decision making is placed the dignity of the human. Such a world is possible, first we imagine, then we act.
First published in The Cleethorpes Chronicle, May 2017