A big kerfuffle this week about alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party! The pièce de résistance was Ken Livingstone’s claim that Hitler had initially been in favour of the Zionists – “before he went mad”.
Leaving aside history (see below) I find Ken Livingstone an amusing ‘rogue’ who revels in the counter-intuitive. I think I’d enjoy an evening chewing the fat with him. But of course he is no more anti-Semitic than you or I. Nor less.
You or I? How do I dare make such an accusation of Secondsight Blog readers?
Our anti-Semitism goes back a very long time because it is a product of evolution. It started among our animal forebears and reached maturity with homo sapiens. In a very dangerous world it was necessary to be wary in order to survive. Of course we knew our own tribe, and they protected us, But when we encountered – perhaps rarely – an unknown tribe we immediately looked for our weapons. Or we scarpered. (The psychologists call this ‘fight or flight’.) The threat was the possibility that we might be attacked for food or territory. But, most often I expect, it was because the foreign tribe was equally scared of us.
There was a positive side, too. We put a high value on our own group, and we secured our safety by our loyalty and our readiness to protect other members – at its strongest with our own family and spreading out to the others. We know that good social bonds help us to happiness, ward off depression and lead to longer life. We like people like us, we are wary of people who may not be like us.
But this has a different side, too. In order to remain people like us, we need, by and large, to subscribe to our group’s values. The result is that we may, and often do, internalise the values of the group or the culture without much critical examination. Historically several countries on the Continent have been strongly anti-Semitic, and so, I am ashamed to say, has been the Catholic Church.
Of course anti-Semitism in this post is the paradigm I am using for our deep-lying instincts of prejudice. Anti-Semitism’s sensitivity is related to history rather than its turpitude. If you happen to dislike Eskimoes and as a result speak or think ill of them, or disadvantage them, you are anti-Eskimo – and just as much at fault as an anti-Semite. But many I suspect have no views about the Eskimoes. Don’t feel left out, there are plenty of other opportunities. You might want to think about these for starters:
Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, higher social class, lower social class, bourgeoisie, long-haired students, short people, tall people, bankers, fascists, democrats, university graduates, thickoes, Germans, Rumanians, immigrants, divorcees, bespectacled, communists, conservatives, humanists, explicit atheists, Muslims, biblical literalists, Bangladeshis, Indians, Chinese, accepters of HV, opponents of HV, old people, young people, beard wearers…
That list could go on forever. But I stopped at beard-wearers because I recall that in the somewhat conservative business company I was in, I was told by more than one person who had their ear in high places, that I could not expect real promotion because I wore a beard. Had I been persuaded to sell my soul to the company store I might have a Rolls Royce outside my house today rather than a Honda Jazz.
That anecdotal example reminds me that many items in my list have been rigorously tested. To give you one case, almost at random, it has often been shown that the senior executives in an organisation are significantly taller on average than the lower grades. (Notwithstanding Napoleon and Nelson – but of course we know that shorties are typically cocky to make up for their size.)
If you can put your hand on your heart and remain sure that you do not make critical generalisations about at least some of such categories, I do not congratulate you, I merely put you into the category of those who lack personal insight.
I might be persuaded to excuse you on the grounds of invincible ignorance. Faced by an accusation of prejudice, you will automatically think of a rational excuse which you will actually believe. Many anti-Semites, for instance, wear the cloak of anti-Zionism – presenting us with an example of the whited sepulchre. Or you will produce evidence based on reported incidents which, because they support your view, are enough to prove your point – a common characteristic which the psychologists call ‘confirmation bias’. But invincible ignorance is a terrible thing. It means that you are stuck in your hole until Domesday – on which occasion you will be placed in a category chosen by someone with more authority than me.
I think you get my drift.
PS. If you want a fuller picture on Hitler and anti-Semitism,, go to http://tinyurl.com/hl88v44