John Berger and the dying art of independent thought….
“He will not divide us!” Screamed an actor called Shia LaBeouf into the face of a Donald Trump supporter at the weekend. Over and over he screamed the line at the smaller man, pushing and shoving him to the delight of the assembled anti-Trump crowd. There, in that short, ugly video one can see the embodiment of division. In 2016 we saw the rise in populism, a move away from centre-left politics and with it a return to inward-looking, proctectionist policies designed to please the home crowd. The ugliness of what is espoused by those on the far right is being equalled by those on the left whose refusal to acknowledge the result of a democratic vote obstructs serious, intelligent scrutiny of not only the incumbent but also, importantly, the outgoing.
The election of Donald Trump along with the UK independence result showed us nothing new. Because of social media we believe communities are more deeply divided than ever, I do not believe that. More American women voted for Trump than marched against him despite what they already knew about the man and social media exploded with rants and insults hurled across the world wide web by those too consumed with hatred to stop and reflect. Internet platforms now give a voice to the most ugly in society, rabid views on either side which do nothing to further the cause of those they align themselves with.
For anyone to raise a legitimate question about a popular figure it must now surely come with a disclaimer. A declaration that what is about to be said must not be perceived to racist, homophobic, sexist or God-hating. This pre-fixing of sentences by those who bear no over-riding political allegiance exemplifies the standard of debate across the globe, the futility of the voice of reason, the realisation that volume of abuse trumps all else.
With the rise of right wing politics and the success of populist politicians surely it is legitimate to ask serious questions of those who represent the liberal and left wing classes? Should we all wave a tearful farewell to Obama and fast track his place in immortality based on nothing more than our distaste for his successor? After eight years in office should we not dissect his work for the good of historical accuracy and treat his victory as a black man in the same manner as that of Margret Thatcher when she defied all of the odds to become leader of the ultimate old boys network in the ultimate decade for sexism? Thatcher’s gender is, quite rightly, recognised and placed in context before the rest of her premiership has been vilified for years by those on the left who hated her.
Obama has vanished exit stage left under the smokescreen of anti-Trump hysteria amidst congratulations for staying loyal to his wife and, according to her, staying clear of narcotics. Is it really good enough that we ignore his persistent state of war, near total ambivalence towards the Middle East and a black community bereft of hope for change, jobs and equal rights they so firmly believed he would deliver on? Surely not.
To pin one’s political colours so firmly to the mast must call for some semblance of research and understanding. Never has identity politics seemed so apparent as was shown in 2016, Trump promised the unachievable, Hilary campaigned as a formality to an assured rite of passage and none of those supporters on either side ever stopped to truly reflect and consider their candidate and their own position.
In John Berger’s Hold Everything Dear, we hear the voice of reason, a leftist liberal voice which, regardless of persuasion demands a hearing. Berger always wrote about the ordinary person, his angle was always alternative, refreshing and difficult to dispute; “People everywhere- under very different conditions-are asking themselves-where are we? The question is historical not geographical. What are we living through? Where are we being taken? What have we lost?…” These are the questions we on all sides must surely be asking of all of our political leaders.
Berger says democracy is a proposal about decision making, “its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependant upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question and upon the decision-makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard”
We, the governed must search harder than ever for the truth, free from political bent and narrative. In 2017 the tragedy is that so many seem so incapable of understanding and acceptance. Why has Trump succeeded and populism become the buzz word for this new presidency? What Berger offers us is an opportunity to stop and take stock of what we see all around us. Do not judge migration en masse, terror attacks on European cities are not more vile and outrageous than those in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan. We all have our own stories, our lives as precious as anyone else’s. Berger teaches the reader a lesson in the most quiet, intelligent and beautiful way.
“Fanaticism comes from any form of chosen blindness accompanying the pursuit of a single dogma”
It’s the most oppressed on our planet, not those who think they are, those who have migrated because of climate change and total poverty. It is about Americans stuck between two coasts queuing at food banks, terrified of becoming ill without the means to pay for it, this is not the stuff of a ‘great nation’. World poverty, climate change, religious hatred and radicalism, state sponsored terror and coalition air strikes on civilians will continue under Trump just as it did for eight years under Obama. Berger found Trump and his like deplorable but it was the cause and affect, not the person which Berger focused on.
No doubt Trump will continue Obama’s legacy of drone strikes in his promise to ‘wipe out radical Islam‘ and no doubt more innocent lives will be lost or forever damaged by them. In a world in which all sense of fact and basic human dignity is discarded to suit the insular narrative we need the likes of Berger more than ever. His passing at the start of 2017 gets increasingly harder to take.