As a result of writing the essay, Crime as a Public Welfare Issue, the line of thinking towards human beings, less as absolutely free-willed actors, but as any other animal or machine, at least to a degree, products of causation, leads me again to ponder the different paths which many of us have taken politically.
I myself started out in life politically apathetic to what was essentially quite a late point. Many of my peers at school had already developed allegiances to one party or another. It was only when I began to recognise that the views I held were actually ‘political’ in nature that I started to form associations of my own. Unfortunately, at this point, these were the wrong associations. I fell into the trap of the far-right; of racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism and of general intolerance.
I think that the thing I now understand, looking back, is that I wasn’t a bad person back then. I didn’t decide to have those views because I was particularly hateful. This is why I feel it is necessary to challenge this misconception, held by many on the left, that those on the right are terrible people and somehow, that’s the end of it. Yet, I think of my own friends who are currently right-wing and again come to the realisation that they are not at all ill-meaning people. These are people with whom I am friends and have witnessed the compassion, empathy and generosity they are capable of. The question of why they would take up a political position that seems contrary to all of these things is therefore not as clear-cut as initially thought.
Thinking back to my own past, I realise that a lot of my own core values were the same. In fact, I think that generally speaking, there are quite a few common values shared by liberals and conservatives, libertarians and socialists alike. We all value freedom and fairness, but our definitions of these concepts is what differs.
There have been many attempts to distinguish between political inclinations based on neurological and psychological tendencies. This may indeed play a part, but I do not believe it is the primary factor in many cases. Certainly, with myself, I know it is possible for the same person in different environments to take on different views.
That’s the clincher: environment. Specifically, those things that act as the inputs to our mental view of the world. It’s not that right wingers have any fundamental hatred burned into their brain for people born in different countries; it’s that in their mental world view, immigrants really are out to take their jobs, defraud the benefits system and cause crime. I grew up reading the Daily Express and talking to racist old men. I didn’t become racist and start claiming that foreigners were destroying this country as an excuse to hate them; I become racist because I genuinely believed, from the information I had about the world, that foreigners were destroying this country.
I was saved from that. I was saved because I moved to an environment where I was able to see the reality of the world.
It might seem, when we debate with those on the right, that they are talking about a completely different world. That’s because they are. They don’t have different views about the same world we see; they see a different world. It’s hard to persuade people when they’re taking about a completely different world than you.
Unfortunately, ignorance begets ignorance. Ignorant parents raise ignorant children. Ignorant broadcasters indoctrinate ignorant masses. Like me though, there are plenty of reasonable people out there who can be brought to understand the world as it really is, so long as the cycle of ignorance can be broken.
We don’t need to persuade people to our perspective. We need to give them the information that will allow them to change their own, based on the same values we all have.