I’ve arrived at a theory of bigotry, of why and how people can hate the unfamiliar, the new, the unusual, or simply anything that they don’t agree with/ understand. Based on my 38 years of living, my upbringing, the people who gave me that upbringing, things I have seen, done, experienced (pleasant as well as unpleasant), and looking at all the wonderful open minded, inclusive, embracing people I know, I can only conclude that bigotry, narrow mindedness, hatefulness, and hate mongering, is a direct side effect of not being able to love anyone or anything.
It’s not that difficult to see when you think about it. All the wonderfully inclusive people I know are people who deeply, truly, love at least one other human being. Usually, they love a large number of people, animals, things, concepts, pursuits and so much more! And it is this capacity to love, this empathy, this ability to feel deeply, that translates to an accepting, open mind in human beings, in my experience.
A lot of us, involved in activism and outreach as we are, tend to think of closed minds as simply the effect of “non-knowledge”. We tend to believe that if only we could talk to people, explain things to them, improve their general knowledge, in short, drag them – kicking and screaming – into the enlightened 21st century, they would stop being haters and embrace universal concepts of love, equality, peace, and so on. I’m beginning to see that it is not that simple, but is – in a way – simpler.
People who are capable of love… truly capable of a deep, selfless, emotional attachment – cannot be bigots. They will see members of another race as men and women, like them. They will see the differently abled as people who might need a hand, but don’t need put downs. They will see unconventional expressions of gender identity – from androgyny to cross dressing to transgender identities – as just who that person is and “none of my business”. They will see love as love, regardless of who feels it for whom – men for women and women for men, men for each other, women for each other, or any other possible combination.
They will see no problems in any of these “others” wanting to share their lives with WHOEVER they wish to. They will have no issues with any of these others having families… any way they can. The only reaction a person who loves can have to someone else who loves is of fellow feeling. Of thinking…”yeah! That’s what it feels like”, regardless of who the recipient of that love/affection is, the gender of that recipient, or how many recipients there are.
These people – the ones who really love – would never be capable of ragging, hazing, torture, bullying, and other kinds of targeted, hate behavior usually aimed at anyone the “clique” sees as “different”. They could never put down someone for, or deny them the right to, something as simple, essential, and basic as the right to be, the right to love, the right to state that love and have it formally recognized if it is returned, and the right to share that love with a family.
How do I know this? Because in my life, in my travels, in my outreach, in my mad social life, I have met numerous people who fit this category. I’ve met so many people who may or may not have the advantages of a great education as we call it in India (which only means a few degrees by the way and does not – in any way – teach a person to think), people who may or may not have any exposure to the “right” political language, activism, ideas, beliefs, people who or may not have any exposure to the very concepts I am talking about – of racism, ableism, ageism, and alternative sexualities/gender identities.
And yet, one thing stands out. One thing is common in all the people I found to be open. One underlying truth in the way these people thought. Education, exposure, knowledge made a difference, sure, I could see that too, but it may not be as important as we tend to think. Because the people I find the most non-judgmental, the people who are the most open minded, the people who are the most accepting of everyone’s basic rights, the people who are the most willing to let others be and have no desire to tell everyone else how to live their lives, and no desire to hurt, maim, or kill people who choose to have lives different from their own, these are the people who love.
Some are highly educated, articulate, political, aware, and conscientious. Some are not. Some can barely speak English or Hindi, and have no big degrees to their name. Some have travelled the world and seen a lot, some have hardly ever left the small town or village or neighborhood they were from. Some lived an active online-cyber life, connected, blogging, tweeting, surfing, learning, while some could barely type out an email and wouldn’t know what a facebook was. Some were from wonderful open families that taught them the value of rights and equality and understanding, while some were from typical Indian, conservative backgrounds.
Still… all of these people had a predisposition to acceptance. Not understanding, not comprehension, but just empathy and acceptance. Where did that come from I wondered? And why didn’t the other people I met have that? What was missing in the recipe of the highly educated, modern, privileged, aware, exposed, brought up in mixed gender, equal-ish background people who sat at a university canteen and confidently told me that all women were nothing but cunts.
What was wrong with the same kinds of people who yelled and screamed for women’s rights but would not make a peep for dalit rights, or LGBTQA rights, or racial equality, or legal requirements for things like wheelchair ramps. What was wrong with the father who will happily kill his son/daughter for marrying into the “wrong” race/ community/caste. What is wrong with the village elders who ORDER a woman to be raped by 13 people in public, for daring to choose who she wants to marry. What is wrong with the religious leader who orders someone stoned, maimed, killed, for driving, wearing the wrong clothes, wanting control over their own bodies, wanting to love the people they do. What is wrong with those people?
And the only answer I can see is that these are people who have never felt love. In many cultures, especially in the east, that’s a regular part of social life… not feeling love. In India, as in most of these cultures, the social emphasis is on fitting in, on obedience, on respect (real or feigned, but always amply demonstrated), on doing what society, your community, your religious leaders, your caste, your clan, and your elders tell you to. Even in a fundamental lifelong institution like marriage, personal compatibility, attraction, affection, or love are non factors. Even in social life – making friends, hanging out, the emphasis is on the same things. You socialize mainly with people who are family (however far removed) and people who are ‘like us’ in social and economic standings, most often the children of the people our parents hang out with. We don’t choose our friends, and we don’t have anything more than a surface liking for them, much as we may claim to love.
We are trained to merely obey our elders as we grow, showing all the requisite outer symptoms of respect (read blind deference). If we disagree, have a problem, want something different, would like a dialogue – well, the option simply does not exist. Does each of these children love its parents and elders? CAN they? I don’t see how. To me love is a complex emotion arrived at after much give and take, back and forth, personality clashes, debates, disagreements, none of which we have room for in our system, certainly not between parents and children, nor between siblings. I know a lot of people who will jump down my throat for this. Claiming we are the epitome of filial love and affection with our single minded obsession for MAA (the archetypal, all sacrificing, Indian mother who we supposedly revere but who we are quick to throw out of the house if we can). Me… I don’t ACCEPT blind adherence to every word, never disagreeing, excessive kowtowing, and obsessiveness, and total control to be LOVE. Sounds more like slavery to me.
Once we are old enough, these same elders will decide it is time for us to breed. For the women it is so that they can get someone else to pay for our upkeep, in return for which we are required to be the unpaid slave of the clan and family, the personal sex slave of the person, and a baby making machine. For the men, since everyone knows how bad no-sex is for men, it is about having a person to have sex with, and someone to give them heirs, preferably MALE, to carry on the “family name”. In the choosing of this person… for either a woman or a man… attraction, affection, love does not have any role to play. Candidates are chosen, and the winner decided on the basis of factors such as family backgrounds, economic status, caste, religion, salaries, degrees, and anything and everything that has absolutely nothing to do with how the two will get on together. LOVE? We assure everyone – love will come with time. The way I see it…that’s not love. That’s getting used to a person, getting into the habit of having them around, even affection yes – of the kind we feel for a houseplant.
Then, this being the point of the whole exercise, the children arrive, often before the first anniversary. So any possible relationship building between the partners is effectively halted, and as the years pass, even the sex tapers off as they take on the role of ELDERS themselves. In true ragging/hazing pattern, all the oppression we have grown up with, all the lack of control over our own body, dress, life, circle, decisions, career, marriage is now happily passed on to the next generation. Hazing victims now turn hazers and to unto others as someone has done unto them. So… inspite of all the obsessive involvement that Indian parents have in their children’s lives, they don’t know the first thing about those very children. And how can someone who does not know me, does not have any idea of what I think, feel, want, LOVE me?
To them, kids are like insurance, investment. A job than needs to be done, something that must be looked after for X number of years so that when I am old and grey, and unable to fend for myself, the returns will roll in, in the form of deference, feet touching, feeding, clothing, shelter, and basic care giving. Now imagine a person living this life. Going from birth to youth to marriage to parenthood to middle age in this loveless, regimented, ruled, powerless way. I don’t see anything strange in this person being the bigot. In fact it would make total sense… because how dare someone else have the freedom, fun, love, fulfillment that I have never been able to have? Let’s kill the bastards!
Even religion, in our neck of the woods at least, does not counter this. All the monotheistic religions seem bent on making us god FEARING rather than god LOVING. The emphasis is on DON’T. what NOT to do is clear, control is paramount, submission to the will of the one and only almighty the only way to be. Not a happy recipe for a fulfilled life, because that machine too is driven by the unfulfilled, loveless poor souls. And polytheistic faiths, like Hinduism, which are all about multiplicity and inclusion, where traditionally we had everything from male gods taking female form, cross dressing warriors, men brought up as women and women brought up as men, two male gods who not only have sex but actually biologically produce offspring, transgender identities, atheism, non performance of religious rites, treating and thinking of the supreme being in any form you like, including that of buddy or pal, have all been an intrinsic part of the belief system – they have been corrupted beyond recognition by people with vested interests and narrow outlooks to the point where they are as restrictive as any other.
Not surprising then, that the average person, conditioned and oppressed from the moment they are born, and never feeling the immense depth and un-scalable heights of real love, turns into a narrow restricted person who cannot accept anything other than what they see as “normal”, and is willing to take out their own angst and frustrations on the person they see as breaking those norms. Me.. I love my friends and my folks and my man… after all not because I am expected to (kicked enough friends and relatives out of my life to prove that) but because they are MY kind of people and they love and respect me and really know me. I cannot – in any way – imagine grudging someone else that feeling. No matter who it is that they love. I love my child without feeling any need to own her or control her, and cannot imagine anything being more important to me than her happiness, well being, and health – not society, not honor, not face, nothing.
Lucky enough to have control over my decisions and body, I cannot imagine being offended by the same in another, wanting to hurt them for having it, or wanting to control it for others. I have so much love in my life, so many interests, so much to see, do, experience, that I am happy to say I have no time and no inclination to hate, exclude, or hurt.