I was walking around the city the other day, when I heard a noisy crowd in my vicinity, so my curious mind couldn’t resist having a closer look. Before I realised what was going on, police arrived in the area and separated the two groups present in the parking space. The rally of a local right-wing extremist association was about to end, when it was interrupted by the opposing group. “What an unsettling scene,” I thought to myself. This episode was taking place in Berlin, the multicultural capital of Germany, known for its tolerant and open spirit. The year is 2017, but it seems strangely familiar to depictions of a pre-war 1939 Berlin.
The current trend in our societies leans towards a political and cultural isolationism, whereby groups start to form in order to pursue a determined goal and following a charismatic leader. One would think that the interconnectedness of our world would eventually lead to open-minded societies, but in today’s socio political landscape the picture is quite different. The emergence of tribal mentalities, marked by a typical “us vs. them” rhetoric, is at the core of the most shocking political movements taking shape worldwide.
As humanity starts to adopt a tribal attitude in politics, it is important to reflect on the breakdown of the social structures of modern civilisation. The faith in social, scientific, and technological progress cemented in a desire for freedom and equality should be goals pursued by all citizens of any given country, but in our increasingly individualistic world it is easier to find excuses to fight each other instead of working towards a common goal.
Fragmentation in politics is amplified by today’s targeted channels, websites, and social networks that promote the creation of bubbles of ideas. Each tribe lives separately from the other, with local governments and groups reflecting the same opinion. With the help of the internet, ideas can now proliferate in an unprecedented way. The alarming popularity of websites such as Los Angeles- based Breitbart, a far-right news portal were ideologically driven professionals communicate mostly racist and xenophobic material, as described by The New York Times, as well as the Facebook page of anti-immigrant organisations such as Pegida in Germany are signs of the lack of interaction and a crisis of dialogue between dissimilar political groups. After all, the reason for the existence of the above-mentioned organisations is that people identify with them and the separatism they promote.
As a matter of fact, we are drawing imaginary lines between us, and the nuances of one’s own language, culture, and class reality have provided people with a new sense of identity, which is used to legitimise a separation from the rest. The notion of the nation state is coming apart as made apparent in present-day America, where two groups, liberals and conservatives, hold contrasting views and have different agendas. If debate is meant to make us consider the world around us, then we should debate more often, and make sure that the space for debate and dialogue is characterised by tolerance, diversity, and dedicated efforts to promote inclusion.
Words: Astrid Scheuermann
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Cover image: Hussein Family Portrait, Baghdad, from series Conflict by Sean Hemmerle.