Photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash

We might expect dictatorships and countries with poor human rights records to flout human rights conventions, but we hold ourselves in the UK and the United States to higher standards due to claims about moral superiority and as defenders of freedoms and liberty. As we see pictures of children being detained at the US border and then separated from their parents, the defenders of such action engage in a bit of deflection, lies and “what about”.

 

For example: “But do you realize that Ex-President Clinton brought that law to be. So why are you all bringing this up some 21 years later. I mean It’s been happening that long. But no one said a word until Trump became President. You all are so predictable. It’s actually funny, there is also a video of Mrs Clinton speaking about it. Very educating for you all. You should read and watch it” (anonymised facebook comment).

 

Comments about the issue from the Whitehouse include:

 

“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”President Trump, in remarks to reporters at the White House, June 15

 

“We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such sad, such bad and, actually, in many cases, such horrible and tough — you see about child separation, you see what’s going on there.”Trump, in remarks at the White House, June 18

 

“Because of the Flores consent decree and a 9th Circuit Court decision, ICE can only keep families detained together for a very short period of time.”Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech in Bozeman, Mont., June 7

 

“It’s the law, and that’s what the law states.”White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, at a news briefing, June 14

 

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, on Twitter, June 17

 

The Washington Post provides a useful background to the law referred to above , but of course these days will be dismissed as “Fake News’. Key to this is the ‘zero tolerance policy’ for criminal illegal entry implemented in April 2018.

 

The fact remains that for whatever reason children are being separated and detained at the US border with Mexico.

 

This is in addition to the grievous dismissal of the plight of many people as being that of a ‘bunch of migrants‘, the painting of red doors and the wearing of red wrist bands. This is a rising a tide of fascist discourse and activity. Our moral universe is in the process of being warped. Victims are classed as perpetrators, words are used as weapons, humans are stripped of their humanity and discussed in terms of ‘swarms’, ‘bunch’ or ‘vermin‘. An authoritarian, misogynistic, homophobic, monarchy is supported in its war, while arms industries flourish, and our chief moral concerns would be loss of jobs in the industries that plan for mega death.

A warped moral order and the population’s inability to think cost Europe dear. Don’t be fooled again. You don’t have to wear a brown shirt to think and talk like a fascist.

Europe has form in this regard, Britain is not immune. The US is slipping into it.

Hannah Arendt in her examination of the moral collapse that led to the Holocaust referred to ‘thoughtlessness’. A point Arendt tried to make in her book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem‘ was that nazi bureaucrats like Eichmann, and of course many non nazis, were not demonic or especially evil. The German state under Hitler warped the moral order and inverted concepts, so that people did not think “this is horrible, having to shoot jews” instead they thought “it is our historical duty to do this, it is horrible what I have to do (shooting jews) but it is part of our destiny, our history being written now”, and thus feelings could be nullified with reason to the State’s new moral order.

I fear that what we have now is a slow turning of the moral order, so that which is inhuman becomes acceptable. Europe’s moral collapse in the 20th century has only partly been repaired by the European project that is the EU. The seeds of that collapse produced the bloodied red flowers of the Somme and later the black hearts and shirts of fascists. Both blooms have been cut down, but one wonders if the roots that produced them may not allow another to flourish?

Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism‘ (1951) described three linked phenomena: Imperialism involving mass bureaucratised murder based on racist ideology; dissolution of the European class system resulting in a mass of ‘superfluous individuals’ who could be co-opted into a totalitarian regime; a decline of European nation states manifest as ‘nationalism‘ which when confronted by refugees and ethnic minorities warped into a lethal mix of pseudoscience and ethnic fantasy (Luban 2011).

What pertains now?

Globalisation which results in rust belt ‘left behind’ superfluous populations experiencing mass job losses and stagnant wages; the relative decline of the US manifesting as ‘America First’ when confronted by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants; the emboldening of racist and evangelical ideology; the rise to power of a populist demagogue willing to scapegoat and stigmatise minority and foreign populations (Mexicans are drug dealers, criminals and rapists).

When politicians can declare entire ‘races’ or ethnicities or religions as mortal enemies then a foundation of humanity falls – i.e. the notion that we share a common humanity. This is then replaced by ‘us and them’, ‘friend and enemy’. The destruction of the enemy can become the ultimate meaning of politics.  This then paves the way for the collapse of a moral order as we currently understand it, as the population becomes mobilized to confront the threat. It is the inversion of normal rules, that nations who feel under threat undertake, that is dangerous and that allows ‘normal’ people to act inhumanely.

I suspect that US racist ideology never fully went away, and is now gaining confidence to say its name in public. I suspect that industrialisation, technological development (Industrial revolution 4.0) and globalisation is producing a mass of superfluous, disaffected, disengaged, individuals and I suspect refugees and migrants are again confronting fears about nationhood. Islamists are fuelling that fear, while some western media and politicians fan the flames. We may be moving rapidly towards the destruction of IS being the ultimate goal of politics with the perhaps unintended consequences of reigniting European fears and fascism. Schengen may go  and the Dutch may once again hear “Ihre Papiere bitte” as they go through re-erected border controls.

Arendt wrote:

“Just as you (Eichmann) supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with jewish people and the people of a number of other nations – as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and should not inhabit the world – we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason you must hang” (Arendt 1964 p 279).

Putting aside arguments around capital punishment, it is the ‘othering’, the dehumanising, that is dangerous. We have to remember that the ‘final solution’ followed on from the first solution (concentration) and the second (deportation) solution. “I just want to send the lot back, but I can’t say that” is a call for the second solution. Aged children resemble the first solution.  The solution to IS may also involve unleashing dirty nationalistic forces as all muslims become the ‘other’, feared non humans who should be barred from international travel.

Allport on ‘prejudice’ is useful here, the first stage is ‘antilocution‘ – using jokes and words to dehumanise the ‘other’. We may already be moving towards ‘avoidance’ and ‘discrimination’. There is increasing evidence of ‘physical attacks‘ and so all we have left to go is the last stage ‘extermination’ or physical removal.

“Just as you (Trump) support and carry out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with ‘illegal aliens’ or ‘undocumented individuals’ as though you and your kind have any right to determine who should and should not inhabit the world – I find that no one can be expected to listen to you.” It’s not the law that’s the issue here, you can reverse the zero tolerance, it’s your moral compass. Putin, Kim et al must be chuckling at this PR gift.