Racism and its Roots in Ideology
Ideology and idealisation are not ideal. Fundamentalism is not fundamental. Yet both thoughtless attitudes constantly threaten to undermine the principle of cooperation and respect between those individuals who comprise organisations of all kinds. The move from small relatively open organisations where individuals are mostly known to each other, and where influences from outside are welcome, to a larger closed organisation, jealous of its status and threatened by potentially disruptive ideas, creates an atmosphere where fundamentalism takes root and flourishes. Legislative and coercive forces are then used to secure rigid goals, and to divide societies on the basis of systems of belief held to be the truth, the whole truth and the only truth, projecting evil, deviance and error elsewhere. This poses a threat, not only to freedom of thought within organisations, but to the continuing existence of the organisation itself.
Good intentions will not be sufficient. We, both as individuals and as members of large groups whilst remaining good intentioned, seem to ignore the evidence before us.
Love will protect you
to the edge of the wood,
Then a monster will get you
And Love does no good. (Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red)
We have made advances. Women’s right to vote and hold public office. To have equal rights in family law; to work; to a fair wage; to have reproductive rights; to own property and to be educated, are behind us, at least in western liberal democracies. But racism? How far have we come if half of humanity is still treated as inferior?
How we are embracing the intersectionality of race, education, sexuality, ability, age, gender, ethnicity, culture, language and class. And how reassuring it is to know that we are not all racists. We can recognise those who are, not only in the matter of race, but also in personality, humour, perception and attitude toward ‘the other’ and fear of everything linked to the concept of plurality. In short, the authoritarians. But we can go further for as Sigmund Freud remarked, ‘It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestation of their aggressiveness.’
What then, in a group analytic society should we focus on? What is Ann Carson’s monster that love does no good?
Do you remember Anders Brevik who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011? He did so because he believed that feminism, a kind of cultural Marxism, exists to destroy European culture, that is, the established way, that he was bound to defend. He identified himself as a fascist. He was not found to be psychotic. Nor was Dylan Roof who in 2015 killed nine African Americans in a Methodist Charleston church. He identified himself as a white supremacist and hoped to start a race war.
Both shared a fundamental belief. Fundamentalism is characterised by a strong aversion to absorbing evidence that goes against one’s firmly held beliefs … and in a moral and political sense, an insistence that others should do and believe the same ideology. And now there is an Australian, Brenton Tarrant, whose rambling manifesto refers to both of the above, justifying his massacre of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch. Each fully justified their actions and insisted that they held the moral high ground. But what exactly is that?
As W. B. Yeats put it, ‘The best lack all conviction, whilst the worst are full of passionate intensity’. There are two possible positions for us all. One centred on regulation, conformity and keeping things going as they are. The other, admittedly a gamble, the terror of remaining true to desire, the desire to know, the epistemophilic instinct of Melanie Klein, the ‘K’ of Wilfred Bion. Otherwise as Bion asks in relation to the psychoanalyst, ‘if there are not two very frightened people in the room, one wonders why we are spending so much time discovering what we already know’.
I will shortly be releasing a monograph on Kindle, Unthinkable Evil: Understanding Racism which will I hope go some way toward exploring things that we do not already know.
Dr. Stan Gold, July 2020