Category Archives: Philosophy

On being racially abused…

This is a strange story that happened to me in the park on Sunday afternoon. Whilst walking along on a deserted strip of pavement a man in an audi pulled up along side me and began to shout racist abuse at me, his precise words are not printable on a family oriented website such as this but they were along the lines of “Go back to Poland you polish ****” followed by yet more abuse. After my initial reaction of shock, I helpfully pointed out to him that I am in fact English (note that I’m not saying that misdirected racism is somehow okay). He rapidly departed in his car. Given there was no else around, he had to have been screaming at me.

I always assumed racism was born out of a misplaced and warped logic. A fear of the outsider that although vile was still framed inside a world view that could be pulled apart by logic. For example if you believe the recent Daily Express headline that boldly stated “All new jobs go immigrants!”, then it’s quite easy to pull apart by logic. I have a new job and I’m not an immigrant QED the headline is demonstrably false. I realise now after this incident in the park that logic just doesn’t work with bigots.

There are a few possibilities as to why the man might have believed that I’m Polish, none of them are at all logical. Maybe the man in the car has a misplaced idea (common in tabloid newspapers) that there is a platonic ideal of Englishness and if you look a bit too tall, a bit too dark, a bit too Slavic, you have a funny accent or funny hair, then you are not English. The problem with this argument is one of genetics. All of us are composite beings, the product of a particular sperm and particular egg. Genes that are recessive can suddenly flourish again if the right combination pair up. Biological systems are inherently in a state of flux. Even without migration, populations will change over time with every new throw of the genetic dice. This is the reason that I am much, much taller than my mother. The common parlance for this is evolution. It happens. Maybe the racist in the car needs a biology lesson but I don’t think that would cure him of his strange and otherworldly disease.

Another possibility is that the man in the car actually has some sort of mental illness. He could quite literally be a paranoiac. In which case I have nothing but sympathy. I don’t think rational discourse is capable of curing mental illness.

The third possibility is that maybe the bigot in question believed so sincerely the tabloid headlines about immigrants taken over that he assumed he was one of the last British people left around and that if he drove up to a stranger then he would be bound to encounter a foreigner. A sort of invasion- of-the-body-snatchers style scenario. If this scenario is true then I wonder how he functions from day to day. He would have to lie to himself about almost everyone he met outside his undoubtedly small circle of friends. This is almost indistinguishable from mental illness (the difference being that it is self induced). Imagine him in a pub, he would have to will himself to believe that all the people speaking English in local accents about local football were in fact foreigners pressing against him from all sides desperate to steal his job and his taxes. His position in life is completely untenable.

At the end of the day I can’t think of a single rational explanation to justify this man’s actions. I can’t think of a way of using rational thinking that could be used to combat the unlogic of bigotry. In a wider sense, how can faulty thinking be corrected when the fault in the thinking is logic itself? I would love to hear other peoples’ opinons on this.

The human need to categorize information

I was pondering earlier. Specifically I was pondering the cost of information in terms of distribution, storage and accessibility. Back in Roman times, information storage was relatively expensive. Stone tablets had to be made to store the information, stonemasons were needed to carve the tablets, the average Roman citizen would not be able to read or afford such tablets. Paper cheapened the cost of information but it was really the invention of the printing press that meant that information was easily reproduced. These days, those of us who live in the majority world use google as often as tap water. 

 I think if I had to pick a human characteristic that defined us as a species it would be information storage. Chimpanzes communicate with one another but they (as far as we know) don’t record hunting grounds, neither do dolphins or wasps. To quote Cory Doctorow “Human beings build encyclopedias like termites build mounds”. This is why we blog, because blogging is the royal jelly of the internet, cultivated by worker drones living humdrum lives and quietly categorizing the world around us into something meaningful.