Yesterday the British Labour party tweeted a little animated message in which they argue that there are 80,000 homeless families in the UK and at the same time there are 174,000 ‘holiday’ homes sitting empty for most of the year. They propose that if a second home owner paid a small tax every year, it would generate £560 million per year that can get homeless families into permanent accommodation. The video concludes with the statement, “The homeless crisis shames us all. Together we can solve it.”
Alongside many supportive comments (including my own) there were comments such as,
“Further taxes are always the solution with Labour. Labour are the party of punishment through taxation.”
“Taking from people does not reward hard work or innovation. Encouraging and rewarding hard work whilst supporting those who need assistance is the best path. If someone works hard, succeeds and wishes to leave their family in a comfortable situation why not?”
“Why keep bringing more people into the Country, it doesn’t make sense?” or,
“…most people are just too lazy and think they should just have a house given to them. They spend money on going out eating, drinking and have no discipline. Yeah, it’s hard but hard work to save but it pays off. We can’t just keep taxing those who have worked hard!”
There was more. In one of my last responses I said, “ … I really wouldn’t want to meet some of the people on this thread if the world came to an end and I was hungry and in need of help …”
I remember how dismayed I felt in my youth when we studied Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) in political philosophy at university. Hobbes, an incredibly progressive thinker, one of the first to argue for example that women should have equal rights, also believed that humans were fundamentally selfish, aggressive and belligerent. He believed that if law and order broke down, the veneer of civilisation would quickly drop, reducing us to the competitive, ruthless savages that we are underneath. Hobbes knew we are capable of much more. But he believed we can’t be trusted under stress, in chaotic frightening times without a framework to keep us civilised. He thought we need to be regulated properly or we would descend into cruel savagery as soon as life became unstable for whatever reason.
At the time I thought Hobbes was a bit harsh. The truth is, he scared me. I was a young woman, just emerging into the adult world. I didn’t want to think that I was destined to live in the kind of precarious reality Hobbes described. I wanted to believe with all my heart that he was wrong, that he was just a product of his time. After all, he wrote this during the English Civil War (1642-1651). Those dark times made him disproportionately negative and bleak, our lecturer told us.
Now I think Hobbes wasn’t at all disproportionately negative or overly bleak. But the problem we face isn’t the openly ‘bad’ people in society. Looking at the twitter discussion prompted by Labour’s proposal, I was reminded of how much I really worry about the ‘nice’ people among us. Bad people are predictable. They tell you exactly what they think, who they hate and why, who they would harm if they had the power to do so.
Every generation of bad people tell you clearly that those ‘others’ (whomever they happen to be in that place and at that time in history) are the cause of all our problems. ‘They’ destroy ‘our way of life’, pollute our society, corrupt our institutions and our young, betray ‘our’ cherished and superior values, ‘steal’ the jobs of good hardworking people. They know the groups they hate, they name them. They are unashamed and impatient with those who feel the same as they do but pretend they do not.
Pauline Hanson in Australia, a far-Right Senator, recently labelled a nine-year old girl “brainwashed” and a “brat” and called for her to be kicked out of school because she refused to stand up for the Australian National Anthem. This self-aware girl was protesting against the Anthem’s shameless white supremacy. “I’d give her a kick up the backside,” Hanson said. As disgusting and ignorant as Hanson is, she is telling her truth. There is no ambiguity. You know exactly what she thinks. She never disappoints. You know exactly what to expect of her and what she would do if she could. We already know what happens when bad people get power. We have seen it all before more than once. We know it leads to genocide, horrendous violations, torture, injustice, unpunished lynching, rape, slavery, burnings, exploitation, institutionalised discrimination, horrendous poverty and deprivation. The key point here is that we know.
Bad people are open and clear about what they believe and the kind of society they want to live in. They are consistent and predictable. We also know what to do about them. It’s simple. If we want to prevent their nightmarish vision, we must ensure they never get enough power to fulfill their depraved fantasies.
It’s the ‘nice’ people that I worry about. I am not referring to the nice properly decent people who are openly supportive of sharing and caring of others. They are clear too and they too can be trusted to act on their beliefs. I am talking about the ‘nice’ people who are savages in sheep’s clothing and who are hiding in plain sight. They are the majority, the good hardworking people of our society. Those who do not use bad language, who do not raise their voices, who appear to be rational, articulate, well-educated and who put forward intellectual arguments albeit devoid of any warmth or empathy except to their own.
Rabbi Daniel Zemel’s sermon on Yom Kippur to Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., demonstrates perfectly how dangerous ‘nice’ people really are. It’s hard to pick examples from his essay not because there aren’t enough. The whole thing embodies the problem that ‘nice’ people present for me. Read it if you can stomach it.
I want to linger for a moment on the Israel I love and along with that the Zionism that defines so much of who I am. I sometimes call Zionism—the God that did not fail. In 1945 after our people had been stripped naked and destroyed before the entire world as witness, Zionism was the God that offered the surviving remnant a home when there was nowhere else to go. We forget that at great peril. Israel—is a life –boat and so much more.”
We stand on the narrow bridge of ethical Zionism forged by Herzl, Bialik, Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky, Begin and Rabin.
We cannot walk away because victory in the struggle for the Israel we want feels remote. We cannot abandon the struggle for Israel any more than we can abandon the struggle for America. It is not in our theological DNA. We cannot abandon that which we love.
Or he says:
Zionism is not a fad–or a passing interest–or a trend. Zionism is the contemporary name for the project that God first uttered to Abraham– go to the land that I will show you. No matter how one might try, it is impossible to wrench the land of Israel out of the Jewish equation.
Does Zemel not know that Zionism is a racist, settler-colonial movement? Does he not know that the creators of Zionism were perfectly aware that Palestine was fully populated? That they knew it would take ethnic cleansing to turn it into an exclusively Jewish ‘national home’? Of course he does. If he were an honest man, as the ‘bad’ people are, he would say so. But he does not.
I would like Zemel to take a lesson in honesty from the bad people. I would like him (and other ‘nice’ American or Western Zionist Jews) to say clearly and unequivocally that they believe that the Jewish people have more right to survive than the Palestinian people. I would like them to say clearly and unequivocally that they believe that it was justified to kick 750,000 Palestinians out of their homes and property and off their land, to destroy a whole nation, steal everything from them, kill, rape, massacre, displace and disinherit in order to ‘save’ their people.
You cannot say you love Israel or Zionism without admitting that fundamentally you believe that Zionist settler-colonialism and all its crimes are perfectly OK because the survival of your people justifies everything.
But no. Zemel and the people he is speaking to (including Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who so approved the sermon) are dishonest to the core. They are afraid to expose the truth about what they really believe so they don’t even name it. The reason Zemel criticises the alleged shift to the Right in Israel is because he is afraid that the visibility of Israel’s fascism and racism will prompt a new wave of antisemitism. Zemel does not care about morality: all he cares about is the survival of his people no matter the cost to anyone else. In this he is identical to Israel’s leadership. I just want him to say so rather than cover it up with romantic, emotive nonsense.
Actually, I am pleased with the direction that Israel is taking. Israel has always been consistent in its badness, there is nothing new at all. But at least, like all openly bad people, Israel’s present ruling politicians tell the truth and so make the badness visible. For generations, pretend Left-wing politicians in Israel fulfilled the exact same fantasies right-wingers anywhere would love to fulfill but covered it up. They have committed unspeakable crimes against humanity right from the start. But they covered it up with pseudo rationality and civility for the benefit of the educated ‘nice’ and wealthy US and Western Jews. Now that Israel feels strong enough and economically independent it doesn’t need to pander to the fake lefties.
Now that Israel is run by the equivalents of Pauline Hanson, we finally have the truth in all its ugly, disturbing ‘glory’. Israel is run by people who are fed up with pretending for the benefit of a class of people they cannot relate to. Like proper Right-wing fascists everywhere they want to do what they do and shout about it from the rooftops because they believe they are right and are proud of what they are doing. They don’t want to hide any more, they don’t see why they need to. This is a good thing for the rest of us, because we now know what we are facing and we know what we have to do about it. The obfuscation and the confusion it creates are gone. Thank you, Benjamin Netanyahu!
I worry about ‘nice’ people who would drop the veneer of civility in a heartbeat as soon as they feel under threat. They don’t care if other people are homeless, if children grow up in poverty, or if whole nations are kicked off their land. They would commit crimes against their fellow humans without flinching, just so that their little group survives. But they pretend that this isn’t who they are. That discussion on Twitter was another demonstration that too many people are little and frightened and believe that they and those closest to them are worthier of survival than anyone else. They don’t want to share what they have as Labour suggests, because they believe they are entitled, just like Zionists do.
Zemel like all dishonest ‘nice’ people are an example of the worst of our species. They are tribalist, competitive, entitled, fear-based and ruthless but they hide it. I wish dishonest ‘nice’ people showed some courage and either joined the extreme right where they really belong, or changed their ways and started to walk the talk of the values they pay lip service to but deep down do not believe in.