In a world where extremism and division is on the rise, Matt Hawkins argues that kindness and cooperation are our strongest weapon against bigotry.
Hearing the latest news from Westminster, you’d be forgiven for reaching for the metaphorical remote and trying to turn the whole thing off.
The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson labels an entire group of Muslim women “letterboxes”, while both the main parties tear themselves and each-other apart over Brexit, racism, and leadership races that go off half-cocked.
Abroad the only thing Trump is making “great again” is the legacy of pretty much any other president in history. And Putin’s fingers are now deep in so many pies he must be considering buying shares in Mr Kipling.
People say it doesn’t have to be like this. But people are tired of the same old tropes from the same old figures. It’s why people voted for Trump and Brexit. It’s why figures like Putin come to be so attractive because they seem to decisive, so powerful, and so earth-shattering.
Of course, we know that these are not the answers to our social and political malaise. But do we know what is?
As with any medical diagnosis, you have to look at the patient’s history – and it’s pretty clear that Britain has been leading a damaging lifestyle now for the last four decades.
Whether Margaret Thatcher was a product of her time or an initiator of it is not really the issue. What’s clear is the enormous impact that the economic dogma now labelled “Thatcherism” has had on British life. One way or another the political leaders who have followed her have tried to mimic it – right up to our present government.
The narrative it promotes is a familiar one. We are all inherently selfish. We must all compete to succeed. Winners win because of their talents and determination, losers lose because they are lazy and unwilling. The story is now so pervasive that it has infected every aspect of our daily lives – newspapers fixate on the bad things we do to each-other, advertisers market not only products but lifestyles we are all meant to subscribe to, and everyone, from your doctor to your priest, teacher to your flatmate – can be rated, critiqued, and shamed online.
This story has a double tragedy. For one, it’s highly destructive. It’s making us more unequal, unhappier, and it is breaking social bonds. But equally tragic is the fact that it is built on a complete lie.
Yes, we can all be selfish and greedy and nasty and manipulative. But we can also be incredibly kind, generous, cooperative, and loving. Our species would never have got as far as it has without those attributes. We give to charity. We help our friends. We set up the NHS and saved thousands of Jewish children from the Holocaust. We love dogs and share millions of videos of them doing cute things on facebook everyday.
It’s because of that double tragedy that my close friend and colleague Jennifer Nadel and I decided to set up Compassion in Politics – dedicated to bringing compassion, empathy, and cooperation into the political debate.
We want nothing less than to change the dominant narrative in society, to create structures that engender love and trust and discourage the behaviours that some like to think define us.
We already have the backing of the incredible Noam Chomsky, Peter Singer, Francesca Martinez, Aditya Chakrabortty, George Monbiot, Show Racism the Red Card, and more and we’re hosting our first conference this October with speakers including Zoe Williams, Laurie Penny, Mayor Magid Magid, Danny Dorling and more.
So if you, like us, think that the only way out of our current trap is get right down into the roots and discover what is making our politics so toxic and competitive and society so much weaker, than come with us on what we think we will be an amazing journey.
Matt Hawkins is an activist and the co-founder of Compassion in Politics.
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