“Sorry to confuse you, but all that you know is wrong
And there’s just no
name for what’s gone on.”
Antimatter, Everything You Know Is Wrong
Like many of us, I grew up in a mostly polarized social environment. There was us versus them conditioning, a binary conception of the world that seemed to be embedded in the average psyche. When I was a kid, it was most evident in football. My city has two major teams whose fans have always hated the other side with a vehemence that would not be out of place in a late 80s action movie, and the same scenario is repeated in most of the country, with varying degrees of violence, to this very day.
When I started growing up, the pattern kept appearing in different settings. One of my harshest memories of this is in the form of high school pestering (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bullying). When I was fourteen, I became obsessed with music. It was the grunge era, and that scene brought about my first serious crush with distorted guitars and angst-ridden lyrics. From there, I delved into all kinds of music across the spectrum. In a couple of years, I had amassed a decent collection of mostly pirated tapes where classic death metal from Florida coexisted with foundational albums from the sixties and synth pop. Having an eclectic musical taste was, and still is, a source of pride for me. I also thought it made me cool, so I talked about music all the time and recommended artists to anyone within range.
One day, I was wearing a Rolling Stones hoodie while praising Anthrax and I started getting heckled by a guy whose main function in life seemed to be harassing everyone. He started asking if I liked this band, and that other one, and what about this one? Most of my answers were yes, because I didn’t feel the need to lie. But people where suddenly laughing at my expense, because how could you like Suffocation and Prince at the same time? You had to pick one side. Metal or pop. Cool kid or nerd. Us or them. I didn’t have the tools that I have now, but the current me would have answered that it was all music and so it was all valuable.
I have encountered replicas of that situation many times over the following years. Some of them were not as harmless as the musical dichotomy. In recent years, the inability to grasp that not everything is one side against another has taken a darker turn. As some of us seem to move to a more tolerant, inclusive and compassionate way of living, there is a counter-tide rising in the form of what could only be described as a return to archaic ideas.
2018 was the year when I learned in horror that there are far right-wing camps in Argentina providing combat training and using nefarious historical personalities as symbols. It was also the year where our senate rejected the bill to legalize abortion, thus denying women what should be a basic right and perpetuating the cycle of violence against them. And yet these actions might actually be a small and pathetic effort by old-fashioned schools of thought against inevitable evolution. Those old ways are usually tied to a ruling elite and based on extreme, absolute notions that stem from religious thought and tradition. They seek to divide us and force us to be on one side or the other, and it’s even more profitable for the powers that be if we end up hating each other in the process. Division feeds on fear, and we saw it at work in Brazil during the 2018 election, where a despicable bigot became president via fear mongering. The campaigners even used anti-communist notions taken straight out of the McCarthy era.
But I think there’s a simple explanation for this, and I believe we shouldn’t see it as an us or them situation. Or maybe we should, but at an individual level. There’s a rift in all of us, implanted as we grow up and learn about life. We are taught to perceive everything as a dual scenario and one of the sides always has to win, to conquer the other. And so, otherness becomes the enemy. As a certainly not-open-minded writer once said, the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Violent species as we are, the human approach to overcoming that fear has usually been to destroy what causes it. And that is just one of the myriad of things we have been doing wrong throughout history.
Our goal should be learning about what is alien to us. Know your so-called enemy, and the animosity will fade. But to achieve that, one has to delve deeper into the inner foe, the one that’s on the other side of the canyon inside us. The tiny, angry voice that shouts in frustration because it doesn’t want to see that we’re all the same. We all have one of those pesky voices, as proved constantly by the open-minded individuals who suddenly become conservative when they approach middle age. I know many of those; I went to school with them. They are wrong, but we should teach them why instead of calling them names. I struggle to shut the inner reactionary’s words down and understand what they’re saying at the same time.
When I do this, I find that there are always more than two sides, and that all their points of view might be valid in some way. Except for the intolerant ones. We should send those to the void of forgotten thoughts so they can never come back.