Valuing the human…

When I heard that UKIP had forged an alliance with a Polish MEP who was, amongst other things, a Holocaust denier, a man who joked about beating wives and beating children, who thought disabled people shouldn’t be on TV, and that had described Hitler as a ‘rascal’, my first reaction was to sigh. Not because these things aren’t terrible – but because they are, and they’re sadly typical of something I see in so many places. It’s about a failure to place value on the human, but instead only on certain people.

The whole nature of the Holocaust was about that – and so is Holocaust denial. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think UKIP is a party of Holocaust deniers – though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were a few in UKIP’s ranks – but that they don’t think Holocaust denial is such a big deal. Certainly not a ‘deal breaker’, as they’ve demonstrated by making their deal. Why would you not think it was a big deal? The most obvious reason is that the millions of deaths, the brutal and systematic nature of those deaths – not just of Jews but of Roma, of Slavs, of disabled people and others – simply don’t matter that much to you. For some people such an attitude is almost inconceivable – but for others, it seems long ago, those ‘people’ don’t really register as important enough to make a difference. They’re not valued.

Holocaust denial is one of the most obvious, but the failure to place value in the human is in all those other things. You can only joke about ‘wife beating’ if you don’t really value women – they don’t quite class as human, somewhere in your mind. The same for beating children. Saying that disabled people shouldn’t appear on TV can only really be because disabled people don’t count as quite, well, people. Human. And it’s part of a bigger pattern. Racism, ultimately, means thinking that people of one race are less valuable than others. Xenophobia, of the kind demonstrated by UKIP towards Romanians and Bulgarians, for example, says the same. ‘You know the difference’, as Nigel Farage said to James O’Brien, comparing Romanians to his German wife, is about valuing one kind of human above another.

It’s not just UKIP. Lord Freud’s comments about some disabled people being ‘worth’ less than the minimum wage has the same origin – and in some ways a more pernicious one. It takes the idea of value to a more calculated level, treating people not as humans but as ‘assets’ whose only ‘worth’ is their ability to contribute as productive economic units – and as a result finds them wanting. It’s not just treating disabled people as less than human – it’s treating all of us as less than human. It’s not valuing humanity at all. Labour’s Rachel Reeves gets in on the act too. In her recent speech on social security began by talking about ‘decent, hardworking people’ – which implies that there are some people who are not as valuable. Not decent. Not working hard enough – and hence not as valuable, not as worthy. That would include people who can’t work as hard – disabled people for example, older people, kids – and people whose lives are not filled with what is commonly described as ‘work’: carers are perhaps the most obvious example, the majority of whom are women. These people, the indecent, non-‘hardworking’ people are seen as less ‘valuable’ than the decent, hardworking people, who ‘deserve’ support. The value’s in the ‘decency’ and the ‘hardworking’, not the ‘people’. Not the human.

That’s also why the Tories can see an attack on ‘human rights’ as something that’s not just politically acceptable but politically valuable. Many people seem to think that there isn’t any value in the human, just in certain kinds of human.  That’s why the recent survey that suggests many more Britons think that they should have the right to work anywhere in Europe than think Europeans should have the right to work in the UK. It makes sense – if you understand that we Brits are inherently more valuable, more worthy, more trustworthy than all those dodgy foreigners. We brought civilisation to the world, you know, of course we’re better than those Europeans – particularly those dodgy Romanians and Bulgarians, who are mostly beggars and thieves anyway. Even if people don’t articulate it in those terms, that’s what underlies it. ‘We’ are better than ‘them’.

We seem to see just the differences, and use them to ascribe value. We forget the human, and undervalue it. That’s why UKIP can just shrug off the Holocaust denial and the wife beating jokes. That’s why the casual racism inherent in the UKIP Calypso doesn’t matter – and why even if Lord Freud does eventually lose his job, the attitudes towards disabled people are seen by far too many as just common sense and economic reality. That, to me, is deeply sad.

7 thoughts on “Valuing the human…

  1. Thank you Paul.
    Reading that also made me sad.
    I have worked a lot with Romanians and found them respectful and very hard working.
    Until we can value ourselves in the truest sense (and oh my goodness that can take a life times of work)
    we will continue to abuse others. There is nothing quite like it. As a woman I have had to continually fight for my opinions to be heard and fight for some of my friends who arrived as economic immigrants. I try to use as much humour as possible, but oh… when I hear and see blatant racism it sure makes my blood boil. Funnily enough I see it a lot in expats who continually complain about the country and the people that are hosting them. Nothing quite like the ‘Little Englander’ who goes abroad to run away from the infestation .Alas, they do not realize that the infestation is sadly ‘ within.’

  2. I am not so sure there has been a swing towards blatant racism. Perhaps, we are steadily moving away from this. Views that were mainstream in my youth are now fringe (NF, UKIP) or met with such an outcry (Freud) that they elicit an apology. This does not mean the war, let alone the battle is won, but we have travelled some distance from ~25 years ago when the National Front were able to legally have a “celebratory” march in York at the site where the last jews were murdered in the England by the state. So we fight the good fight, get angry, but should always remember that we are gaining ground, even if it feels a bit 1914-18 at times.
    One frustration is that there are few mainstream political figures willing to really stand up, but that too has a silver lining – it is the people doing the pushing and as our numbers grow so does our strength.

    @penniewoodfall it is indeed ironic that there is a class of expats like this, though there are also a huge number “on the other side”, thankfully.

  3. Spare a though also for the Russians who suffered at the hands of a communist cabal and who must have been observed in their obscene criminality by their German neighbours. There is no ongoing marketing campaign to preserve their memory and this vacuum arises all sorts of twisted & impassioned response and historical reexaminations. Certain stories it seems can be told, but not others. This should also be of concern.

  4. There is much written about splitting and disavowal. In terms of the individual not accepting themselves.
    Whether the language is that of “the Other” capital ‘O’ or not, internal conflict these are familiar themes.
    What is of greater concern is when people make cults of their form of “mental hygiene” and invite others to support their habits in the ballot box.
    It is not just that there is a devaluation of the human but also that there is an affinity between such people.
    So, although it may be called the politics of envy or a profound inability to relate to law and otherness (perhaps with capitals:the Law, the Other) it is the collective denial that ties such people together that is most profoundly worrying.
    Of course Farage is a facist and so are those who vote for him or entertain his ideas. By definition.
    And business us exploitative and fascistic too in the way they will take on the lowest paid and the least skilled from no matter how far afield leaving many in this country feeling disaffected.
    There is something to talk about here.
    But Farage isn’t the man. Nor Cameron.
    That leaves Clegg and Milliband.
    But Labour is embracing, so it is said in the media, a very dangerous and profoundly cynical approach believing Farage may help get them into power instead of tackling his ideas at the root.
    They, too, are in denial:Labour are unable to see facism for what it is.

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