Humanising Politics

Bouncing out of my last post on creative nonviolence, I’ve been thinking some more about the importance of treating one’s “enemy” as fully human.

This may sound a little bit silly because, unless we’re into wrestling grizzly bears (which I don’t recommend, by the way), of course we realise that we are usually locked in battles (especially of the political variety) with other human beings.

However, though we may know this at one level, it seems to me that so many situations escalate into violence of some kind simply because of a basic failure to fully appreciate the humanity of the other, and therefore a failure to acknowledge the dignity and respect that should necessarily be foundational to any interaction.

This happens at the personal level, with people inflicting all sorts of physical and emotional abuse on one another, as well as on much grander scales. In all instances, as far as I can tell, the common denominator is the inability (for whatever reason) to see the other as truly human. I may be quite cynical sometimes, but I just don’t believe that a human being can subject another human being to profound physical or emotional pain if they are truly to acknowledge the full humanity of the other. This is why, for example, family or friends of kidnap victims appeal to the kidnapper/s in ways that personalise and humanise the victim, with the hope that the perpetrator will see the full humanity of the victim and relent. This is why some troops go into battle with angry heavy metal or hip-hop music blaring loudly through the speakers in their tanks, in the hope, perhaps, that it will feel more like a video game and less like blowing real people to bits. The latter is very hard to live with, and we see this over and over again with returned soldiers facing incredible struggles to live with what they were asked to do. As a side note, have you ever wondered why the military seem to use so many euphemisms?

And, of course, to take it to extremes, the only way that a holocaust or a Hiroshima or a 911 could happen is if, somehow, the recognition of the full humanity of the victims is ignored or warped out of all shape.

But I want to take this a step further here.

I have noticed of late that political discourse, at least in Australia and, I would strongly suggest, the U.S. (though I must note here that I live in Australia and therefore only see the situation in the U.S. externally), is well on its way down this ugly path. This has become even more pronounced with the seemingly never-ending election campaign-style politicking that currently dominates the Australian political scene and, of course, with the U.S. presidential election.

Now, I’m all for robust political conversation, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that all political debate should be ‘tame’, but I do want to suggest here that I think there is a worrying trend in the way political opponents are referring to each other (both in regards to elected leaders and the followers of those elected leaders), and I don’t think it’s headed anywhere good. What I see is so many policy debates becoming shallow and personal (which is the classic first mistake of debate), and so many personal attacks becoming increasingly dehumanising. The end result of this is a marked increase in surprisingly (public) violent rhetoric, and I don’t think physical violence is far behind in some circumstances.

I don’t actually know what the answer to this situation is.

What I do know, though, is that now more than ever we need voices in the public space demonstrating different approaches and new possibilities.

Enter the delightful Annabel Crabb.

I bet you didn’t see that coming(!), and I bet Annabel never thought of herself as a practitioner of creative nonviolence. But what a breath of fresh air it is having a t.v. show from such a well-respected political journalist which illustrates so beautifully the humanity of our politicians. I’m not sure what Annabel’s intentions were regarding the creation of the ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet, but what the show does, at least for me, is to allow a glimpse of these elected representatives as 3-Dimensional human beings, rather than the 2-D caricatures that we so often see in through media representations and election campaigns. I for one have found it truly enlightening as I’ve had my own preconceptions about certain politicians challenged, and in at least a couple of cases significantly corrected, when confronted with a presentation of the politician that delves much deeper than what we are usually shown (and certainly deeper than just the official policies they espouse).

I can’t explain how important this is.

As a Christian, one of the core elements of my faith is that all humanity reflects the image of God – even my “enemies”! This is such an incredibly vital part of the Christian message but, unfortunately, us Christians have not always been the best at treating all people as beautiful, valued beings with an inherent dignity. So I need to remember, then, when I engage in political debate (and I think Christians, like all other Australian or U.S. citizens should take part in political discussions), that even those who I disagree with most profoundly are to be treated with dignity and respect.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Kitchen Cabinet isn’t the answer to all the problems with political discourse in Australia(!) but, nonetheless, I thank God for Annabel Crabb : )


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Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

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