19 June 2016

Looking in the mirror

As so many people have already said the murder of Jo Cox is above all a deep tragedy for her family and friends. I can't (and selfishly, glad I can't) know how awful it must be for them, how much this will affect their lives (especially her young children who will now grow up without her), and they have my deepest sympathies. I hope above all they can find space within the media storm to come to terms with what has happened in their own way.

But I am not counted in that number (from all accounts of who she was, to my significant loss) and it would be dishonest of me to say I feel deeply her loss. I am therefore surprised by how personal her murder has felt, something I can only attribute to the fact that it feels like an attack on my own values. These are the only aspects which I feel any legitimate right to comment on. This is going to be a bit rambly and unstructured. But maybe that's fitting.

Already much has been made about trying to connect this tragic event to any number of views. I have tried to refrain from joining in with this, however much I find myself instinctively wanting to agree with some and vehemently oppose others. Firstly because because we don't really know a lot, secondly because 'is it really the right time', but mostly because our first response should be to question our own motives and views, not become more entrenched in what we think. It is with that in mind that I'll share my thoughts

The first thing I saw that made me rage and want to join in was Britain First, without any irony, railing against the media and claiming that 'the actions of one person do not reflect the majority'. Seriously, they dare to say this now!? But what was interesting was my instinct was to point out how their actions and views  'did' influence this. Hypocritical. How many times have I defended their exact statement? And, on reflection, I have to still support it now. They are right, we should not condemn them for his actions.

Every person deserves to be judged for their own actions; every group judged by the things they do together and what they actually stand for - and, if we are fair, by the limits they place on their groups activity in pursuit of them. On this basis there is still plenty to condemn Britain First for, we don't need to use what has recently happened to do so.

But, I will say this: Unlike their indiscriminate vilification of all those who follow the Islamic faith because of a minority of extremists, Britain First is not some innocent group of widely disparate people at risk of being homogenised and painted as terrible because of the acts of one person. Britain First ARE a specific group brought who deliberately work together with specific goals, they can already be judged purely on their own demerits. In many ways Britain First ARE the people by which we shouldn't judge others (like Christians, given their so-called 'Christian Patrols').

The other depressing, and by now seemingly inevitable direction has been the way in which mental health problems have been held up as a way to explain what happened. No no, it wasn't his views, or the people he associated with, or the experiences he had or the kind of language and tone of the society he lived in - none of this had anything to do with his actions because there is some evidence he had help for 'Mental Health problems'. Like this is a catch-all; like nothing else matters once we know this.

Never mind the extensive and growing evidence to show that mental health and environmental/sociological circumstances are connected, or the fact that the ways in which people experience mental health problems are hugely varied, with the professionals themselves still unclear and divided over just how, or whether, the different symptoms can combine to say anything meaningful about how we are affected. Or the fact that a staggeringly large amount of our population is said to experience mental health problems and the evidence that this makes someone more of a danger to society is non-existent. Yet our media persists in this damaging, stigmatising and malicious myth that it can somehow, by itself, explain such horrendous acts by people.

So no mental health problems is not a synonym for 'psychotic murderer' and we should never let the two be equated. On the flip-side having extremist views (however one arrives at them - that's another, no doubt longer and more complex, discussion) does have correlation, at least, with someone being more likely to be a danger to us.

It doesn't perfectly reflect my views but the best comment in reaction to the mental health issue that I read was in this tweet:

Not only does this remind us that we shouldn't assume that someone who has had help for mental health issues is any more or less affected and influenced by what goes on around them, but by the same logic we are all affected by these things too, that separating in this way is just a means of distancing ourselves from awful things which happen, ignoring that there is a poisonous element to our own society that we are not immune or separate from.

It is a means of avoiding holding up the mirror to our selves. Because if we do this we might just see the connections between our own behaviour and actions and those we despise and shun in others. We can't afford to keep doing this, for our own sake and for others.

Which kind of brings me back full circle, but with an opposite argument. My first instinct was right, Britain First can be held responsible for the killing of Jo Cox. Their particular brand of intolerance and hatred and fear has fed in to the current shape of our society and has affected all of us. But so too has all the other ways in which we denigrate and hate each other.

If they are culpable, so are we.

We can't avoid being nasty to other people all the time, we are all human. We can take responsibility for what we do and allow others to do; for how we react to what we see and hear; for how we challenge those we disagree with; for how we allow ourselves to be led by the stories we see and read in the media. We can all take some responsibility for shaping our society and the world we live in.

In the days left before the referendum, and more importantly in the months and years to come following it, we all need to think very hard about this, to look in the mirror and see what we leave behind in the wake of our desperate drive to create the future we want.