Long Reads

Why is racism becoming more violent?

A difficult question that has yet to be answered.

Racism is a problem that has plagued the frameworks of society, and its continued use has in many forms, evolved. Its development is frightening, and much like a lot of modern tendencies, the internet is culpable.

The deadly ‘Unite the White’ rally in Charlottesville (2017) presented modern democracy with a clear question- are the extreme capabilities of liberty of expression (or free speech) evidence enough to suggest that such a right be removed? A controversial issue – if not immediately relevant one- has been the subject of enormous scrutiny in political discourse. Is the incitement of hatred and discrimination simply too egregious an aspect that absolute free speech should be conserved? From a contemporary perspective, the UK limits freedom of expression, if content is deemed to be harmful, hateful or discriminatory.

The First Amendment in the US is arguably the most significant right preserved by the Constitution- but has its founding intention been heavily distorted?

The UK’s legal permutation may historically reflect some important philosophical cornerstones; Thomas Hobbes explicitly outlined that speech of a discriminatory or derogatory nature should be fundamentally discouraged by the state. He suggested that such speech could, in effect, entrench loathsomeness and anger; which would go onto form a constituent proponent of the state of nature- a violent status-quo of instability and human conflict. And although it is important to note that Hobbes lived in a time of civil war and social unrest, he may have made a vital point. If, as he suggested, humans were susceptible to acting irrationally and in contempt, then some limitations on free speech may be constructive in combating the cancerous growth of modern-day racism.

There is an even stronger link with Hobbes’s historical ideas regarding the relationship between the ‘sovereign’ and the people- self-restraint. This concept suggests that the citizens of a society should listen, and be guided by the actions and gesticulations of the sovereign; or in a modern, more democratic appropriation- the government. This all was closely tied into the self-restraint that Hobbes wrote that citizens should have. As touched upon previously, Hobbes placed impeccable importance on this, in order to conserve the civil piece of a society. In many senses, the role of the ‘sovereign’ is to lead by example and be untethered in their judgement to reflect the needs of the population and base his rationale on the wider necessities. Particularly in the United States, it doesn’t seem alienable to suggest that the perceived role of head of state by Hobbes is abundantly relevant today.

ABC’s take on Trump’s ‘go home’ comments (above).

President Trump’s rhetoric- dangerous to some and far reaching for others- may have drawn comparisons between the contempt that Hobbes had underlined in his work Leviathan. The suggestion is hardly disjointed- Trump’s first speech as a candidate in 2015 labelled Mexicans “rapists”; in the 2018 midterms, white nationalist groups were joyful over Trump’s language use in tweets during the “immigrant caravan” and the infamous “send them back” comments this year sparked worldwide criticism. This in many respects underlines with a red marker how Trump has normalised racism in society today. How then, can a leader or ‘sovereign’ use suitable rationale if he has continuously befuddled minority groups over his political career? If Hobbes’ suggestions about self-regulation were to be applied Trump and his leadership, the racist rhetoric surrounding political discourse today is only reflective of the example and norm set by the state. And in Trump’s case, this may well be relevant.

It goes without saying that the concepts presented by Hobbes were fundamentally set for a specific-age, although they did allow for the new-era of political and social thought regarding human nature, the state; and society. Relative to Trump, Hobbes cooked-up an intriguing assessment of human behaviour and its categorisation. One of these categorizations of the ‘vainglorious’- people who have unwarranted and ‘obsessively delight’ in their personal flattery. Often, Hobbes noted, people of this sort had a bleak understanding of themselves and the issues fronting humanity. Hobbes assessed that these people were delicate and revel in a conflated authority and power. Such people were prone to moral corruption and differed from the ‘confident’, as the vainglorious are vulgar and unrepenting.

The people of Charlottesville demonstrate their solidarity following the deadly white supremacy protests. Such solidarity was lacking from President Trump’s initial responses. Some called this a soft endorsement to racism by Trump.

Locke adapted this theory: he suggested that if such a man enter power, the office would further erode him and his morality. But here is the instrumental argument: these people, as leaders, are extremely susceptible to the flattery of his supporters and his opponents’ critics. Often, such support would result courtiers having a detrimental effect on a leader’s policy- distorting it to its worst moral and political inclinations. Arguably, such a trait is visible through Trump’s political support- particularly from some white supremacy movements. His messaging taps into a dangerous reality- some of his close ex-advisors such as the ex-chief executive of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, have alternative world views that coalesce with the technology-based phenomenon of ‘accelerationism’. Although not directly involved with such a tendency, Bannon’s eagerness to utilize this medium of communication to spread alternative politics highlights the risk of rapid technologicalization in spreading misinformation- something which is undoubtedly reflective of the neo-Nazi proliferation of campaigning on the internet we are seeing now.

Accelerationism has been reappropriated by radicals, particularly the far-right nationalist groups. The term refers to fast and radical change of social and political orders, that initially originates from broader economic theory.

Neo-Nazi accelerationism has in many cases, stemmed from the failure of an attempt for groups to use the political system as a means to provoke racism and enforce such policy. Most groups, despite their political endorsement of Trump, see him as a president that is an ‘outsider’ – meaning he is likely more open for adopting vaguely similar messaging. Following the ‘Unite the White March’ in 2017, participation in such movements drastically fell- indicating that these means of white-nationalism had by-gone. Instead, the accelerationism process has been adapted- which has seen more murders and attacks carried out on the basis of the core ideas relative to white-supremacy and racist thoughts.

The white-nationalistic ideas have overstepped racial lines- Jo Cox was tragically murdered by a man pleading to “bring freedom to Britain”.

Rather than be political, the movements are now dangerously violent. The Christchurch Mosque attack in New Zealand was done on racial and provocative ideological grounds; a similar attempt was stopped in Norway, and internal terrorism is becoming more of a threat based off of right-wing radicalism (according to TIME Magazine, AUG 19, 2019). But more than ever, these attacks are being linked to the obsessive online activities of groups, who through an instantaneous medium, can hit wide coverage across the world. These ideas, ideologies and messages are more accessible, and play an undeniably imperative role in the fostering of terrorism on the basis of hatred. The internet has highlighted the flaws of politics and its institutions. If technology is rapidly increasing, so to will the volume and expansion of these groups’ core values. And if global governments are struggling now- how will they adapt feasibly enough to counter future threats?

This question above all needs an answer, as ‘accelerationism’ is arguably the new face of deadly racial and nationalistic hate crimes in developed countries across the world. It needn’t take another travesty to realise this- lives depend on it.

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