Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosened upon the world.
“We need to open our eyes. There are over two million illegal immigrants bedding down in this state tonight! This state spent three billion dollars last year, on services for those people who have no right to be here in the first place. Three billion dollars! 400 million dollars just to lock up a bunch of illegal immigrant criminals… Our border policy’s a joke! So, is anybody surprised that south of the border, they’re laughing at us? Laughing at our laws?”
These are originally the words of Derek Vinyard, the Neo-Nazi protagonist of Tony Kaye’s cinematic masterpiece, American History X. The film tells the story of Derek Vinyard’s gradual realisation that the bigoted beliefs he has held for most of his adult life are mistaken. He then tries to prevent his little brother Danny from following in his footsteps and becoming embroiled in the race-related gang-violence that was rife in parts of the US in the 1990s. These words were terrifyingly more recently used by Donald Trump at one of his election rallies.
The film is over 19 years old yet its themes couldn’t be more relevant to our current political climate. We only have to look at the Brexit’s rabble-rousing rhetoric to see how closely related these sentiments are to the type of white supremacist vitriol that Vinyard preaches during the film.
We are now witnessing the highest levels of movement on record. About 258 million people, or one in every 30, were living outside their country of birth in 2017. A 2003 projection anticipated that by 2050, there would be up to 230 million international migrants. The latest revised projection is that there will be 405 million international migrants by 2050.
The experience of moving from one country to another tends to increase the likelihood of the use of primitive defence mechanisms as a protection against the difficulties of everyday life and in relationships in the new country. The danger of this social development is an increase in the use of splitting and in the use of ‘psychic retreats’ in an attempt to uphold an idealised inner and outer world without pain or conflict.
Today, we live in an age of anxiety about ‘post-truth’ politics. ‘Fake news’, targeted messaging and seductive persuasion are rife. Digital technologies have created extraordinary new possibilities But many of our contemporary concerns about the new dark arts of political persuasion have a longer history. In the mid-20th century, psychologists’ curiosity and dismay about our susceptibility to manipulation and control crystallised. Their work offer us food for thought in a new age of economic development, population movement and populist fervour. In the 1940s, the psychotherapist Money-Kyrle was worried about the power of radio and other mass media to reveal and provoke our worst selves. In his essay, ‘A Psychological Analysis of the Causes of War’, he explores the roots of conflict
‘The study of cases of melancholia, paranoia, and homicidal mania helps us to recognize psychological mechanisms which are present, to some slight extent, in all of us. These mechanisms may not greatly influence us as individuals; but they sometimes have a great influence on us as members of a state.’
In the 21st century, he would have been looking at our use and the incredible power of the Internet.
Vinyard-esque remarks are now a part of the mainstream. Hostile, political rhetoric that’s used all too often as a part of our normal political process and so it seems the important message of American History X, that “hate is baggage” and that “life’s too short to be pissed off all the time”, has been forgotten by many. The politics of division are thriving across the world, and we will all suffer for it.