This isn’t about Thomas Paine’s famous work. What I want to look at is the nature of the legal framework that treats citizens equally. I cannot include the British for they are subjects of the crown and as such have but few rights. Here in Europe, a citizen is a far more powerful figure. What’s more, they know it.
The problem with rights is subtle, in that if a person – say a council official – has to behave in a certain way, then they will do so because it is the law. Well, that’s the case in Germany where the law is followed to the letter – there are areas where it is not, but in governance it largely is. Here in Holland, foreigners such as myself can find themselves facing a more British style of governance – that is to say, outright discrimination. Whilst illegal and whilst it is antisocial does not stop the Dutch from discriminating; but then, such acts are usually buried in the subconscious – just as is the politeness of the German government official.
I have to add here that the usual British experience of German bureaucracy is one of obstructiveness – but then, if you approach a British official, you need to speak with them in a certain way if you are to achieve your end. Let me just say that the German bureaucracy is there to serve, not oblige. Oh, and if you speak to them in German, it usually helps things along a bit. Most of them do speak English; it is a politeness to speak in German – I have never met a British bureaucrat that speaks another European language.
I’ve rambled, as is usual with me: yet in this rambling I have already pointed to the key issue of this post. That regulations of various forms have to be applied from above. Germans are used to this, the British resent it. Yet in resenting it, the British actually acquiesce to their regulatory system as easily as any German – after all, the British have been inculcated to their social system long before any of them ever thought about making a choice. Just as the Germans were.
Which brings me to a question: how many people act out of what they were brought up to do, and how many people act out of the circumstances that surround them? The difference may seem irrelevant, but most social interaction is based on what we learned as children (and therefore could not consider for ourselves).
Those who discriminate cannot – and I must emphasize that they cannot – be doing so consciously. The natural attribute of the human is to act out of equality; discrimination speaks against this, it speaks of a prejudice and that very prejudice will have been implanted – if you will allow that turn of phrase – at an age before the individual can form any conscious choice in the matter. Most European men are misogynists, they speak down to women – but if you should ask any one of them, they will be most firm in their determination that they treat women equally. Ask another woman and you will get a less positive appraisal of the men who surround them – unless of course, you’re a man. Being the Untermensch teaches one a very great deal that the Übermensch will be oblivious to. But that is the challenge faced by men, and it is a challenge the moreso on account of its being something the Übermensch so glibly accepts.
This isn’t to say that all men discriminate, it is a fact that on account of their place in society that they need not address this particular issue. Those that do are as exemplary as they are rare. I will add that they are a pleasure to meet. Indeed, it is only those who have an open mind – or as so many, or is that phrased better as “so few”? – who have opened their mind who are the more human.
To be a human is to treat all as equally as one is able, the problem is that one must face the watertight ‘comfort zones’ of most people. In short, one must accept that they cannot and therefore will not deal with their challenges. They will remain forever blind to these, yet paradoxically they will happily charge others with the very things they are unaware of doing themselves.
I want to make it clear that the issue isn’t that one doesn’t have challenges in life; life would be extraordinarily dull without them. It is a matter of accepting them, and it is this single quality that marks out the mature human. Whatever background a person might have, if they can accept another equally – that is to say, if one meets them for the first time, they are ready and willing to listen to you. If they cannot offer this one common courtesy, it is more than likely that they are enclosed by their comfort zone. I will add that it is my experience that if they can converse, they are ‘open’ and they are aware of the true nature of their comfort zone; I have yet to meet someone who could not listen who subsequently learned to.
We have travelled a long way from rights. And well we might, for rights and the structure of a particular society go hand in hand. What is important is that those who do have the capacity to genuinely listen to all those they meet will learn something new from them. For everybody else there’s no learning needed: they know how the world turns.