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I am very disappointed at many of my countrymen

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19.MAR.10

EDITOR: A few weeks ago Vincentian society went briefly crazy. I don’t know if the drought has gone to people’s heads, or if the political mire in which we’ve become trapped has prevented rational thought, but something happened that revealed to me just how depraved a society can be when it succumbs to mob mentality.{{more}}

Reports (please note the plural – there’s always more than one report; which itself is quite telling) leaked out of a local educational institution (not official reports mind you: all hearsay), saying that two boys were seen kissing and “fondling” each other in plain sight. Why this should create the furor it did is entirely beyond my own naïve brain to comprehend. The more popular radio talk shows took this tall tale and ran with it. The most sensational of our three local papers plastered the alleged incident across its back page (getting most of the facts completely wrong). People were up in arms against the sick perversion being displayed for all and sundry. The multitude lost all sense of decency and basic humanity.

According to reports, the two hapless boys were observed kissing each other at the side of the school facing the main road, around lunchtime. Clearly, these two young men had a death wish. It is obvious to me that they were being shamelessly suicidal. I mean let’s think about this rationally for a moment (I know, I know, rationalism is a lost art; just try). Two teenaged boys, according to allegations, were observed to be romantically entwined in plain view of the people on the main road, as well as other students who were going to buy lunch.

From what I can gather, the following day (not even the same day, eh), the story of this cable television-esque, man-love extravaganza had spread around the school and its environs. An angry throng of their schoolmates, who proceeded to hurl verbal abuse at them while threatening worse, surrounded the boys. The two boys could do nothing but sit and wait to see what their fate would be. Luckily for them, a representative of the school’s administration had been called and escorted them to safety. Apparently, the boys were later told to go home for the remainder of the week for their “safety”. Their families came to collect them. Both boys have since migrated.

Of course, as later reports revealed, the whole thing was a lie. The “kissing boys” were actually just “sitting boys”. They were sitting together. From what I’ve been told by some of these boys’ classmates, the entire thing was set up because various unevolved members of the student body merely wanted an excuse to beat them to a pulp for being different. Two lives completely changed because one person decided to spread a rumour. One person, who thought s/he would fabricate a juicy piece of gossip (for reasons unknown), has affected two young men, and their families. When you really think of it, the person who made up this untruth has affected an entire community.

The indictment, for me, does not, however, rest solely on the shoulders of our young liar. The true condemnation here is of the society that reacted so violently against these two young men; it is of the community that willingly chose to suspend rationality, logic and humanism in favour of crass, simple-minded prejudice. Lest I be accused of dealing in binaries, I should hasten to say that I am fully aware that it was not the entire society going insane.

We are a culture that seems to love radio talk shows. Our talk-show hosts, whatever their credentials (or lack thereof in some cases), tend to generate huge and loyal followings. Two in particular took this story and blew it completely out of proportion. These men are clearly smart enough to understand that a topic such as this would attract the most ignorant vitriol, yet they allowed their shows to play host to a barrage of hatred and (pseudo) intellectual violence. Of course, they quite likely feel justified in doing this because they are, technically, the press and have certain freedoms. But what about their responsibilities?

It would seem to me that pandering to the baser instincts of a community displays a lack of social responsibility. In bolstering an already stridently intolerant majority of the vocal, aren’t these talk show hosts merely perpetuating hatred and ‘judgmentalism’? In this regard, how are these people in any way adding to their society? Surely, they are simply playing on the fear and hatred of their fan base, rather than trying to actually do some good by helping their callers to see reason and think critically. I have little regard for the majority of the talk show hosts that I have listened to on the radio here. I now have absolutely no regard for at least one of them. He had the opportunity to take an incident, and use it to spark serious, intelligent discussion, but chose instead to make it as sordid and hateful as he possibly could.

And the vocal majority lapped it all up. People screamed bloody murder on these two young men. The empty barrels rolled long and loud. No one seemed to even consider the possibility that actual lives were being affected by these public speculations and vilifications.

Never one to let these medieval witch-hunts pass by unexplored, I brought this up with my class. I was heartened to learn that the majority of my students were as appalled as I by the way this thing was handled, both by a certain faction of the youth and in the media. They all seemed to realise that the thing was obviously a lie and, even if it wasn’t, that it didn’t warrant the kind of outcry generated. They felt (as I do, but didn’t tell them at the time) that it is the height of hypocrisy for these two young men to be publicly exposed and condemned when heterosexual students routinely engage in public displays of affection (and more) on a more or less daily basis in schools. I would like to believe that all my students genuinely feel this way. Realistically, however, I am aware that some of them may have been silent because they do not. Also, some of those who spoke may have been influenced by my own obvious intolerance of intolerance. So it goes.

In my years as a teacher, I have sat in meetings and listened to highly educated adults refuse to teach children who may be homosexual (this despite the fact that teachers should never discriminate). I have observed intolerance and ignorance in the highest strata of what should be this country’s educated elite. Prejudice does not recognise levels of academic achievement. Discrimination and bigotry do not disappear in the face of seeming intelligence. The radio talk show hosts I mentioned earlier are symptomatic of a problem that pervades this society across the board. When a ruling party can issue a letter to voters, urging them to vote in support of a proposed constitution that will outlaw the possibility of gay marriage, and using that section of the document as a selling point, then it is clear that irrational phobias exist from the top down. If the head hates something (or gives the appearance of such), this hate will trickle down, and the feet will hate it as well. This is how societies operate.

I am disappointed in many of my countrymen. I am disappointed in those who allowed themselves to violently express their hatred so publicly and without regard for the lives and feelings of the people directly affected. I make no apology for the fact that, right now, I view many of the people in my own Vincentian society as a dangerously intolerant, judgmental collection of hypocrites and narrow-minded moralists. And just when I thought the youth would develop in ways that surpassed the restrictive mental oppression of their elders, I am reminded that the lime tree never bears guava.

William Abbott

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