“When people say that genocide is inhuman, it’s really the opposite. Genocide is appallingly human, it’s just that it’s only one side of us”.– Dr. Richard Wrangham, Harvard University
The world of today has become unashamedly polarised with the seed of division planted so deep in our minds in a manner incompatible with peaceful co-existence. There seems to be a mass migration of thoughts to a place of zero tolerance of contrary views or differing beliefs. We have a new global order where empathy has taken flight and in its place is suffocating clannishness that breeds mutual suspicion and strong distrust. It has become a world where our once decent neighbour whom we just happen to strongly disagree with, had suddenly morphed into a deplorable person with sinister motives. And so, we ask, how could he be a liberal snowflake buoyed by the socialist agenda of the radical left and still claim to be an American patriot? Or better still, how come he professes love for Donald Trump and yet has pretensions to decency, equity and fair play?
It was the year 1971 and the mood all across America was sombre. Jim Crow had become too much of a hefty moral burden for the nation that beckons to God. In doing her part, City Hall in Durham, North Carolina gave the nod to set up a two-person committee to address the issue of school violence and ensure peaceful desegregation in schools. Problem was, not everyone warmed up to the idea. In fact, even the City government herself didn’t have much of a genuine intention to racially integrate and appeared to have engaged in a subterranean effort to sabotage the very programme she was claiming to champion.
If anyone had entertained any shred of doubt about the government’s motive, the composition of the charrette quickly laid that to rest. The chair was a firebrand civil rights activist named Ann Atwater. Her co-chair was Claiborne P. Ellis, a man who at the time bore the title of Grand Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. It was described as a social equivalent of mixing napalm and dynamite and naturally was doomed for failure. In a beautiful twist however, it turned out that pairing of these two polar opposites was all that was needed to create a dynamic duo that ultimately helped black and white children tremendously in the march for equity, social justice and racial integration.
The opening came when a gospel song came on air and Ellis who was not used to black music started clapping off beat. Atwater paused, looked at him and proceeded to show him how to do it right. They both laughed heartily and with the passage of time came to find a lot of areas of common interest. Ann would later explain to her new friend how society was shafting black kids, an experience that was eye-opening for the dare-devil Klansman.
Eventually the pair recognised that despite the glaring differences, their dreams did converge in many ways than one. They would come to learn that the animosity between blacks and whites was fueled in large part by lack of appreciation and empathy of each other’s conditions. They both cried and going forward, made a strong commitment to work together for the common good. Ellis later left the Klan in pursuit of this noble ideal and the two forged a very close relationship of a lifetime such that during Ellis funeral in 2005, Atwater sat alongside his family and talked eloquently about her dear “brother”.
In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson told the classic story about the two sides of human nature competing against each other. Human character is such a grayscale continuum and that in a sense explains how a guy who less than a decade ago, voted to put a man whose middle name is Hussein in the White House would today head a militia that is openly campaigning for a race war in America.
The colours as we know them are distinct categories. We have been told that what ultimately determines which colours we see, whether blue, red or green are the frequencies of light waves entering our eyes. Human behaviour in many ways mirrors colour to the extent that our actions are a reflection of our perception. Perception that explains the switch from being an all-American Obama voter in 2012 to becoming a race champion leading an ethnic militia in 2020. He is still the same man with equal propensity to do good or evil. His latest action was simply informed by his conviction that he needed to fight back against those be believes are plotting to destroy his kind and America. The important question is what drove this one individual to make such a drastic U-turn. Turns out there is a whole factory minting hate out there, profiting by sowing division among people.
In October 2010, Pam Martens of Wallstreetonparade authored an article where she described how secret slush funds were used to create fear among Americans in order to influence electoral outcomes. In the story, she reported that about seven weeks prior to the 2008 presidential election, Donor’s Capital Fund, a dark money group with link to the billionaire, Charles Koch donated $17,778,600 to the Clarion Fund which was used to produce and distribute 28 million DVDs of a documentary titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” The piece had been described as a race-baiting, fear-mongering film meant to incite fear and discontent within white America about the prospect of having a black president. For an average white person that watched that DVD, one could only imagine how it might have pushed such an individual to be deeply suspicious of not just blacks but other racial minority groups in America. You can begin to empathize with such an individual on why he might likely see a messiah in the person of Donald Trump who positions as someone out to protect his kind. Earlier this month, Charles Koch made a public apology, expressing some regret about the ignominious role he played in dividing America along racial lines.
Today, our politics has become so toxic and our brains wholly programmed to believe in an artificial world where one could either be Good or Bad, Us versus Them, Black versus White, leaving no room for rainbows. But truth be told, even in Freudian theory, there is a recognition that at one point a person seems more like the good Dr. Jekyll, but at certain times, the evil Mr. Hyde emerges.
This is why we have been invited by students of cognitive psychology to reconceive our personality and that of others with a nuanced moral view that reflects the fluidity of human experience. The role we should play every day as decent people in an increasingly complex world, is to help others show up as Dr. Jekyll.
•Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Centre for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org