“They’re just like us!”
That was an observation commonly made by those coming into contact with enemy combatants during and after the World Wars.
We smile wryly at comments such as those and wonder how naive those generations must have been, but before we do, we must remember this:
Like many animals, human beings have deep and instinctive aversion to killing our fellow kind. To make the ‘necessity’ of doing so in time of war a little easier, we might begin to think of those on the other side as being somehow different – perhaps wholly evil. We might think of derogatory names for our enemy, perhaps based on racial or cultural stereotypes that make them seem a little less human, a little less like us. It is a regrettable part of human nature.
Even in peacetime the same phenomenon occurs. Those we rail against for whatever reason, we might regard as different – as somehow inferior or less noble than ourselves. Racism is an obvious example of that sort of aberrant thinking. Another is social or socio-economic prejudice, because yes, it is raw prejudice that we are talking about.
In the 19th Century, the very poor were generally referred to paupers. Especially after the inauguration of the Poor Law in 1834 they were increasingly regarded as idle, indolent and feckless and indeed wholly responsible for their own situation. In my recent novel; The Eighth Circle of Hell, a wealthy, supposed philanthropist makes this observation:
“Those creatures are paupers...from the poor-law workhouse. They have come to clear that tree for firewood.
“I want you to look hard and pay heed to their misfortune. Workhouse paupers are the most miserable wretches in Christendom. They are naturally idle, indolent and feckless.”
He goes on to describe how attempts are made to drive “the more godlike qualities of industriousness, abstinence and humility” into them by means of austerity and forced labour.
Victorian Britain was a society of great opposites, of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and its rapid industrialisation meant that great swathes of society were regarded as nothing more than resources to feed the demands of industry. Worse; some of the most vulnerable – young virgin children became victims of the horrific Defloration Mania, which I have described in detail in previous blogs.
Modern Britain, by and large, is a society tolerant of religious and racial diversity. That is exactly as it should be, of course. However two great prejudices remain: The first is against those with mental health disorders, the second is against those claiming welfare benefits.
Outrageously, it is the government itself that seems to be stoking the fire of the second of these. It talks in broad terms of ‘shirkers,’ of ‘skivers’ and of ‘scroungers’, making them seem somehow sub-human and introducing an us-and-them divide. How easy then for them to slash benefits and throw them into deeper hardship, perhaps in an attempt to drive more godlike qualities into them maybe.
I know a great number of people who claim welfare benefits and almost all of them are strivers – either striving to get off welfare-dependence or striving against severe emotional and psychological issues. Guess what; far from being idle, indolent and feckless, they are just like everyone else.