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Us vs Them

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As all of us observe growing polarization in our societies, we look to our respective governments to overcome these divisions.What we tend to forget is that throughout history it was the governments themselves that were mainly responsible for creating an ‘us’ and demonizing the ‘thems.’

After 1865, despite the abolition of slavery by US constitutional amendment and the passage of federal legislation supposedly protecting civil rights, so-called ‘Jim Crow’ laws passed on the state and local level mandated the segregation of schools, public transportation, restaurants, restrooms and even drinking fountains between black and
white people.

African Americans were largely deprived of their right to vote, thanks to measures requiring them to take literacy tests or provide papers establishing proof of residence, for instance.

In Russia, after the Revolution of 1917–18, in order to expropriate privately owned land and agriculture for the Bolsheviks, Lenin labeled small, prosperous farmers—some with only five or six acres— as “bloodsuckers” and decreed that these ‘kulaks’ should be hung without trial.

Later, Josef Stalin announced that the kulaks be deprived of certain privileges, such as the use of land or the right to hire farmhands. “The kulaks are the furious enemies of socialism,” he announced, fanning the anger of poorer peasants. “We must repulse the kulak ideology.”

Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, participated in the demonization of these farmers, claiming that they dominated the wealthy countryside, hoarded food and infiltrated Communist Party cells.

Under Stalin’s plan of “dekulakization,” millions of small farmers and their families were murdered or deported to Siberia to work in labor camps.

And of course, the most infamous modern example is Nazi Germany, when Adolf Hitler beguiled many Germans into believing that the enemy of Germany, responsible for German impoverishment after the First World War, was the Jew.

From 1933, national legislation deprived the vast majority of Jews of steady employment and even the right to vote. And after war was declared in 1939, Jews were no longer allowed to enter particular areas of cities. There were strict limits on where and when Jews could purchase food or supplies, and they received smaller rations than their non-Jewish peers.

By 1941, Jews were not allowed to use public transportation. Anyone older than 6 had to wear a yellow Jewish star sewn onto their clothes. 

We all know where all this eventually led: denial of rights, seizure of property, death camps, mass extermination.

Each of these tragic examples began with a government agenda that institutionalized, via state and federal law, certain methods to keep the ‘them’ apart from the ‘us.’

The US, German and Russian governments all used the ‘thems’ as scapegoats, blaming African Americans, Jews and kulaks, respectively, for whatever ills their societies were suffering.

Each government enshrined into law the curtailment of ordinary freedoms for the ‘thems,’ whether to travel, to purchase things available to other citizens or to have the “inalienable” rights enshrined in that country’s constitution.

In each instance, governments used the media as an instrument to foment hatred and prejudice among the other members of the population toward the ‘thems,’ condemning them for views and ideologies that threatened the health and prosperity of the nation.

Each government signposted the ‘thems’ with some sort of identification, whether registration cards or yellow stars to keep them segregated, inferior and ineligible for ordinary legal rights.

Compare that with what is going on today, where countries and cities around the world are launching vaccine passports and other restrictions (see page 26). 

These passports favor one sector of society and limit the rights of others to travel to certain places, enter particular venues and possibly gain employment. Some politicians even noted that the unvaccinated should not be able to walk into a store to buy food.

Please understand: this emphatically is not a comparison between the fate of the unvaccinated and the horrific fate of the Jews during the Holocaust or the ongoing plight of African Americans.It is also not an argument for or against Covid vaccination, although it should be pointed out that overwhelming evidence now shows that none of the Covid vaccines stops transmission of the virus, but only protects the individual at risk (see News Focus, page 18). 

It’s a warning about where the necessity of carrying a card saying whether you are an ‘us’ or a ‘them’ can lead.

The Communist state newspaper Pravda  referred to the kulaks as “hesitant allies” of the state, and thus less committed or patriotic, just as the media today has labeled people “vaccine hesitant” for asking perfectly reasonable questions about a brand new and largely untested gene technology.

In announcing new laws that companies with 100 employees or more require staff to be vaccinated or tested weekly, President Joe Biden told the 25 percent of Americans who refuse that they were “costing all of us” and “blocking public health.”

Discrimination doesn’t require conflict or indeed much besides the flimsiest designation of otherness. As American psychologist Henri Taifel demonstrated in a 1970 study, when a batch of adolescent boys were told that certain others had scored the same as they had on a computer task, they began to band together and discriminate against those who hadn’t achieved the same score.

All it takes is any kind of a wall, no matter how insubstantial.

Or any kind of passport.

Whether you are pro- or anti-Covid vaccine, whether you have been vaccinated or not, let’s stand together against vaccine passports. We already have too many ‘thems’ in our world.

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