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Home / Opinion / Columns /  What human nature has to do with rise of ‘far-right’

What human nature has to do with rise of ‘far-right’

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new prime minister. Because the left does not speak what’s on people’s mind, and instead what an untrustworthy clergy preaches, it has become obsolete in many parts of the world.

  • More reasonable intellectuals attribute the success of ‘the far right’, grudgingly, to “speaking what is on people’s mind”.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new prime minister, has said that she believes in the Christian God, that there are only two genders, that family is the source of society’s well-being, that abortion is unethical, and she has more than hinted that poor immigrants are a nuisance. When Italy went to the polls in September, she fared well because of her views and not in spite. In Sweden, a political party that displays contempt for Muslim migrants has done so well electorally that it’s exerting influence on government formation.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new prime minister, has said that she believes in the Christian God, that there are only two genders, that family is the source of society’s well-being, that abortion is unethical, and she has more than hinted that poor immigrants are a nuisance. When Italy went to the polls in September, she fared well because of her views and not in spite. In Sweden, a political party that displays contempt for Muslim migrants has done so well electorally that it’s exerting influence on government formation.

In many nations across Europe, people are getting drawn to political parties that see generosity towards poor immigrants as a grandstanding virtue that is destroying the ethnic character of their nation.

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In many nations across Europe, people are getting drawn to political parties that see generosity towards poor immigrants as a grandstanding virtue that is destroying the ethnic character of their nation.

Why is this happening? We are familiar with the phenomenon in India. We have seen it in the US. This is not a sudden change even in Europe. Intellectuals call it “the rise of the ‘far-right’," by which they imply that a great evil is rising. They are, as usual, wrong. Not about the rise, but about the evil.

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More reasonable intellectuals attribute the success of ‘the far right’, grudgingly, to “speaking what is on people’s mind". It is an unintentional confession that ‘the left’ does not speak people’s mind. In that case, what is it doing in politics? And in literature and humanities, which are meant to be studies of human nature? What ‘the left’ is doing in these fields is giving sermons about what people ought to be. This character emerges from religion. ‘The left’ replaced religion as a way of speaking and took over that turf, which is why it enjoyed a great run. But now, because it does not speak what’s on people’s mind, and instead what an untrustworthy clergy preaches, it has become obsolete in many parts of the world.

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The charge of speaking “what is on people’s mind" carries within it a complaint that what is on people’s mind is not very decent. This is probably true. And that brings us to the strange nature of public articulation. There is a distinction between public articulation and speaking. In public articulation, most of human nature is not represented.

Let us say you have any of these views: you don’t like the visual appearance of Muslims; you don’t like the house help sharing your cutlery; you believe that some races are intellectually inferior to others; you think transgenders have a mental health problem. You can air these views if you have meaningful relationships. As the comedian Ali Wong said about the fortune of a good marriage, “…you get to go home and be racists together".

Most people who hold any of these views, or even all of them, might still be decent people. Like you, or your parents. Sometimes decency is just about hiding your own indecent views. When such views are expressed in public articulation, the speaker looks very bad. Public articulation lays glorified emphasis not only a moral compass, but also uses an academic trick called substantiation. In fact, there is a wide perception that what cannot be substantiated is not worthy of respect. Yet, most views that most people hold dear have no substantiation. This is why I say that in public articulation, there is no space for most of human nature.

Unable to bear the suffocation, some people start saying what is on their minds, and a vast population then feels the shock of recognition; they love it. Speaking your mind is a risk; there could be either doom or great rewards for the risk-taker. The sanctimonious then attack them, perhaps to look good to their peers or compensate for their own moral limitations. They defame popular figures as “fascists, far-right, neo-nazis" and “new Trumps". If you do not follow their theology, you are a “bigot".

Of liberals, Meloni has said, “They attack national identity, they attack religious identity. They attack gender identity, they attack family identity… I can’t define myself as Italian, Christian, woman, mother. No. I must be citizen X, gender X, parent 1, parent 2." After her success, a section of the Western press has called her a new Benito Mussolini, in part because when she was 19 she had professed admiration for the Italian strongman. The idea is to portray her as a ‘fascist’.

Labels are important for intellectuals, who are chiefly in the business of articulation. Labels are memes that contain whole ideas. I tried writing this column without using the term ‘far-right’ or any political labels, like ‘the left’ or ‘liberals’, and it was a struggle. The other reason intellectuals take labels seriously is that they emerge from a tradition of confusing thought experiments as material realities. Typically, a philosopher would think of an extreme scenario to clarify his own understanding of society, but in time, his peers would misconstrue the extreme scenario as a way of the world and then start lamenting human nature.

The intellectual aristocracy is of an overt and covert view that a majority of humans is “stupid". As a result one of the worst analyses of contemporary intellectuals is the myth of “fake news", the idea that misinformation has altered Western politics. In reality, the reverse is true. It is a changed population that has begun to make fake news succeed. People believe what they want to believe. The sanctimonious are articulate because they need to just say the right things. They are lauded by their own but are generally so annoying that they make most people deepen their pacts with private indecencies. As a result, the worst ambassadors of any idea are sermonizing intellectuals. In fact, that was what created a backlash against vaccination and climate change. Never has the world had a situation where humans hate sense because a group of learned people hold that view.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist, and the creator of the Netflix series, ‘Decoupled’ 

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