December 4, 2016 by Cláudia
Two decades ago being homophobic was the norm. People didn’t even know what sexual orientation really meant. When I told my mom I wanted to support gay rights she told me to stay out of it (“You don’t really want to be associated with them, people will start saying your gay.”) as if gay was a dirty word. It’s not anymore – homophobic is the new dirty word. The same applies to racism and women’s rights. Animal rights, though not so widespread have reached some Historical landmarks and veganism has growth rates of more than 300% in the last 10 years. Someone who has been following the last twenty years has seen how greatly the world has been liberalized. There are changes to be made, sure, but landmarks have been achieved that will be remembered and studied as great progress in the future (gay marriage, legalization of abortion).
Considering this, one could think we had all the reasons in the world to be optimistic. And I was. Although, the last few years have been tough. There have been some hard blows. The refugee crisis has sparked a lot of anti-immigrant discourse. The terrorist attacks have resulted in anti-Muslim reactions. Openly racist, misogynists and homophobic politicians have gained support. It seems as we are regressing, going back in time.
Paul Mason talks about this phenomenon as “authoritarian populism”. He sees it as a desire to be dominated that results from fear of freedom. And I agree, to a certain extent: freedom is uncertain and therefore scary. It’s easier to have someone to organize the world for us than to live in a world where everyone is trying to find their own path in different ways, which sometimes collide with each other.
However, more than an innately human fear of freedom, I see the rise of the “big-mouthed racist right” as the manifestation of a general struggle to cope with the major liberalization of the last two decades. History progresses in advances and setbacks and the last advance has been pretty radical: gay rights went over the roof, human rights and women rights also, racism is no longer considered normal but a distinct mark of being uncivilized. Most people who live in this world right now didn’t grow up with this mindset. To be conservative is, in a strict sense, easier because it means you don’t have to constantly question and readjust your values and structures. It is likewise more difficult because you constantly resist change in a constantly changing world.
And like I said, freedom is scary. It means the social position some people took for granted years ago can now be occupied by people who were more or less excluded (think about the irony of having the first black President followed by a racist President). It means society is not orderly or predictable: everyone is trying to find their own place, their own values, since traditional ones were deconstructed. It’s uncertain. People like to feel safe. I’ve come to realize people value safety way more than freedom and that’s understandable.
So right now we are experiencing the backlash of all that: people who lived in an organized conservative world suddenly perceive this new world that is still trying to figure out their values as a mayhem. Trump, Marine le Pen or Theresa May, haven’t done more than to vocalize the inner desires that the world goes back to what is was before – organized and hierarchical. People want to go to a world in which women are just women and don’t try to act as men. In which a couple consists in a man and a women and black people aren’t Presidents or CEOs. Because that’s what they knew and accepted as their reality. That was what was comfortable.
There are always opposing forces, there is always resistance to change. There are always times when it feels like society is regressing instead of progressing.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to turn back time no matter how loud you shout. What we are experiencing is a counter-revolution. The real Revolution continues.