Monday, 10 August 2015

Deaf, not dumb; human, not insect…

On David Cameron: “He’s the most facile, superficial Prime Minister there has ever been,” claiming that “he just shoots from the hip” and makes one-off commitments that “he cannot deliver on”.
– John Buttifant Sewel, Baron Sewel: reported in The Independent

As the Tories increasingly head Farage- or even Trump-wards, David Cameron is currently in hot water (mind you, Philip Hammond is no better) for his use of intemperate language in describing the human beings who are trying to enter Britain – both to better themselves, and to escape from régimes (some supported – or not opposed when they should have been – by the British Government) where they almost certainly have no future. (Mind you: it is probably better to be “in hot water” than drowning in the Mediterranean….)

Whatever your feelings around immigration and the free movement of people, it should be difficult to witness the suffering these people have to endure without being moved – either emotionally, or practically – especially if you are in a position of power: able to actually do something about the situation. But, as always, our PM’s response – both in action and in terminology – is overly (and consciously) simplistic, and extremely patronizing in the way it is communicated. (If Iggle Piggle is the master of anything, it is gesture politics.) It is all too easy to find yourself believing, therefore, that Cameron has no heart; and, given the track record of his administration, scant regard for the huge majority less fortunate than him and his extremely rich cronies.

I begin any conversation by warning you: “I’m terribly deaf.” But you don’t take it seriously. You think I’m exaggerating, or you start by raising your voice then forget moments later, speaking at a normal pitch again, leaving me helpless.

When I was at school, my two main interests – apart from reading and re-reading as many books as I could lay my hands on – were music and art (both consumed and produced with great passion – if not consummate skill…). It was not unusual to be asked, therefore, which sense – hearing or sight – was the most important to me: and I would have answered then, as I answer now… both. (I always was – according to my dad – “an okkerd bugga”.) However, as age and infirmity take their toll, I have been luckier with my eyes than with my ears (as a synecdoche for my complete, complex, and failing, aural system). And yet my principal, practised distractions from the pain that rules my life are still art (usually in the form of photography) and music (now confined, though, to rehearsing that with which I am already on good terms). Some books, I know, I could always listen to, if my eyes failed me: but I would sorely miss their texture and smell.

But… losing your hearing – however it goes; and whatever other side-effects you may personally be unfortunate enough to experience: tinnitus, hyperacusis, diplacusisalways comes with one accompanying characteristic, albeit externally-expressed, symptom: you will suddenly be rendered utterly stupid in other people’s eyes; and will, therefore, be patronized, Cameron-style, within an inch of your life. Not only by a large portion of the general populace; but especially by those entrusted with treating you. And the higher the level of supposed knowledge of your condition, or expertise, the more developed, the more habitual, the condescension. (And god forbid that you should proffer some “expertise” of your own – there is nothing so despicable as the ‘expert patient’.)

My idea of a Utopian world is for everyone to go around like Teletubbies, with subtitled screens on their tummies.
– David Lodge: Mail Online

Such medics do not just (although sometimes simply do not…) try and speak distinctly: but in that peculiar toffee-nosed way many English people reserve for residents of foreign countries that they have visited without even attempting to glean a few native words; as well as to babies and toddlers, of course. Their high-handed ignorance in sending out distorted, nonsensical signals is somehow transferred to you, contemptuously – it is your fault for not being able to comprehend the gibberish they utter, or receive it clearly. It is your fault, in other words, that you have lost your hearing. (In ‘ye olden days’, no doubt, it would have been simpler: we would probably just have been born cursed by the local god – and then sacrificed to them.)

And, sadly, once these haughty halfwits have mounted their high horses, there is no way to remove them from the saddle of superciliousness (well, except, perhaps, with the use of a particularly pointed epithet (or stick)). The habit becomes increasingly ingrained, each time they deal with some poor sod who has – through no fault of their own – no chance of comprehension. (I wonder if those who specialize in treating the blind are more sympathetic?)

We did not choose to be born or become deaf; as those who flee for their lives did not choose to be born into state-sanctioned hatred. Do not treat us, therefore, as if we are the deserved lowest of the low. Instead, please offer us the hand we need… – your hand.

I believe that freedom of movement is a human right, not a trade agreement.
– Jeremy Hardy: Red Pepper

By the way, I am sure that all of us have ‘immigrant’ blood in us – and surely (certainly, in my view) this is cause for celebration? (Immigration, after all, is “good for all of us” – whatever your visceral response to it.)

My very-distant ancestors came over with William the Conqueror; and there are almost certainly additional, more recent, ‘foreign’ bloodlines incorporated into the Bardic mix that I am unaware of. Furthermore, my son is a quarter Polish (which includes a slight sprinkling of Lithuanian): and rightfully proud of his Eastern European heritage. When his grandmother and great-grandmother escaped the oppressive Communist brutality of the late 1960s, they were welcomed with open arms into the working-class community they settled into in the north-west of England. But this contrasts all-too-sadly with the treatment of Africans, West Indians and Southern Asians arriving in the same area at the same time…. Is it therefore wrong to wonder if those now attempting to cross into this country via Calais were white, if they would be treated with the same level of contempt (and labelled so pejoratively, with such utter inhumanity) by our illustrious leaders? (It just seems to me that racial stereotypes run deep in some quarters….)

Once upon a time, though, we were renowned for our deep and deliberate generosity to refugees; but perhaps, with the passing of the likes of Sir Nicholas Winton – who, incidentally (and with unconscious irony), the PM himself described as a “great man” – such altruism and sympathy, such concern for our fellow humans, should also be mourned…?

We seem so deaf to the needs of others; so blind to the future of this planet and those we share it with. Is it too late to ask that we look without ourselves for a change; develop a more open regard for those around us – the ‘Others’ that we could (and should) gain so much from? It is all too easy to habitualize disdain for those who are ‘different’: those who we see as somehow ‘beneath’ us – whether this is caused by fear or by ignorance – and this is made worse when that “disdain” comes from those who are supposed to care and to help.

We should look and listen – always – and we should be more open to learning from them and about them instead: even if we profess such knowledge our speciality. Such people have much to teach us – especially about ourselves – whatever level of society we inhabit; whatever our rôle is in that society – whether ruler, carer, or just another in a very long line of extraordinary human beings.

Look closely at those who patronize you. Half are unfeeling, half untaught.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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