I’ve been following this story for a few days now and have been astounded. Not only are the acts themselves shockingly brutal at times (like setting people on fire) but the causes seem tragically transparent: these are poor, desperate people, lashing out against the only people lower on the social scale than them. How many times has this story been repeated? One can’t help feeling that the repetition of a phenomenon like this should make it preventable.

From the NYT:

“White people hire the foreigners because they work hard and they do it for less money,” Mr. Booysen said. “A South African demands his rights and will go on strike. Foreigners are afraid.”

This line pretty much sums it up: “the powerless making scapegoats of the defenseless”

Great, so they’re easily exploited and therefore poor. But let’s not get pissed at the white exploiters, let’s not help our neighbors “demand their rights”, let get pissed off at the desperate poor people! yay! that will fix everything! It’s always worked so well in the past! Its almost sad to hear this stuff over and over and over….one starts to suspect that, as a species, perhaps we are not so bright. Guh.

And then there’s this: the NYT reporter says that people feel “a nationalistic sense of jubilation in the areas where the immigrants have been dislodged” because they were seen as an economic threat to natives. It’s so sad that nowhere is there a voice standing up and talking about the human (not national) jubilation they might all feel if they created a just labor system, if everyone was protected from exploitation, if they could all stand together and help these desperately poor people find a good life in their country without feeding into the employers’ greed. It’s such a frustrating example of people giving into their baser instincts.

And it’s counterproductive. Will this help? Will massive riots and instability help the economy that they all feel left out of to begin with? Most importantly, will the exploiters at the root of the resentment feel that they will be held accountable? Of course not. This is yet another one of the reasons nationalism is so scary. And i use it in the broad sense of the word – of the strong identification with a territory within a certain set of geographical boundaries.

Nationalism is catastrophically blinding. While they are “jubilantly” celebrating their nationalistically motivated actions, they are blind to the reasons why people come. They are blind to the even greater injustices being perpetrated on people beyond their borders. They are blind to the injustice and exploitation inherent within their own society. They are blinded, by an “us v. them” mentality, to the fact that there is only ever going to be “we”, because what happens to them (on the other side of their precious border) is going to affect us. After stewing on it for a while, I’m about ready to declare that I’m all for the dissolution of the nation-state, as I am for the disappearance of religion, if only because it would give people one less stupid excuse for ignorant violence.

Tear down the borders. Take off the blindfold.

(photo above from the Guardian)