Recently, I was at a small social gathering. At one point, the name “Margaret Thatcher” was mentioned, and immediately looks of disapproval spread across some of the faces in the room. This was quickly followed by comments subtly denigrating the late politician.
Being a foreigner who was not in the country during Thatcher’s years, I didn’t have much knowledge of her, her policies, their impact on the country, or how well/badly the public received all of the above. But given the how plainly obvious that at least half of the room thought negatively of the former prime minister, my curiousity made me venture the question: “Why is Margaret Thatcher such a divisive figure in this country?” However, my company politely declined to comment, maybe because there was too much to go into.
Now, it seems to be an established truism in many parts of western society that you do not discuss politics in polite society. (I shan’t delve into the reasons why for now) But even though my friendly company obviously tried to stick to this, it occurred to me that this is somewhat impossible. People simply cannot contain their political ideologies and allegiances. It comes out one way or another: Your worldview fundamentally colours your perspective and your thought processes, and obviously this will manifest itself in the way you speak, the way you behave, the way you even react.
Because of the conflict of these two realities, we end up with this: Because of the deep ideological commitments and divisions that span this country, the aggression towards certain people/ideologies are always and obviously there, bubbling under the surface. But polite decorum dictates that this emotion never be actively manifested, so this aggression manifests itself passively. What we end up with is behaviour that is literally and definitely passive aggressive.
Could we fundamentally disagree on issues without feeling personally hurt/insulted/attacked? Can we have principles without being emotionally invested?
I strongly feel that mature society shouldn’t be suppressing political and ideological disagreements. Let’s not be afraid to confront disagreements. We should be able to discuss contentious issues civilly, find out where we agree and disagree, and maybe even debate the issues on their individual merits and shortcomings. Maybe instead of dismissing the other for being so obviously wrong/blind/stupid… if we can try hard to understand each other, charitably interpret other people’s decisions, we might be able live in a more harmonious society.
Can Britain achieve this?
Peace and tolerance doesn’t mean hiding behind a mask of politeness and the wilful suppression of personal opinions. Disagreement does not necessarily lead societal division. But when discussion of contentious issues are avoided by moderates, extremists take advantage of this vacuum, and they take ownership of these issues. This mechanism becomes self-feeding, as moderates, in the attempt to avoid being put in the same camp as extremists, distance themselves from these topics even further. The problem amplifies itself, as anyone who dares to talk about these issues is typecast as an extremist or at the very least leaning in that direction. This is seems to me to be a very unhealthy society. I’m afraid this is the description of Britain as we know it.
(Incidentally, I tried to do some brief research, and found this relatively neutral summary of how Thatcher became so divisive in British culture: http://josharcher.uk/blog/why-margaret-thatcher-is-hated/)