THE COURTS HAVE DECIDED that it’s not racist to say that ‘immigrants are scum’. I can follow the logic of that. To describe someone as an immigrant, or incomer, is not to attribute any particular race to them. Nor would it imply they were of a particular sexual orientation, or religious persuasion, two other human attributes that it is illegal, in this country, to denigrate.

            This is a writer’s blog, so let’s look at it from a writer’s perspective. Not quite twenty sentences in to ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K. Dick, the novel that was adapted into the film Blade Runner, the protagonist, Rick Deckard says, ‘I’ve never killed a human being in my life.’

            This is an important statement, both in the book, and in real life, for it touches upon that human tabu about killing our own specie that saw even self proclaimed warrior peoples feel the need to purify themselves after being tainted by the taking of human life. Though Blade Runner, the film, may end with the hero going off to have a time limited but happy, and implicitly sexual, relationship with an android, built in the shape of a woman, and given a human name, the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel, begins with his assertion of the inhumanity of the replicants he is hunting down.

            Back in the nineteen seventies, when I was training to be a teacher, one of my student colleagues, who came from a divided society, made a point of explaining to me, that the ‘others’ in her part of the world were ‘not really human’. She went on to suggest that, being ‘animals’, it ‘would be a mercy’ if they were put down at birth. I am still ashamed of the fact that I was too shocked to make any answer to her assertion, and disturbed by the fact that my college seemed to have no handle on the issue, though it was pioneering a course in mulit-culturalism. I have no doubt though, that what she said reflected what she had been brought up to believe, and that her use of the word ‘animals’ was not figurative. She was a civilised person. She was training to be a teacher, and like Rick Deckard, would have been indignant, apalled even, to think that she might stand accused, as he does, at the start of the novel, of being ‘a murderer’.

            Many years later I was told a story about a man whose village priest, or Holy man, had taught him, when he was a child, that the people of my student colleague’s community were, you’ve guessed it, ‘not really human’, and that they had ‘invisible horns’ upon their foreheads, and were in fact ‘devils’.

            I am saying nothing new here. It is a sad persistence of the human condition that people must be grouped and dehumanised, in order that we may claim, as Deckard does, that we ‘never killed a human being’. Like him, it is a claim we do not need to make unless killing or some other form of what would be considered a crime against people, but not against animals or things, is our intent. Some languages, I believe, have words for things that appear to be human, but which are not. They are words that might be applied to any of us. ‘Scum’ too, is a de-humanising word. ‘Scum’ has no human form. It has no body, no mind, no soul.

           Such statements are not ‘logically’ true. We know that they cannot be. They assault language as much as anything. they use an adjective that describes, not the noun it is applied to, but the attitude of the user, towards what is labelled by that noun.

            I don’t question the decision of the courts in this case. I can see their logic, but it skates over the thin ice of what words mean and how they are used. What constitutes the human forms the basis of many sci-fi stories. Remember the Gom-Jabar in Dune? In Frank Herbert’s imagined world there were many things that might be confused with people. In ours there are not, and it is only to do things to other people that we cannot justify even to ourselves, that we use such words about them.

            I do not know if this man who said, ‘all immigrants are scum’ meant what he said. I do not know if he said what he meant. I do not even know  if he understands what he said means, but I do know that such things being said, and being meant, is a threat to us all.

Advertisements