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October 22, 2020

More dangerous than racism

In a style often almost exhibitionistic, the mass-media has gotten us used to an extremely polarizing picture of society. On one side there are people with an economic and social status that allows them to live a “normal” life and to be capable of solving life’s challenges. They afford giving their children complex education, can react constructively to unforeseen medical problems, can travel and get to know the world, can engage in various activities beyond mere survival. At most they fear other people’s envy and are afraid for their safety in a wide sense. On the other side there are the “problematic ones,” those who are marked by inferior status in one way or another, have various addictions, live in certain promiscuity, resent the opportunities enjoyed by others. The former avoid the “problematic ones,” and tend to consider them more or less to blame for their inferior status. At the same time, they give them little chances to overcome their condition. In other words, the thought in the back of the head of the former is: “the world would be better if it weren’t for the burden of “the others,” of those who are not capable of living a “normal” life and who threaten the social balance.”

Could they be right? The fact that those on the sidelines, society’s castaway, the “fringes” can be destabilizing is a truth, albeit a relative one. Because there is a social mobility, a movement between groups – in fact many today have the possibility to change their condition. Social groups are not waterproof and most of today’s “normal ones” are nouveau riche who took advantage of various social dynamics. From this point of view, amendable is rather the selfishness of those who “succeeded” but would like to close the doors for others in the future. A more delicate problem however is raised at the level of moral mentalities. People play far too easily with the “good” and “bad” categories. We permanently label, placing most of our fellow men in inferior moral categories, based on often futile reasons. Although the current European societies have a complex social assistance system – things were entirely different two centuries ago –, many in fact look with pity and contempt on those assisted by this system. While at public level the discourse promotes care for any disadvantaged category, mentalities on the other hand denote polarization far more dangerous than racism. Almost all of us put people in fairly strict categories, placing some of them in second-tier categories at best.

Danish film director Susanne Bier (L)  consecrated her latest film precisely to this duplicity. “A Second Chance,” a thesis film which tries to pick apart the prejudice of the two strictly separated worlds we mentioned above. Two couples cross paths. One is “bourgeois,” owns a lake-side villa, the man gets up at night to walk the baby, he is a husband that shows great care toward his wife’s psychological vulnerabilities. The other couple lives in promiscuity, the man is violent and often does drugs, he borders on psychopathy, while the woman is powerless, to such an extent that she seriously neglects her baby who cries in diapers left unchanged for days on end. The baby of the first couple dies suddenly and in order to save his wife, who is on the brink of suicide, the man plans to swap babies with the other couple, taking advantage of the fact that he is a policeman. He has all the moral arguments: they will offer decent living conditions and education to the child that is otherwise at risk of not surviving or of living in a filthy and destructuring environment; he will offer a second chance to his distraught wife. It seems a good solution, although illegitimate from the standpoint of regular human practices. The truth however is different: the “bourgeois” wife was a psychologically weak mother that had often handled her child roughly, being in fact the cause of his death. And the other mother will raise her son normally once she gets rid of the abusing husband.

Of course, in reality situations not always take this turn. Maybe they often confirm our prejudice. But we have no way of knowing the evolution of each case. We have to give people more chances and especially to notice the often unusual opportunities that “reality” offers. Let us not reach premature conclusions. Life is an open game from start to finish.

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