The new xenophobia

Friday 12th August 2011

NECK sticking out time, but I shall be 61 next week and don’t give a damn if nobody reading this doesn’t agree with one single word of it. And that’s not an excuse, justification, explanation or deep-seated psychological exoneration of what follows. You can condemn or condone the following content to your heart’s content.

Yesterday, I observed a quite ordinary – but, to me, disturbing – example of contemporary human behaviour.

Liz’s check-out was free. Meanwhile, ten people continued waiting for a self-service machine to become available. Why?

“Have you scared them all off, Liz?”

“Dunno. Maybe I’m using the wrong deodorant.”

Young people particularly, she told me, would rather queue to serve themselves. Many hours can pass before she is spoken to by a teenager.


She held up, meaningfully, a chocolate bar I was purchasing. Apparently they all do it, even middle-class kids. Cheaper for the store to have a few items nicked than employ more staff.

But how many of us, I wonder, can spend whole days not talking to people we don’t already know, avoiding, consciously or not, direct contact with strangers?

And need I mention the park-bench pensioner, who would break bread with children feeding ducks? Not any more. For his own sake and safety, he now stays at home, lonely, numbed, expected to be excited by having a free television licence. Oh, the irony of that device called ‘remote control’.

Cars, cash machines, social media, online shopping, ear-phones and emails. Bubble-wrapped, we are. Xenophobia is no longer confined to the beggar, the yob, the person whose skin is a different colour. It’s everywhere.

Easy as it is to point fingers at greed, envy, and wrath, I believe subtler forces are at work here. We need to get out more, to acknowledge that differences need not be difficulties, and to start looking into each other’s eyes.

In order to begin to mend this ‘broken society’ of ours, we would do well to examine how best to break the chains that are strangling it.






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4 Responses to The new xenophobia

  1. Stuart taylor says:

    I don’t agree. Face to face relationships thrive everywhere and communication, especially between children, is far more about conversation than it ever was. Added to this is the reliable facilities of communication, which now enable us to speak with friends and people all over the world. Taking a break from it all is welcome peace and quiet, especially when all Liz is going to ask is, “Do you need a bag?”

    Xenophobia is not the cause you’re looking for, grumpy old man! People like to control their business as much as possible; choosing the self-serve is a step closer to that natural state and it doesn’t mean that people are any more closed off than they ever have been.

    I always think it an awful shame when older people can see nothing but holes in the fabric of human existence, when really they are just looking at the wrong yarn.

  2. Fergu McGonigal says:

    Play with your children. Visit your ageing parents. Phone your brother. Invite friends round. Offer up your place in the supermarket queue to the person with only a handful of items. Be civilized, polite and good-natured. As GK Chesterton put it: the problem with society these days is me.

    He was right.

  3. breffini says:

    Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World!

  4. garylongden says:

    You are right, Marcus.It is part of a disconnect which is washing across our society. The looter has no sense that if a shop cannot sell its goods it cannot enploy people, pay rates to support the community, pay taxes to support the country and pay suppliers who themselves provide jobs taxes etc.It is an anonymous acquisition which has no value other than an arbitrary price tag.

    Equally, David Cameron told us some months ago that we were “taking out” Libyan air defence systems.That means killing 18 year old conscripts manning anti aircraft batteries who never dreamt that they would be doing anything other than playing cards, wondering what their mum was doing for tea, or whther they could pluck up the courage to ask out a local girl. The QE Hospital is trying to raise £6.5m for new radiotherapy equipment- roughly the cost of eight cruise missiles, less than were fired in one night at the Libyans.

    I would love to see a face to face meeting betwen the looters and the owner of the barbers shop that was ransacked in Tottenham, or David Cameron and the mother and father of a dead Libyan air defence soldier.

    As human contact diminsihes so inhuman behaviour increases.

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