It is quite interesting to reflect on certain of our current sociocultural problems – I am thinking particularly about sectarianism in Scotland – by comparing the psychologies of those caught up in the midst of it today, with those who lived through its complex historical origins.
Whilst it is very difficult to work your way inside the emotions, attitudes and thought patterns of individuals living through the difficult circumstances surrounding this problem nowadays, it is even more of a challenge with respect to those living in an entirely different historical period.
But it is interesting because it helps to shed some light on why problems like sectarianism, which should have been confined to the lives and circumstances of a different generation, with different belief systems, still endure today.
We could think of sectarianism, perhaps rather simplistically, as being rooted in the complex mix of religious, sociocultural and political circumstances that have prevailed, to greater or lesser extents, at various points in our history over the past few centuries.
Perhaps at the time, sectarianism was something like a strange type of ‘medicine’ that people believed that they had to take, in order to ward off the perceived threats and spooky ills of the day. It helped secure, and ultimately reinforce, their sense of identity, belonging, purpose and spiritual well-being. But it was a ‘medicine’ that looks more like a poison to most of us today, with very obvious, and totally unacceptable, adverse effects.
There is a very clear sense in which sectarianism would have been actively prescribed by certain unscrupulous, corrupt and very powerful, organisations and authorities, as a potent remedy for tackling some of the perceived threats to the preferred establishment of the day. It was a means of protecting and insulating Scottish Presbyterian Protestantism, for example, from the threat of the ‘superstitions’ of Catholicism and the absolute authority of Rome.
The recipe was celebrated and passed down through subsequent generations, without any thought being given to the fact that the psychology that made sense of it as an antidote to a particular religious and sociocultural malady, was firmly rooted in a historical setting that is wholly incommensurate with how the majority of us want our lives to look and feel today.
But here is the sting: whilst the majority of us want our lives to look and feel a certain way today, because the story we are given is that we inhabit a culturally advanced, socially civilised and morally structured space of reasons that makes this possible, the reality behind the story is somewhat different.
The reality is that the institutional corruption and sociocultural prejudices that tainted our past are still absolutely rife today, albeit appearing in a slightly more sophisticated guise, and with much wider ramifications for our everyday lives.
We may have become more sophisticated in our thinking, but our psychologies are integrated into today’s sociocultural conditions, in much the same way that the psychologies of generations before us were integrated into the conditions that prevailed during their time. And we also have the disadvantage of backward integration through being immersed in our respective generational traditions, with the symbols, stories and songs that keep them alive.
But whereas many of us have moved on in our attitudes and belief systems, and acknowledge that sectarianism is something that should belong firmly in the past, the brutal reality behind the story is that most of the same basic sociocultural ingredients still exist today that existed then.
Witness the wilful corruption, institutional prejudices and wholly immoral practices of certain journalists, politicians and bankers, for a start. And they are not alone in this respect. The elitist framework that furnishes and protects the lavish lifestyle of certain social groups is the very same framework that creates the context for many of our ugly sociocultural prejudices.
That is what we need to dismantle if we are serious about eradicating sectarianism for good. But that, unfortunately, is never going to happen, and that is why sectarianism remains an enduring problem today.