Sometimes I come across a quote which expresses an important idea so simply and concretely that I find myself wanting to hang on to it. So I’m starting a collection – a sort of online commonplace book – of these quotes and stories.

In this quote, the author is remembering a photograph seen in a Berlin museum in 1990:

Long after I had returned home, I was turning over the components in my head – the victim, the executioner, the audience – haunted by the thought that, as much as I wanted to imagine I could only ever find myself in the place of the kneeling man, there was nothing in my DNA, my Glenn Patterson-ness, that absolutely guaranteed I could not end up playing either of the other roles. The only safeguard that I could see was vigilance, against any ideology that reduced human beings to the one word for which they could be murdered (Jew, Commie, Prod, Taig, Brit, Mick … or fascist, come to that); and against yourself, that you didn’t just shrug such language off. By the time the onlookers have gathered, the victim has been made to kneel and the soldier is pointing his gun, it is far too late to ask how you got here.

From an article on by Glenn Patterson [emphasis added].

This makes me think about the labels which are routinely applied to people by the media and by politicians (‘immigrant’, ‘addict’, ‘scrounger’ for example), the importance of vocabulary and how extreme ideologies could start to gain a foothold in a society.


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