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What is all this nonsense about?

April 23rd, 2009 by theothergroup

Written By: Christian Lemmich

This blog has been running for a few months now, and it has a few blogs on it that discuss, comment or rave about different subject matters. What has all of this got to do with ‘the other’? In some ways nothing and in other ways everything. Othering is something that we do without thinking about it, it is a natural part of our language. For example most of the blogs below express a view point, an opinion; having an opinion involves being against something else, comparing oneself to the opposite view or to an institution. It is this opposing view that we regard as ‘the other’, someone different and somehow detached from us and something that we can relate to negatively.

Most of the blogs on this site are activist in nature, they are trying to create awareness and attention about a perceived problem or issue in society, or even in themselves. As such, these blogs fall into the rather innocent and even positive end of the otherness spectrum. A notable example of positive othering is the blog regarding the murder of the transvestite, in it the author talks of the heinousness of the crime, how the murderer justifies his killing of the woman because she was a transvestite. Thus by treating the murderer as other, the author is able to portray the murderer as a man with a misconstrued morality and she can show that the murder was unnecessary and perpetrated through fear and misunderstanding. Ironically, the murder was committed because of othering on a negative scale, the trans-gender woman was viewed as other and less worthy, therefore justifying her murder.

Unfortunately that example is a very small example of what othering can lead to. Arundhati Roy talks of how the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan is used by the government as a means of national Hindu identification, where India is defined through hatred for Pakistan and for Muslims ( Roy 36). India is not the only country that has fallen into the othering trap, an increasingly relevant and disturbing example is Hitler. He created a sense of German identity, the concept of the Aryan race, a master race that identified itself as being superior because it wasn’t Jewish, Black or in general non-northern European. Since most of us are too young to remember this event or even find it relevant to our modern society, something that would be a big mistake, we can simply look at former US President George W. Bush as an excellent example of negative othering. Perhaps his most famous words were “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror”, and true to his word that is how he ran the US throughout his terms. This othering can only have negative results as it leads to a non-communicative standoff, it’s not activism and it’s no longer simply an opinion. If people do not identify entirely with his view on terror, then they themselves are terrorists. The Patriot Act is another classic example of this because it eliminated basic civil liberties, on the pretense that it was necessary in order to protect the US from the terrorists, or in other words to protect them from the other. Once again I will leave it to the words of Arundhati Roy to outline what risk that entails: “fascism is about the slow, steady infiltration of all the instruments of state-power. It’s about the slow erosion of civil liberties, about unspectacular day-to-day injustices” (37).

Put simply, negative, binary othering runs the risk of turning into something very ugly and unwanted. Yet it isn’t possible to not other, after all we live in a social society where we rely on our fellow people everyday. We rely on them to follow the rules of the road, or to not murder us in the street because we decided to wear a Tibetan badge. We are all ‘the other’, we can even be the ‘the other’ to ourselves. If we had a particularly bad morning because the coffee machine was broken and were nasty to everyone around us, we’ll try and distance ourselves from that aspect of ourselves, in other words we’ll turn it into the other. Othering does not have to be negative, but we do have to be careful about it, even positive othering can turn into something negative, for example when talking about countries that need aid we tend to treat them as inferior to us, and in doing so we are distancing ourselves from them and viewing them as ‘the other’.

It is our hope then that the blogs on this site, will encourage you to think about what the other means and how othering is present in our daily lives. Hopefully you will walk away with a new appreciation and perhaps also an increased consideration of ‘the other’, whatever that might be.

Sources

Roy, Arunndhati. War Talk. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2003. 36-37.

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