Friday, May 8, 2009

College For Free 1: The Process of Othering

I have tried to write this blog once already, but it came off really high-school-clever and essayish, which is basically everything I'm trying to avoid in this blog. It's a fine line to walk, being informative and maintaining a relaxed tone, but that's what it's all about, so I suppose I had better get used to it.
Anyways, this is the first ever entry in the College For Free section of the blog, where I tell you the reader something interesting I learned in college. I thought that I would start the blog with something that can best be labeled as the process of othering, even though othering doesn't seem to be be a word according to blogspot's spell check. The reason I want to start with this concept is because I'll probably be coming back to it a lot. It's literally everywhere, which is why I had so much trouble writing this entry the first time. Othering is thinking of a group of your fellow human beings as "others" and not a part of "us." It seems simple, but othering is one of the most dangerous things humans do and it leads to a lot of terrible things all throughout history, up to this very day.

So, I think the best way to begin to explain the process of othering, which is a very serious problem in human history, is to talk about stormtroopers.
Stormtroopers are an excellent example of othering in the world of fiction. They are the bad guys, period. You see a stormtrooper, you kill him, no question. There are no good stormtroopers, because they're all the same. They even look exactly the same, and all they want to do is kill the good guys. They don't have a favorite food, they don't write poetry in their free time or like any good books. Of course, as we later find out, stormtroopers aren't actually people, they're clones of Jango Fett, bred for the express purpose of being the mindless army of the Republic.
Now, this is fine for the purposes of fiction. It's really easy, in an epic story such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings (where orcs take the place of stormtroopers,) to create an army of enemies who all look and act exactly the same, who are not the same species as the heroes, and who are hellbent on nothing besides killing and destruction. That's fine for movies and books because they are fiction and not reality. The problem arises when we start to let these concepts seep into our pereceptions of reality.
Take America's perception of the Middle East right now. According to much of the propaganda used over the years since 9/11, Muslims are stormtroopers. They are bred to hate America, raised from the time they're children to fire AK-47s and burn American flags. They hate our freedom, which is my favorite line from the Bush regime because it was so widely accepted and so ludicrous. Really? They hate our freedom? All of them? Because I don't think I could get five people in Kalamazoo to agree on the best football team in the league, but there are entire nations of people who all agree that freedom is bad? How could anyone hate freedom? I mean, governments hate freedom because it makes people hard to control, but other poor people DO NOT HATE FREEDOM. That is just insanity.
My point being that we are taught to think of these people like an enemy because it's easy to go kill them if they're just a bunch of white-helmet-wearing drones. That's not a problem. What's hard is killing people, because people are individuals. And individuals have mothers and sons and memories and they tell jokes and used to do cartwheels when they were little. In reality, people in Afghanistan, people in Iraq, people in Somalia, are just like you. They are not others, they are us. Just other people who, just like us, are trying to scrape out a living for themselves and find happiness. And, I might add, people in those countries certainly have to look a little harder to find it.
Granted, not all of what we are told is a lie. The Taliban exists, people do burn American flags in the Middle East, people do hate America. But, those are individual people, not indicative of the overall population. See, things are much more complicated than they are first appear. All people have every level of economic and political situation to deal with. As my former Arabic teacher said, "I've never heard of any Christian suicide-bombers, but I've never heard of any rich or educated ones either."
Now, that's international othering, thinking of people from different countries who speak different languages and believe different religions as "others." It's bullshit, but it leads to even more dangerous thinking. See, I think, once you start to dehumanize one group of people and think of them as less human because they're different from you, there's no real way to stop that thinking from spreading to every other group unlike yourself.
That's why we live in a country where homosexuals can't get married, because they're not like the collective "us." It's essentially legal bigotry, and it's based on this idea that they are not us, they're something else. That's also why poor white people swear allegiance to the Republican party, which does nothing but smite the poor and help the rich, based on the backwater bible-thumping quality of the candidates. Meanwhile, these same poor white people consider their black neighbors to be "others" because of the color of their skin. Regardless of their similarity in income and location, there are still divides between people of different backgrounds and colors based on this concept that we're different from one another.
Well, we aren't. At all. We're one of the newest species on the planet. We haven't had time to evolve any differences not skin deep. We are all exactly the same, and it's time that started sinking in. So the next time you hear about the casualties of the Iraq war or some military coup in Africa, just take a second and wonder about one of the victims. What was their favorite food? What did they want to be when they grew up?
Because they were one of us, and you've got to love all the people.

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