The Psychology of Otherness, Outsiders, and Enemies.
Media outlets (reporting news or social broadcasts) are dominated by stories relating to otherness; whether it be racism, war, misogyny, mass shooting, political divides, or social justice issues — the action/inaction dynamic of such reporting — being that a story dominates the news cycle then fades — appears like an off-beat pendulum of a clock that will never truly tell us what time it is. The times are changing, they are always in flux, but we might not see a true advancement of that change-potential unless we consider how the psychology of dehumanizing our fellows may just keep us stagnant.
We can all too easily consider bigotry belonging to the opposition, and be consequentially blinded to our own deficits. We can all too easily identify it when we see it, but struggle to acknowledge our own bias, stunting our growth.
What does that mean exactly, how is it that we might self-sabotage key movements in progressive change and equality, what is it to see another human being as an other?
The recipe is as follows:
It is less bombastic (read less worrying) to accept that we all do this, in greater or lesser modes. We are actually programmed to recognize ‘not us’ at a subconscious level, but it is what we do with that information, it is the frame-work that we insert that recognition into that is truely divisive.
We all adopt irregular or irrational thinking, we all internalize judgment, and we all foster negative fantasies and deep-rooted misgivings towards other people. We all have a script, and we all act out — it is part of our inherent nature to struggle with difference, to reject change, and to seek to build narratives which shape the social paradigm in our favor.
It is not, however, overtly alarmist to observe that an insidious aspect of our collective nature utilizes the above dynamic to actively sabotage unity, and to enact misery upon our neighbors. Past and present we see gross injustices play out.
The idea can be reduced to a simple process equation: X = Y * Z
X = Otherness / dehumanization
Y = The reduction of intrinsic value of a person / peoples
Z = The increase in entitlement to elicit control and ownership over a person / peoples
The actuality of X can be seen in: racism, sexism, misogyny, institutionalized stigma, hate-group philosophy, political and religious zealotry, physical and sexual violence, bigotry, and even in pro-social movements that look to challenge disharmony. All of these examples stem from an internalized sense of dominance and ‘better than’ thinking, leading toward a stance of oppressive thinking and action.
The hardest part to accept is that we all do it (to greater or lesser degrees). If we are generalizing, if we are ‘lumping in’, if we are making sweeping statements, if we are overtly pushing an agenda, if we are tailoring and filtering our reality — we are formulating and reasoning the difference between us and them. To some extent I am doing it right now, as are you while reading this. And perhaps you are right, though I would prefer to believe that I am right…
We judge others, we intellectualize, we demonize, we project, we confabulate, we mock, we sneer, we write off and we build false narratives.
That language becomes weaponized is a defining trait in the process, the modality of it as a system of oppression, insidiously put to use in manifesting differentialism. Specific terminology permeates our collective consciousness, and brings with it the idea of otherness. It brings with it the justification for otherness.
Even in thinking that we might comment upon or curtail the thoughts or actions of another, we are seeking to elicit control — yet we predominantly do so with the conception of a greater good. For progression we challenge sexism, for unity we challenge racism, for equality we challenge cis and ‘able body’ standards, and for the sake of us all we would challenge an authority that harms its citizens (or just overtly harms, since citizenship should not procure safety over human rights).
True there are actual people that wish others harm, there are actual members of our species that represent terrible things, but they amount to some of us, parts of groups, fractures in the fabric of society, not dominant trends. The mass other appears to disappear when we look closely at individuals vs. groups.
How then might the issue be addressed, how might we fairly discuss or report upon unjust action, how might we collectively challenge bigotry, and how might we stand against a perceived harmful force that shows little interest in unity or equality?
There are many great quotes relating to transforming the idea of an enemy into a closer philosophy of love and acceptance, but that echelon of higher functioning appears laudable when you look at the statistics minority groups face in terms of oppression, harm, marginalization, violence and discrimination. Well-wishes, light & love, thoughts & prayers, good vibes — these do nothing to elicit actual change, and they absolve people of doing the actual hard, hard work on themselves.
We must stand up to oppression, we must advocate for others, and we must lend our own power and privilege to those without it — but these are ‘feel good’ actions. These are the actions of decency. The real work is deep, and dark, and gets us dirty. The real work is in drawing out the bias and bigotry within each of us. The real work is in acknowledging how we benefit daily from systems that disparage other people.
If we think upon that we can likely find ourselves making others and enemies out of neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members. If we think on it we can easily find clear and specific examples of how we group other people into less-than categories, based on arbitrary findings of what makes us comfortable, or what irritates us.
We are not only the active barriers to our own success in life, we are the active overseers of whole groups of people — holding them back from achieving their own potential because we are too ashamed to look at how complicit we really are in a system that benefits from other people being defined as less-than.