Friday, 5 February 2016

The Othering

I was at a seminar recently, listening to Mr Rory Miller and his musings on violence and confrontation. Something he touched upon in that talk was the concept of Othering.

This is a verb, not a collective noun and means when you make a person something "other" than a human being. This is done almost exclusively for negative reasons and allows you to excuse unpleasant, barbaric or criminal behaviour towards them, because you believe they are less than you are.

Kicking someone's teeth in just for the sake of it, along with four of your mates has always seemed to me to be a cowardly thing (which it is) and I couldn't see why anyone would get off on this idea. Ultimately it's because they are seeing the broken, twitching body beneath them as something other.

This explains a great deal of brutality in the world but it can be used to justify nearly all unpleasant human behaviour.

When I see people yelling at cashiers or customer service reps in shops I always thought they were just vicious bullies who enjoyed taking their moods out on people. They most certainly are that but I couldn't understand that divorcing of common empathy and basic good manners. Venting your spleen at strangers is a cuntish thing to do.

Similarly when I was at school you'd get bullies who took an immense amount of pleasure in hurting and/ or humiliating other kids. This wasn't just pupils either, some of the teachers did it too (Roger Jenkins, I'm thinking of you, you fat, ugly sack of embittered shit).

Move forward to a time when I worked and I've seen supervisors, managers or even Slightly Senior Nobodies make other people's lives difficult for the sake of malicious glee.

I could never understand why people could be so utterly awful to each other. I kind of guessed that they regarded themselves as superior to their victims but always believed there had to be an override of basic human decency for this behaviour to rise up and display itself.

Listening to Rory Miller, an idea came to the forefront of my brain that had been rattling around in there for a while but listening to someone else raise the hypothesis meant that it got a lot more clarity. To hurt people or treat them differently they are not just other people but othered people.

The guy who cuts you up in traffic or steals "your" parking space at the supermarket. He's less than you because he doesn't respect basic road etiquette and it feels justified to think about doing horrible things to him. Maybe shout some abuse and make a masturbatory hand gesture out the window at him.

That woman who jumped the queue at the post office. How fucking rude was THAT? She was a fat lady too so no only does she lack basic line-forming manners BUT she's a salad dodger as well.

And that paedophile who The Sun ran a story about this morning. Just think of all the fun you could have with him if you had an hour, a bottle of sulphuric acid and a bunsen burner.

Othering is something that nearly all of us do. I had it in spades at school from my mother, my teachers and my peers. Thing is, I did it too. It was/ is an unofficially sanctioned way to let off steam and treat fellow human beings very badly. In 2000 one of the tattier red print newspapers ran a "name and shame" campaign against Britain's child molesters. This came in the wake of the sexual murder of a little girl who was found dead after being missing for a substantial amount of time. The editor of this rag printed photos of convicted paedos, nonces and kiddy diddlers and promised to continue doing this until every last monster had been featured. Problem was that the majority of people who read shitty papers like that one will believe things at face value. I remember noting at the time that the fallout would be innocent people getting hurt and true to form it happened. There was no subjectivity about whose photos they printed. A guy who had systematically molested dozens of boy scouts over a period of at least 20 years had his photo next to a man who had had sex once with a 15 year old girl (remembering that the age of sexual consent in the UK is 16). Furthermore they printed grainy, crappy photos of several people and even misnamed others. The attitude of the cretins this was aimed at can be summed up with this little tale. A paediatrician returned home one night to find the word PEEDO scrawled in spray paint over her front door. Enquiries by the police around the local neighbourhood turned up the predictable news that some illiterate twonk had mistaken her profession for a predilection for touching the No No spots of underage kids.

The Othering in this example was on a huge scale. Paedos are scum and therefore can be treated as we see fit...some people said.

When Jamie Bulger was murdered in the early 1990s, people who wouldn't normally even smack their own children were loudly verbalising how much they would like to hurt the two killers of this innocent little toddler. I heard a father of four boys loudly state in the pub that he wanted a two hour amnesty where the murderers would be placed on the streets and anyone who did anything to them in that time would not face prosecution.

Thing that stuck in my throat was that the killers were themselves children. 11 year old Robert Thompson and John Venables.

Othering means a lack of guilt and a reduction in rationality. It means not having to feel that inconvenient stuff that we would feel if we didn't Other other people.

My mother had a speciality in this field. If she couldn't Other you for something you had done, then she'd find something else or exaggerate your actions and inactions. Those who upset her were beneath contempt and were Othered to oblivion and back.

Teachers at my secondary school were masters and misses of the Othering. They had an automatic Other going on with all pupils at some level. They were better than us and were therefore entitled to treat us as they saw fit. We were a sub class to them. We couldn't answer back, have a rational argument or talk to them as equals. To this day I would like to set a great deal of them on fire. My own Othering of those who Othered.

Othering extends to sex as well. We Other images we see and people in the street we pass. I have a penchant for nice asses but try not to get caught turning round every time a cute woman walks past me (it's winter now anyway so most asses are covered by long coats, life is cruel). My imagination is running riot but I don't know that woman. I just know the image I have of her as I've Othered her into my fantasies. This is neither right nor wrong. Imagination is God's way of putting a safety valve on our emotions.

Othering is hard to rise above. It's very difficult to see another person's perspective when we are in the heat of a foul temper. How many times have you heard people simply dismiss the actions of someone as for reasons of stupidity or malice? good coffee can unfortunately be very addictive.

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