The “Otherness” of “The Other”

“…the difference between the tolerant and the extremist was not so great. “Looking into the Other, we can always find something of ourselves within.”
Manil SuriThe City of Devi

“Of course all such conclusions about appropriate actions against the rich and powerful are based on a fundamental flaw: This is us, and that is them. This crucial principle, deeply embedded in Western culture, suffices to undermine even the most precise analogy and the most impeccable reasoning.”
Noam ChomskyGaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians

“We must do all we can to imagine the Other before we presume to solve the problems work and life demand of us.”
Toni MorrisonThe Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

The issue of “the other” could be understood in at least two ways or more. In the context of social integration, the disappearance of “the other” is an ideal. An outsider getting wholeheartedly accepted in a society is an exemplary condition. In this light, the person is no longer considered an outsider as s/he becomes part and parcel of the society that has accepted/adopted her/him. At the end of the day, s/he is no longer considered “the other”.

But generally, a highly evolved society is complex. In many aspects of social life, we get to the realization that there is no absolutely homogeneous or monolithic social constituents. People within a social formation differ from each other in terms of social relations. There are people groups at different levels of connectivity and disconnectivity. In practically all cases, one important social dynamic that spontaneously emerges is the dominance of one people group over the others. Behind this emergence are a variety of factors and reasons prominent among which is material affluence spurred by immense opportunities by whatever means. In the final analysis, we find segments within a society that dominate other segments automatically ranked lower than the former. At this point, social stratification/classification pops up. And this is where “the other” gets alienated. “The other” remains as such as s/he is always treated as lower in status than those who occupy the higher echelon of the social order, so to speak.

But the worse condition wherein “the other” is subjected within the context of the same society is at the individual level when a dominant people group cannot accept the reality of the person’s distinctness so that the group requires her/him to toe its line otherwise s/he will suffer the fate of a “pariah”. This is the principal characteristic of a totalitarian condition. “Totalization” is the absolute reality that cannot tolerate differentation. Simply put, this is a “totalizing situation” where the reality of “the other” is rendered unacceptable. In contrast to this is an open society that tolerates everybody as a matter of giving respect to their humanity. In this case, “the other” is given importance and her/his “otherness” is respected.

In certain significant ways, we may conclude that there is actually nothing wrong with “the other”. Having this in mind, we therefore have to respect the “otherness” of “the other” because s/he will always be with us.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 01 June 2020

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