Point of difference: The sum that reduces us to zero
We as a species are kept in check by one unifying point: the need to blame the “other”. While it’s seemingly our way to unite only against division, I wonder if things can ever be different?
This article was originally published in The Big Smoke (Australia) on April 2nd, 2017. The content and opinions of this article may not reflect the views of the Young World Federalists.
Humanity has a problem, and that revolves around our need to understand who we are, by figuring out who we aren’t.
The technique for finding out where exactly you are located, called triangulation: if you know exactly how far away you are from three different points then you can find out where you yourself are, at the intersection of those three ranges. I believe that human beings do something similar in trying to figure out who they are in a strange and ever-changing world. We are social creatures, we evolved in a tribal context and as such we are programmed on a fundamental level to think of ourselves as a component of a group. Combine that with higher reasoning and sentience and you have a functioning intelligent creature that will hunt down and try to articulate who they are.
The simplest way to do this is to never look at yourself of course, and just see what you don’t like in the world. The things that make you scared, confused or afraid aren’t you; you can become “you” purely by expressions of disapproval and confusion.
Now, this is a scenario I like to envisage: imagine you live in a town of 100 people. 90 of these people are similar, 10 of the people in this town are different to that majority. They do strange things, they speak a bit strangely, they keep to themselves and you never really know what they’re thinking. How long do you think it will be before stories start about that minority? How long before someone in the majority starts to accuse them of being “wrong” somehow, or even evil?
The people in the 90% become obsessed with the 10%, because they’re the most obviously non-homogenous thing in the world. The majority identifies itself as better in relation to the minority. In most cases, the minority ends up so scrutinised, attacked and mistrusted that that it seeks its independence and separation from the majority. This usually occurs alongside the majority not seeing itself as an aggressor of any kind.
Wherever you are, at school or work or anywhere, watch as the tribes form, watch as the tribe makes it clear who is different to the tribe, and by focusing on the negatives of that other group, mark themselves as the superior ones.
But, here is the interesting part. Imagine in this fictional town that the minority have now vacated, and all that remains is the majority. How many years or decades do you believe it will take, before the town then starts to form subgroups? What if 60 of the 90 are different, so the 30 are now clearly separated? We see this throughout history as common scapegoats disappear, humanity once again craves a new one. It’s an endless chain of blame and scrutiny, but it takes place over the course of entire human lives, so it’s impossible for individuals to see patterns, as they make the same mistakes made by those who taught them.
We human beings need to create a group identity, an “other”.
The “Other” is a concept thrown around a lot by political literature, the dehumanised person that isn’t you. As you are human, this “other” can subconsciously become something other-than-human. Wherever you are, at school or work or anywhere, watch as the tribes form, watch as the tribe makes it clear who is different to the tribe, and by focusing on the negatives of that other group, mark themselves as the superior ones.
We do it nationally and we do it in groups as small as three people. I remember watching the recent documentary about the Slenderman killings, and you see it there – the two girls most alike elected to kill the third girl (because they believed that they had to kill somebody), who was just that bit more different than they were. The obvious examples are the Ottomans and the Armenians, the Russians and the Chechens, the Serbians and the Muslims, the Nazis and the Jews. We are obsessed, as a species.
This is why the most commonly held theory for a future where humans recognise their similarities rather than their differences is by creating something wholly more alien than any human is to any other. The concept is so popular it became heavily romanticised in Independence Day, along with other films, that humans will finally unite and work together just so long as there’s an implacable alien menace for us to contend with together.
So in lieu of large blue lasers and Bill Pullman, perhaps we should attempt the steer the ship away from the Presidential lawns, and recognise what we share, rather than what makes us different. We already know what happens when we choose that other opinion.