The process of perceiving or portraying someone or something
as fundamentally different or alien.
Othering is a new word for me. It’s in Naomi Klein’s recent article “Let them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World” in the London Review of Books, 2 June 2016. Klein points out that it is only through othering that we avoid treating global warming as a global emergency – it is largely others who will suffer. It is only through othering that fossil fuel extraction has proceeded at the rate it has – there are ‘sacrifice zones’ where populations are displaced or quality of life is severely degraded (see also my post on her book This Changes Everything).
Othering enables the powerful to exploit those without power, enables governments to deprive indigenous people of land and resources. Othering enables rich countries to discount the lives of refugees and not offer due help, enables racial discrimination to continue to flourish in parts of the US.
Of course, the development of the personal ego only proceeds through distinguishing the other from the self, so actually requires an element of othering. Anthropologist Sara Rismyhr Engelund puts it this way in a blog item:
“We cannot get away from the concept of the other, as it is too crucial for an understanding of the self. What we can do, though, is to limit the ways in which we group people up and construct them as something entirely different from an imagined “us”.”
As we psychologically develop and grow we realise that ego aggrandisement is ultimately self defeating and we must accomodate the other that empathy shows is really just another part of ourselves.
Coincidentally, in a recent blog item, Celia Hales suggests from a spiritual perspective the damage othering does to relationship:
“We tend to misrepresent our brothers and sisters when we distance ourselves from them by calling them the “others.” This is a habit in speech, but it points to a deeper problem. We are in relationship to our brothers and sisters, and in this relationship we are giving and receiving as one. We occupy separate bodies, but our spirits are united.”
It is clear that othering lies at the heart of the current UK Brexit campaign. Rather than work at our relationship with our European brothers and sisters, let’s just get out and look after number one!
Featured image of chess set By Jeff Dahl, via Wikimedia Commons