The “Other”

In fiction, a great deal has been written on the theme of the “other,” the outsider, the stranger, the one who doesn’t fit, and what has been written ranges from horror to the romantic, from the impossible to the trite, from Camus’s L’Etranger, the man who looks and acts normal, but isn’t, to Alien, a creature so different that it screams of otherness, even to the vampires of Twilight, who apparently seek sameness and try to conceal their otherness… and the list and examples go on and on.

But to me, there’s another “other” that is far more socially, politically, and economically horrifying. Or in political terms, as the late senator Russell Long proclaimed, “Don’t tax you; don’t tax me; go tax that fellow under the tree.”  Unhappily, this practice of singling out the “other” for responsibility, whether it be for taxes, political change, educational blame, immigration problems, etc., has gotten so far out of hand that no one seems to even recognize what’s happening.

Take education.  This morning I just read an article about the problems a local, open- enrollment university has in getting students to actually complete their degree programs and graduate, and, once again, the “other” singled out for responsibility was essentially the faculty – the faculty has the sole responsibility for inspiring these students, for making sure they’re “interested” enough to attend classes, to choose their curriculum responsibly, to study, to learn the material.  On top of that, the state is pushing the idea that raising the percentage of college graduates will effectively solve a various assorted problems, from high unemployment to creating “better” jobs.  The target is something like 50% of all high school graduates graduating from college.  Duh… has anyone looked at the jobs required to maintain a civilization, including highly skilled ones that don’t require a college degree?  Electricians, plumbers, heating and air conditioning contractors, computer technicians, sheet metal workers, machinists, the list goes on for pages.  People need skills, but thinking that 50% of them should come through college degrees is insanity.  And, as I’ve noted before,  rather than deal with the problems of lack of student initiative and responsibility, lack of resources, lack of work ethics, failing parental responsibilities, it’s so much easier to focus on the teachers.

Then there’s the responsibility for paying for federal government services.  While I’ll concede that those who make more should pay more, the exact formula being far more questionable, why exactly should close to 40% of the population bear no responsibility for those services at all – and insist that a smaller and smaller minority of the population bear a greater and greater share – that the so-called rich become the “other.”

Immigration falls into the same category.  Massive numbers of Hispanics have flooded and are flooding into the United States, if at a lesser rate in the last year or so, and most of them are looking for a better life – why are they to blame for that, when ALL of our forebears did exactly the same thing?  Why are they to blame for fleeing the drug-trade induced violence that permeates Latin America when the high demand for those illegal drugs in the United States is what has caused that violence?  Especially when we seem powerless to stop the trade through criminalization and by imprisoning millions of users… and unwilling to control it by legalizing it?  Rather than looking at the root causes of the immigration problem, it’s so much easier to single out the stranger, the immigrant as the cause, when they’re only the symptom.

The problem of teenage pregnancies follows a similar pattern.  Because of the “benefits” of modern civilization, young people are becoming sexually mature at younger and younger ages, yet the complexity of a technological society is such that the economic maturity comes later and later.  Human beings are not built biologically to abstain from sex for the ten to fifteen year gap between physical maturity and social-economic maturity – and the vast majority can’t and don’t.  Yet religious fundamentalists of all stripes and varieties preach “abstinence” and “morality” – and blame sexual “immorality” on everything from culture to the media [not that they both don’t contribute], while pumping billions into purchasing the offerings of the media and ignoring the root causes and addressing them in a meaningful way.

Whatever the problem, there’s always an “other,” whom all too many of us find convenient to blame… and I find that “other-seeking” mentality far more horrifying than the “others” of cinema and fiction.  More than thirty years ago, the cartoonist Al Capp, in his Pogo strip made the observation, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The problem is that it’s so much easier to blame the “other.”

12 Responses to “The “Other””

  1. This blame of the other or i would say shift of responsibility to other was something i dealt with when i was a juvenile probation officer. Many parents would ask me what i would do to “fix” there child.

    I always wanted to say “Sorry where a little to late for that”

    i wanted to help alot of these kids but there is only so much i can do once I got involved

  2. Grant Edmunds says:

    Many who blame congressmen for all our troubles also fall prey to this mentality. It is simply easier to blame another, especially when they are partly to blame, than to take responsibility. It comes down to the fact that there is more than enough blame to go around. When something goes wrong there are multiple parties who are all guilty of making a mistake. But if they start throwing accusations, however valid, everything simply gets worse. Only when people start to acknowledge their own fault, be it large or small, and keep silent on the mistakes of others will progress towards solutions be made. Unfortunately, “easy is the life of the adviser”; good council is a lot harder to follow than to give, and hardest of all is following the good council of anOther.

  3. Joe says:

    The responsibility of paying for government services is not as simple as you make out.

    While Corporations benefit disproportionately from the federal government (federal contracts, unnecessary wars, state department salesmanship — see Wikileaks cables, ease of trade and low business costs, too big to fail bailouts) they pay virtually no tax. Who owns and reaps rewards from these corporations? The very investment class you claim pay too much.

    Since our political choices are now reduced to pro-corporate positions with or without rabid Christian zealotry, I would suggest simplifying our government by only taxing corporations and removing all pretenses of democracy. It would be clearer for all to see our real role: consumers not citizens. Consumers to be predated upon by insurance companies which bet against us, by the military which need cannon fodder, by media companies which need to sell targeted advertisement opportunities, etc.

    We are becoming a plutocracy. Do not weep for the winners.

    • You obviously haven’t spent much time looking at the federal budget. The vast majority of it consists of entitlements, which go to individuals, not to corporations. Second, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, given the corporate structure, any taxes corporations pay are simply passed on to the consumers in terms of higher prices. So, if you want to tax corporations, all you’re doing is imposing more taxes on the consumers of their products. These taxes will fall disprorportionately on the poorer segments of society, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re clearly advocating. Over 40% of all Americans pay no federal income taxes, and roughly 70% of all income taxes are paid by 10% of the population.
      Your rhetoric doesn’t square with the facts.

  4. Joe says:

    Half the budget is military. That isn’t an “Entitlement”! And it does not include the black budget.

    http://mibi.deviantart.com/art/Death-and-Taxes-9410862?offset=0

    “Entitlement” suggests it’s not something we pay for. I pay for my social security, it’s not a freebie. When I’m old and decrepit, I expect to use it. I have no use for military adventures.

    Things will NOT become more expensive if we tax corporations profits for a simple reason: the market can only bear certain prices which means companies will not be able to raise those prices much in order to increase their profits. Since it is only the profit that is taxed, their cost of production will not change.

    Where you would have a point is that demographics and spending on things like social security are at odds and unless we automate much more to exploit other countries’ demographies (sell them lots of widgets made by robots), there’s not much chance that the federal government will be able to honor its commitments.

    • You don’t understand much about economics. We live in a global economy. If you raise taxes on corporations, and their prices are fixed by competition with products in other countries, then they can’t compete, and we lose more jobs. Already, the U.S. has one of the highest corporate tax rates around, and other countries are cutting theirs. As for social security, anyone over roughly 50 will receive far more in benefits than he or she contributed. Anyone now retired (assuming they live to an average lifespan) will receive more in benefits than they contributed. That… and the fact that Social Security is a pay-as-you-go process and that there will be fewer young workers in the years ahead are the reasons why Social Security benefits will be frozen or effectively reduced in the years ahead.

      You can’t ignore interest payments. They’re there because the total of past spending exceeded revenues, and you can’t just say that deficit was all because of the military. Some of that deficit came from non-military spending.

  5. Joe says:

    To be more precise: 41% is military (Defense + National Security + Veterans). I’m not including interest payments because they’re not “entitlements”. 59% is what you’d call entitlements.

    http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/

    None of this includes the bailing out of the too-big-to-fail corporations which were given IIRC a trillion dollars last year.

  6. Joe says:

    You seem to believe history starts now. It doesn’t. The present can only be understood with reference to the past.

    Globalisation exists because corporations realized they could make money producing in low-wage economies and selling in high-wage economies. Obviously when you do that, you reduce the number of jobs in the high-wage economy. So you make money by destroying the high-wage economy. It’s the same as “generating energy” by exploiting a temperature differential. Eventually the objects that were at different temperatures end up a the same temperature.

    Who benefited from this? Corporations. Who lost? The American people who fought against it, many of them in that 40% you dislike. Whose will did the government follow? The corporations.

    So now, you argue, to preserve the few crumbs dropping from the Lord’s table, we must again give the corporations what they want. It is not enough that they disindustrialized the US, transferring many skills that will be hard to regain, but they should be rewarded by lower taxes. Even high tech companies such as Applied Materials who make the 22nm lithographic equipment used to produce our best CPUs have moved their research and development to China. Want to work in that field. Move to the Chinese Government provided labs in X’ian!

    Selling the rope to hang oneself is foolish, and not all Western economies have followed suit. For instance Germany is doing very well because they did not move production overseas but kept their know-how and skills at home. Their employees are the best paid in the world, but it doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage for them.

    Before all US assets are foreign owned, before all US corporations have moved abroad, before the US dollar collapses as China and others stop using it, it might be worth raising import tariffs to preserve what wealth we still have.

    I already conceded the demographic point. However don’t expect a stable society if most people can only expect to work or be unemployed until they die. Perhaps you’ve never worked at a corporation. Sad to say, but many people are only doing their time dreaming of retirement.

    Yes I’m self-employed.

    I agree the deficit is a problem. I ignored it only because I don’t have the facts to apportion it correctly. It is a sign of crumbling Empire. http://fora.tv/2010/07/28/Niall_Ferguson_Empires_on_the_Edge_of_Chaos#fullprogram

    • If you’ve read enough of my blogs, you should know that I have little love of corporations or the corporate structure. Yes, I have worked in corporations, and I’ve been a consultant for and against them, and most management teams I’ve encountered are incredibly short-sighted… but they’re short-sighted for a reason: if they don’t make this year’s or this quarter’s profit targets, they tend to lose their jobs. I understand history; I’ve written about this point for years. But tariffs aren’t the answer, either. They’ve never worked anywhere for any length of time. Nor have wage and price controls, even when violation was punished by death during the Roman Empire.

      The problem you highlight rests on the simple fact that Americans want more and want to pay the lowest price possible for goods. Corporations who don’t keep prices low go out of business. Low prices for goods requires automating or off-shoring. You can’t employ millions of people at high wages and produce cheaper goods when you’re competing against the rest of the world. History demonstrates this rather clearly.

      And no, I don’t dislike people who don’t pay income taxes; I just happen to think that everyone should, even if it’s only a token, because too many people want someone else to foot the bill. I don’t even have a problem with taxing the “rich,” but I do have a problem with classifying upper-middle class as “rich” when the combined salaries of a teacher and a policeman in large cities could reach $125,000 and barely make a middle class living standard. As for the military, I’ve served, and I thought getting involved in the mid-east would be a disaster long before that was “common wisdom.”

      And, believe it or not, my voting pattern is probably very similar to yours, but blaming corporations, greedy and short-sighted as most are, and trying to punish them for following what is in their economic interest, doesn’t work. They, and the ultra-rich, will always find a way around such punitive measures, leaving the productive mid-middle and upper-middle class being the ones punished instead. So long as the lowest possible price for goods is the goal, these trends and problems will continue.

  7. Joe says:

    I agree that we probably have quite similar outlooks. I remember telling a gun-ho colleague that Afghanistan would be quagmire while he boldly proclaimed “2 weeks. In Out. Boom! Done.” So much for the graveyard of Empires.

    However I think that I believe more strongly than you that the regulatory environment makes a big difference, especially in countries which have a population that wants more for less. It is not in the country’s interest to lose its edge by giving its population whatever they want immediately. However that wasn’t really our problem. In our case, the government changed the regulations to make outsourcing feasible at the request of corporations. Had the Government resisted this, I expect that we would instead have led the world in automation. Sure, there would be unemployed people. But the deficit would be much smaller.

    The same argument holds for the financial segment of the economy which we only just recently had to bail out. This unproductive segment of the economy only grew so quickly because the Glass-Steagle act was repealed and because a place was needed to park all the profits (and Chinese export-dollars) that were made from Globalization. Without a need for investment vehicles, people wouldn’t have lent to liers, only to create CDOs they could sell. We would have avoided the whole economic collapse and all the bail-outs.

    • I’d agree… mostly. The repeal of the Glass-Steagel Act created a huge loophole in the regulatory framework that allowed massive speculation… but we still would have had a housing bubble, if not so large. Another part of the problem is simply that the rest of the world doesn’t have enough places to safely stash money, and that excess of liquidity doesn’t come even largely from the global “profits” of U.S. corporations. In fact, most of them keep those assets abroad to avoid taxation and often invest in competitors and subsidiaries because of our tax policies. The corporations have investment vehicles that foreign capital doesn’t, which is ironic.

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