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.”