The Other is a philosophical idea coined by Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the 18th century. It posits that the idea of one’s Self is defined by exterior forces, or an Other. The Other is not us but it shapes us. As babies we exist in a world of pure self, similar to dreaming, we can see and hear only indistinct shapes and sounds. When a baby moves its arm it does not understand why the rest of the world does not come with it, as the child grows it separates further from this world as it realises its own desires and pains are unique and distinct from it. Over the years we refine this into seeing into a broader sense of ‘Self’; the self of community, family, ideology and so on. This serves an evolutionary purpose as it is what helped early man hunt in packs, have a tribe that would look after children etc. This kind of “social reflex”, as Pavlov put it, can be seen in any church, a human need to metaphorically huddle together for warmth, to create a community. We see anything like us or with the same values as being like ourselves. A high and definable sense of self is healthy and natural.
But what of the Other?
The Other is all that we fear. It is all the things we are not. The Other stands against us, moulding us and shaping us. The Other is basically anything and everything we are not or we do not identify with and on a deep level we, for good reason, mistrust this. We have personified this hard-to-define Other as the ubiquitous ‘They’. “They don’t care”, “They are wrong”, “They think it is stupid” and so on. How often do we say “It’s raining”? Who is this ‘It’? The world? The It and They are the Other that we have created so we can stand as an individual in our lives. It is a ‘necessary evil’.
Far be it from me to question the father of modern philosophy but I don’t think Hegel’s idea of the Other is helpful anymore. Why am I saying this? Because we have an Election coming up here in the UK and that Other is being used really rather terrifyingly to remove our liberties and sway our decisions.
The Other is now so ingrained as a human model in the social sciences we never question it and it is part of our speech but this idea is now being used to manipulate people. You need only look at any advertising campaign to see how the Self is used to make you think you are missing out on the product or service they are selling: “Doctors recommend”, “here for you”, “real beauty campaign”. In short they say these people are you or are part of you culture/experience and they use this product and/or service so if you want to remain part of this social self then you had better buy into this. What troubles me the most is how insidiously the notion of the Other is being used. The rise of a Nu-Right in British politics is a prime example of this. UKIP stands on one policy: Immigration. The very notion of Immigration is a Hegelian legacy writ large – “THEY ARE NOT FROM HERE. THEY ARE NOT YOU. BE AFRAID.” UKIP uses this evolutionary fear of the outsider on which to base its policies. George W. Bush summed up this notion during the height of the “War on Terror” by stating simply: “Why do they hate us?” The Other is the language of politics, the ‘if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us’ mentality is now so loudly trumpeted it is deafening in the run up to the Election.
This needs to change.
I make no claim to being a great cultural theorist or critic but I am able to see problems where there are clearly problems. The notion of the Other was co-opted by Nazism, McCarthy-ism and eastern European communism in the 20th century to generate hate for people that were considered ‘Not Us’. For the Nazis it was non-Aryan people, for the Communists it was Capitalists and for the Capitalists it was the Communists. And we know how that all turned out. UKIP and the Conservatives, more so than any other parties, not only speak the language of the Other but actively propagate our hatred of them and drive a greater wedge between the Self and the Other. Yes, I am comparing UKIP and Tories to Nazis because it is the same ideology that drives them. A few friends of mine are academics and they have nothing but contempt for George Orwell’s novel 1984. This surprised me as I rather like that book and it has proved startlingly pertinent (ironically, since 1984). When I asked why he hated it, my friend pointed out “it has done more for the rhetoric of the Right than it has for the Left”. The more I thought about this the more I realised how easy it was for the Right to co-opt this vision of the future as the Other and use it to their advantage. You hold up the nightmare of big brother and parody it, make it a TV show, laugh at how wrong Orwell was, show how luxurious we all have it, create a new middle class that has everything with its iPhones and internet and loudly cry: “We’re not like that grey dystopia!” “Nobody wants an Orwellian regime” “This is why 1984 won’t be like 1984” all the while Edward Snowden points out exactly how we are having our liberties taken from us. A fascist culture of control is never going to be like 1984 because it can’t happen like that, we would see it coming. The true 21st Century oppressive society is one of extreme decadence, giving everyone what they want so we can continue to live happily with this sense of self, meanwhile ostracising, vilifying and ultimately destroying The Other. I would hope I am not perceived as ‘Other’ in that scenario…
This is not a new cultural theory and seems resoundingly hysterical to posit that we are heading for another controlling system of Government but every time I look at a news outlet or talk to my friends in any industry this is all I ever hear. That our culture and society is being shaped to fit a very small percentage of people with substantial penalties if you fail to comply. This CANNOT be allowed to go on. The world is changing and everything we consider the norm is going to be very different by the end of our children’s generation. We can no longer fear the outsider, we are literally running out of time. With the growth in communication and the distribution of knowledge the world is a tiny place and there is no excuse not to understand or communicate with one another. Borders are human inventions built to keep this ‘Other’ out, the cities and their industries came first and then the borders were built up around them to create a stronger sense of self. These borders are actively being felled both metaphorically and literally every day. To quote a recent blockbuster “We must not act as individuals but as a species”. Do not listen to the backwards thinking of the modern Right because it is so transparently and incredibly damaging we may not be able to recover.
The reason I am saying all this is because the Election looms here in the UK and we really badly need a change. I won’t tell you who to vote for but I can’t in good conscience say it is okay to vote for either UKIP or Conservative. What I will say is that EVERY VOTE counts, really and truly and deeply. I am writing another post to follow this about why you should vote but for now hopefully you will be given an inkling into why we should mistrust the established political model and the language they use but instead of simply removing the voting system as the Russell Brands of the world would have us do the best we can do is nail our colours to the mast so the mast is weighed down with sails and flags of every colour. If we do that it shows a faith in a DEMOCRATIC system that we all want to be involved in, a system we all consider part of our Self. If we can take that back maybe then we can start listening to that Other and maybe help shape it as well as it shape us.
Labour Manifesto Here (pdf)
All you need is right there. Please register to vote. At least enter the debate. Apathy and ignorance are no longer (and never have been) an excuse.