Another and An Other

A chronically homeless individual inhabiting a...

A chronically homeless individual inhabiting a bus shelter in Porter Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

March 24, 2012

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about several different stories that seem to have little or nothing in common.  But, you already know that when I say something like that, it’s because I think I’ve found a commonality and I’m going to point it out to you, don’t you?

The first story, of course, is that of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager killed by a man who had volunteered to patrol his gated community and who plead self–defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

The second story was of two black youths in Kansas City who set fire to a white youth on his porch, telling him he deserved this “because you’re white.”

The third involves the increasing number of cities who are putting restrictions on people feeding the homeless.

The forth was the passage of H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, which tightens restrictions on where protests may occur.

The fifth is the ongoing argument, in print and across the net, over the NDAA and President Obama’s National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order of March 16.   The argument is about whether these mean we are headed for martial law, arrest and unlawful detention of American citizens anytime, anywhere and confiscation of pretty much anything, or whether they simply reflect the government’s cautious preparations for future emergencies in light of peak oil, climate change, financial collapse or terrorism.

The thing that struck me about all these stories, as disparate as they seem to be, is that they all seem symptomatic of the increasing fracturing of our society at its various levels.  A society going from one in which we see our fellow Americans simply as another citizen to one in which, from the individual level to that of the government, we see and are seen – by someone – as the other.

Whatever motivated Mr. Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin, it’s clear he didn’t see him as just another person walking through the community, but as a dangerous other.  The same is true about the two young blacks in Kansas City toward their white schoolmate.

And it is certainly difficult to see those cities that are increasingly making it more difficult for ordinary people to provide food for the homeless as anything other than a transition of the homeless from another to other – now, somehow dangerous in the eyes of those city officials.  Especially in the “great recession” where millions of ordinary American families lost jobs and homes.

Nor is it difficult to see, in the increasing legal restrictions on protests and the use of more violent police tactics to remove protesters, a decreasing perception of protesters as another group of citizens exercising their rights and an increasing perception of protesters as others – dangerously bordering on terrorists – by our own governments.

But it’s that last group of stories that worries growing numbers of Americans.  For they seem to reflect, to many of us, a subtle change in status for all citizens from another to other in the eyes of the federal government. They imply that our government increasingly sees the United States as a new “battlefield” (as some senators have put it) in the war on “terrorism” with ordinary Americans as the enemy. We see them as making preparations for this battle without much reflection on the accuracy of those perceptions or concern about the rights of the ordinary Americans they are supposed to represent in the process.  And as those perceptions change on the part of the government, our perceptions of the government as the other only become more mainstream.

We humans evolved as social and, yes, moral animals.  We would not have survived as a species if we had seen one another only as the other.  We won’t survive the things we face now by doing that, either.

Governments around the world – including our own – face natural, economic and political events that could take them down almost overnight.  The economic recession, aggravated by climate change and diminishing resources, sent tremors through those governments around the world and put extraordinary pressure on citizens and leaders, alike.  It is not going to get much better and our governments are not handling that fact well.  Increasingly, our government treats nations around the world as dangerous others, trying to assure their own safety.  And, in doing so, they’ve only divided us more thoroughly and brought the Empire they seek to save closer to its own collapse.

I think our collective anger over these and similar stories is a good thing, a sign that we do instinctively struggle with the fear that seizes us, that draw us away from seeing another instead of an other.

I honestly don’t know if our government can change anymore.  I do know that unless we individual Americans can let go of that fear of other and see ourselves as part of a larger another, it won’t much matter.

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9 Responses to Another and An Other

  1. pamela says:

    beautifully said Linda.
    and this is so damned true.

    I honestly don’t know if our government can change anymore. I do know that unless we individual Americans can let go of that fear of other and see ourselves as part of a larger another, it won’t much matter.

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  3. Diane says:

    Hi Linda. To be honest, seeing another as an other has been going on for a long time. African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, anyone of an other skin colour or religion have felt this for a long time. Even the poor in their disenfranchisement have felt this for quite some time. What’s new is how it’s affecting those who recently contributed to society and have been displaced by decreasing resources and economic instability. I’m not sure how much writing about this stuff is going to change it. It might be better to focus on what can be done by the individual.

    My example is permaculture. I took my PDC in 2007 from Bill Mollison and he chooses to focus on what can be done. He says, if you’re going to teach a 72 hour course in permaculture, spend no more than half a day talking about the facts that show why we need permaculture; the dire straits we find ourselves in environmentally. After that focus on what permaculture is and does. People need the tools to “stand in the gap” as you call it (a term I like very much btw) and here is as good a place as any to focus on what we can do.

    We need to turn our backs on those who are wanting us to focus our time and attention on them and begin to work for the world we want to live in. We need the tools to walk away.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Diane, welcome to the blog. LOL, even this old atheist agrees that faith without works is pretty much a dead end. (BTW, “stand in the gap” is from one of the OT prophets, can’t remember which one, but it’s a favorite phrase for me, too.)

      I do disagree that we should “turn our backs” on people. After all, in the world we want to live in, they will be there too – either as friends or enemies. Nor do I think we’ll have that world if we can’t change some of those attitudes. It’s never going to be a perfect world, whatever we do, but there is so much deliberately contrived confusion about “the others” on the part of the media and those who use it, some of those who “are wanting us to focus our time and attention on them” are really just looking for answers about the what on earth is going on right now. There is so much fear about everything being pumped in via the media. It’s one of the reasons I write the blog (in addition to my gardening, such as it is.)

      Thanks for your comments and hope to see more from you. If you have a site or site recommendation about organic gardening, leave a link here in the comment section and I’ll post it in the links section of the blog.

      Glad you’re here.

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  6. graveday says:

    Nice piece Linda. I had not seen, or forgot, your use of ‘stand in the gap’, so I’m glad Diane mentioned it. And the gaps are wide and plentiful, but the implication of avoiding sides is strong, and that’s a good thing.
    I also hadn’t heard about the Kansas City event, but none of these events, especially as you have cataloged them so well, stand in isolation. It’s like we have forgotten the phrase ‘brother from another mother’ and just settle for ‘bother’.
    I was very surprised the shooter in Florida was only 28 years old. I had assumed he was more like 58, which wouldn’t have mattered in the end, but how does someone so young have so much fear of a teenager of any color?
    I also will stand in the gap, but it will be more like being a beacon, as indicated by you and Diane, planting, welcoming, modeling, than a target.

    • theozarker says:

      Yep, grave, I heard many a fiery sermon about standing in the gap and making up the hedge (the other part of that verse) back when I was a Christian. Still like the idea. I was surprised, too, that Mr. Zimmerman was so young. I agree that brother from another mother has, too often, become bother lately. Sad, that amount of fear. Made me think of the teens in this neighborhood – black, brown and white. Especially the one that wandered into my house that night. 😀 And planting, welcoming and modeling are they best kinds of standing in the gap I can think of. (Dang, I feel like bursting into a chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”)
      Been out in the yard today, picking asparagus and wild onions, it’s so nice and sunny..

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