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The Other in Literature, Life, and Politics

Back when I was stuck in undergraduate h*ll in Modern Languages and Literatures, (in Portugal) one of the concepts that professors kept harping on was this idea of “the other.”

“The other” was any character of a different color/culture/sexual orientation. Weirdly, sometimes “the other” was a woman. (For some reason right now the only “other” I can remember was the dead Chinese in Effi Briest.) On cue, as instructed, we could spill rivers of ink on the “exclusion” denoted by this and that passage, on the ignorance of the individual of a certain race/culture/sexual orientation.

We learned from our professors that the objectification of the other and making it into something strange and wonderful or else threatening and dangerous were all part of the xenophobia of our forebears. Of course, the way to respond to this lack of enlightenment was as codified as the sounds of disgust we were supposed to make at the idea of objectifying “the other.” The response was, in fact, supposed to be the putting down of our own culture and the elevating of this “other” because he WAS other.

[As far as indoctrination goes, I preferred the times in elementary school when our teacher would solemnly instruct us to deface the pictures of the three Filipes (the three Spanish Kings of Portugal) in the history book. It was more open and honest and not supposed to make us hate ourselves.]

I hadn’t given this concept of The Other much thought – like other things from undergrad (and grad) humanities, I let it pass from me with no regret and perhaps a little relief – until yesterday.

You see, yesterday I read Charlie Martin’s post on the rumor that Republicans want to ban tampons. Now, the rumor started in a satire post, but here’s the thing: PEOPLE BELIEVE IT. They believe anyone in their right mind, much less anyone writing the Republican platform, would include phrases like “because it is unnatural for women’s bodies to be penetrated by objects.”

It brought to mind all the trolls I have met at every conservative blog I’ve ever been part of. Most of the blogs I take part in are of a Republican/Libertarian bend, which means basically that if you were to come in and try to discuss incest, we tie ourselves in knots, not wanting to deny anyone their liberty to do as they please, but suggesting that perhaps the power imbalance between parent and child would make the relationship problematic. Or if you bring up drug use you find yourself in an earnest argument over whether people should be allowed to snort cocaine during class, and would it make a difference if it were a private college.

(It’s not that we libertarians don’t have morals: a lot of us are religious and have iron clad morals FOR OURSELVES, we just honestly don’t believe we have the right to impose them on others, unless the cost of forbidding something is greater than the cost of allowing it. I can, have, and do argue both ends against the middle on why murder probably shouldn’t be a crime.)

HOWEVER we vote Republican (usually... Unless it’s a really safe year and we decide it’s a good year for a statement vote, and—stop it.  I live in CO. My vote for Harry Brown did NOT almost make Al Gore president. Particularly not in the district I was in which went for Gore big time, anyway.) And we want a smaller government and a withering of the welfare state.