My grandfather died when I was four. I remember him as sweet, tired, caring, endlessly fascinated by the magic I found in everyday moments and objects, and eternally sad. He was sad with a draining, disconsolate sadness, a kind of hopelessness that seemed to permeate everything he did – but it never stopped him. He never stopped doing what he thought was right: bringing harmony (or at least tolerance) into his family, bringing reason into discourse, reminding people that human fallibilities are inbuilt in their nature, pacifying.

I was too little to talk to him about why he was doing what he was doing. My mother found some of his writings a while ago, and for me it was like meeting a familiar stranger. He wrote about the importance of peace, co-operation, globalism, and socialism in its purest form. He wrote against greed, hubris, and intolerance. He wrote most vehemently against violence, in particular about war’s intrinsic evil, the slaughter of countless, voiceless innocents. I read his stuff and I was disappointed. I thought him weak and self-deluded. To me, it explained what I thought of as his capitulating tolerance; I never saw him stand up for himself or those around him, and he needed to. There was a lot in his life he ought to have taken a stance against; if not for himself, to protect his dependants*. What I failed to realise what that he was standing up for something, but that something was too large for me to encompass and accept. He wasn’t giving up; he was standing fast, which meant sometimes making a sacrifice. What I forgot, ultimately, is that he fought in two world wars, both times against his will, and both times for the wrong side and/or the wrong reasons. And yes, those were probably formative experiences.

I cannot contemplate a world without othering. I grew up with it. I faced it at home, in the streets, at school, and at work. I know the kind of behaviours it enables people to engage in, and I also know that I’ve not seen a fraction of it. I visited Chile when I was 18 and spoke to people about the regime, the tortures and disappearances… I haven’t scratched the surface of what humans can do when they flick that switch in their heads that lets them feel others’ shared humanity. I know what I can do, though; I know how it affects my priorities and affordances. I have been pushed to flick that switch so many times – am I facing someone that sees me as a person, or an object? flick, flick – that I now can flick it at will. I have also done it enough times that I know that it doesn’t turn me into a monster, although it gives me permission to do monstrous things. I have met the beast. We get along.

I thought I was the stronger one, because I could both face reality and adequately react to it. Actually, I’d completely missed the point. What my grandfather was doing was fighting against othering itself. He was fighting against those pulsions that divide us from other humans. It might be pie in the sky, but his fight was just bigger than mine, and in order to fight it he had to forsake a lot of the weapons I habitually resort to. You can’t fight fire with fire, if you’re looking to eliminate fire per se, rather than a specific flame.

If need is the root cause of conflict, othering is the root cause of evil.

*”Your dependants are those you protect. You protect them because they’re your dependants.” It just goes around in circles, and is one of the closest things I have to a belief.


3 thoughts on “Pacifier.

  1. Thought-provoking, as usual.

    “I cannot contemplate a world without othering.”

    Well no, of course you can’t! “Othering” is a mammalian, probably a biological entity, choice that MUST be made! (Biologically necessary for continuing the germ-line!) If you are responsible for defending your dependents, then that automatically and without fail means you WILL need to … you know … “other” OTHERS! (That’s why we call them others!) You CANNOT defend everyone, nor refuse to ‘other’ people not your own. The (well, “A”) problem with peace-love-dove socialists (either your beloved grandfather, who was trying to do what he could as a *reaction against* the horrors he had been through, or the modern-day idiots singing kumbaya and believing (cause they’re fer shure not THINKING!) that “if only” THEY are harmless and cute, they will not be prey), is it denies reality! (Sorry — no insult to your grand-dad; BEING a defender of your dependents can/will be damaging. See: “you can’t handle the truth!” in that movie.)

    I resist you saying he was on the “wrong” side in either/any/all war(s). IF he was defending his dependents — and of course he was, no matter who WON that war, then he was doing what he SHOULD as a defender! There is no “wrong” side in any war — merely a winning side and losing side. (Dyah see the duality in that, the attribution of right and wrong?) Let me gently suggest that you are ‘standing’ on the side of the victors, who wrote the history and defame the losers. You have accepted the definitions and descriptions ‘provided’ to you (one might say brainwashed into you) by the winning side; and it best suits *them* to keep the drumbeat up: we were right! we were on god’s side! whatever evil we did (and it is not possible to have a war without horrific evil on both sides! Not possible!) — we were justified in doing that evil in a good cause! (good cau… Sorry, what?!) Do NOT question what we did!

    Let’s take what is viewed as the eeeeevil of evils, and I’m not sure which side you’d put your grand-dad on but I expect you’d say he was on the “wrong” side with Hitler and the Germans. (Wrong? Who TOLD you it was wrong? Ah, right — the victors did, over and over in every possible way!) However, it was the DUTY of the Germans to defend their (German) dependents. It was NOT their duty to defend the French or the Brits, or (what the hell were WE doing there?!) the Americans! WWI had been ‘ended’ (except it hadn’t) by the inflicting of onerous, damaging, and destructive “punishments”; the German people were pretty badly mistreated post WWI “by treaty” (the winners get to do that! Talk about “othering”!). It is also the case, that there was a strain of Brits (and/or folks living in Britain) who had a duty to THEIR dependents to squash Germany, because German power, economic might, etc. etc. was seen as a danger to their dependents.

    And the worst “sin” was the German sense of themselves AS Germans! That loyalty HAD to be destroyed and has been, to a huge, huge extent, destroyed, ripped out, forced underground! The Germans as a people have been turned into abused children, seeking absolution and acceptance, and willing to do ANYthing, any mutilation or abnegation to themselves to get it! Yah don’t see the Brits seeking absolution for fire-bombing Dresden and other cities! And no, Germany did NOT start that; the Brits did — it USED to be unacceptable to bomb civilians: talk about othering! “We” can burn hundreds of thousands of civilians because they are ‘other’ and we don’t care! But, of course, the history the victors taught you is that they did deserve it, and it was necessary. (Whatever horrors any side in any war commits is always described as necessary, but only the victors get to claim that!)

    (“Socialism” would have everyone be interchangeable: you don’t GET to defend your dependents, because they are no different from every other human, so you must let them suffer or die on behalf of anyone else. NOT a good choice for one who believes in defending her dependents!)

    Toughen up, dear bastard! Start looking with new eyes at the losing side(s), and what their goals (in protecting their dependents) were. (The Germans did not want to “meet the Japs on Iowa” — they had no interest whatsoever in attacking America; hell they wanted to support the British empire but… oh, right, you weren’t taught that either… Victors, writing, history… yeah, got it).(Sound anything like othering? Bet you believe it though; hard not to under the burden of 24/7/365 brainwashing about it!)

    Nietszche has it right about the lamb and the raptor: the lamb looks with fear and hatred at the eagle. The eagle looks with dispassionate warmth at the lamb (yum). The lamb *must* attribute hatred and eeeeevil to the eagle (“other”), because the eagle — to feed her chicks — may choose today to kill the lamb. The eagle doesn’t fear or hate or dislike the lamb, and will protect it until it’s dinner time (see also: farmer with sheep or chickens: is the farmer a sociopath? I’d vote: no.). Try on in your own world view the ‘descriptions’ of slave and master morality: the slave cannot protect its dependents, and so must hate and ‘other’ the master and try to enlist other slaves in hating (oh, right-again, in “othering” the master)… The master has only a bemused and detached fondness for the slave.

    “We are NOT the world! There cannot be any kumbaya!” There is “ours” and “not ours” (= others)! *IF* you say you have a duty to protect your dependents, then you need to look closely at who and how many can possibly BE your dependents, and consider what you will and won’t do to protect them! Will you let your own children (dependents) starve to death on behalf of children who are not yours (not-dependents)? Will you lay down your arms to allow some “other” group to destroy your group? (I’d say your tribe — but we have been deracinated to the nth degree! However, the correct word is tribe: a group linked by extended family relationships, connected by blood. Do you recoil with horror at that concept? Who inculcated that horror in you? And why, for whose purposes?!)

    Let me offer you my motto:
    Those who beat their swords into plowshares will plow for those who don’t.

    Only a child believes ‘everyone’ can be saved. “Adult knowledge” — as a shaman points out — is not so easy.


  2. Qualifier (and my fault for not explaining it): he was made to fight on the side he himself believed was the wrong one. In WW1 he was merely a sprog so his politics weren’t declared, but in WW2 he was a staunch socialist fighting for a fascist government. He didn’t want to, but he also didn’t want his family targeted. So he was still fighting to defend his dependants, but he never believed he was in the right doing so, which must have sucked something fierce.


  3. Qualifier 2: my grandmother lost her youngest brother to the fascist regime. He was targeted by the Black Shirts for being a homosexual, when actually, as far as I know, he was just a professional violin player. So my lot would have been against the regime no matter what.


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