Obsessing Over the ‘Other’

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


borderNow that it’s 2014, the gates of the U.K. are wide open for immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, way over at the other end of the European Union. Some Brits are concerned: will the newcomers flood the labor market? Or the welfare offices? Or both?

For Britain’s leftist establishment, however, the question is a different one. As the Guardian put it the other day: “Now that Romanian and Bulgarian citizens are able to move to the UK to seek work, an alliance of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrats has warned that politicians’ anti-Roma rhetoric is already inflaming community tensions. Has this debate helped those planning to migrate to the UK feel welcome?”

To make them feel welcome or not to make them feel welcome: this is the question? For many on the European left, yep, it most assuredly is. “Are we welcoming enough?” “Will they have a good impression of us?” We’re dealing here with people who feel what may be fairly described as a compulsion to act like store greeters – only instead of hovering in the doorway of a Walmart they’re standing, figuratively speaking, at the airport arrivals gate, welcoming all and sundry to the sceptred isle. Indeed, on New Year’s Day, at least two of these dimwits were literally out there welcoming the newcomers to dear old Blighty: Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz, a Labour MP, and Mark Reckless (ha!), a Tory MP, actually dragged themselves to Luton Airport to shake the hands of arriving Bulgarians and Romanians and buy them coffee. Embarrassing.

Exactly what species of psychological disorder are these people suffering from? Why are they so terribly anxious lest newcomers fail to feel sufficiently “welcomed”? Why is that even a concept? I moved from one country to another many years ago, and then from that country to another country, and in neither case did it occur to me to think about whether I was being made to feel welcome or not. I was just one more person going through customs. Nor did I want or expect to be “welcomed”: what would that entail, anyway? All I wanted was to be left alone to find my way.

But that’s not enough for some of these European leftists, for whom such movements of population are shot through with profound ideological significance. For these folks, it’s almost as if their own countries are nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be filled – and given meaning – by new arrivals from distant shores. It’s as if they view themselves as little more than welcome mats on which immigrants are welcome to wipe their shoes. Or as servants waiting for their masters to arrive. Or as a godless people awaiting a messiah.

These folks talk a lot about the “Other” – a pivotal notion in postmodern academic folderol. At the heart of their self-definition – at the heart of what makes them, in their own eyes, good people – is that they’re prepared to embrace all “Others” without distinction or qualification. Simply knowing that other people are “Others” is enough to make them open their arms wide. And the more “Other” those others are, the better.

But this isn’t all: their twisted mentality comes with an important corollary. Since they view all of this stuff through a black-and-white, “us vs. them” lens, when they hear anybody express any concern about any aspect of immigration, they immediately attribute that concern to pure xenophobia – in other words, to a blanket hatred of the “Other.” Now, my own observations have convinced me that only a vanishingly tiny minority of Europeans actually consider “Others” by definition a bad thing; at the same time, they know enough about certain “Others” to know that it’s wise to be wary.

Too many people on the left, however, are utterly blind to these elementary rational distinctions. And so we have articles like one that the Guardian ran the other day, in which Paul Quinn, a social “researcher” at Brussels Free University, explained the misgivings of many Britons about the forthcoming influx of Bulgarians and Romanians as symptoms of a psychopathology: our brains, he lectured, are “hardwired” to suspect and stigmatize people who are different from us but who don’t actually represent any threat to us whatsoever. Implicit in his argument was that people like himself and his right-thinking Guardian readers – who are busy fretting about whether the newcomers from Sofia and Bucharest are being made to feel welcome – are more evolved than those prehistoric Daily Telegraph types, and have therefore overcome their hardwiring.  So condescending was Quinn toward Brits who are concerned about this new wave of immigration that it didn’t occur to him that they might actually have done some reading and reflecting on the topic. No: his article was a perfect illustration of the fact that people like him regard people like them as mouth-breathing morons who operate on sheer herd instinct.

Then there’s Queen Margrethe of Denmark. In her New Year’s speech, Margrethe brought up the mass rescue of the Danish Jews during the Nazi occupation, and observed – quite correctly – that on that occasion “Danish society showed its strength,” with gentiles from all walks of life risking their own safety to help their Jewish neighbors to escape to Sweden. But then she dared to suggest a similarity between those heroic actions and what she described as Danes’ obligation to “recognize and respect” the fact that today their country is composed of “different people with different cultures and languages.”

In the past, Margrethe has been excellent on these issues, but this speech, alas, was a painfully typical example of muddy leftist pseudo-thinking about the “Other.” The facts are these: seven decades ago, the Nazis marched into Denmark and told the gentiles there that they were brothers – fellow Aryans – and that the relatively few Jews among them were the “Other” who needed to be gotten rid of. The gentile Danes knew better. The Jews were their neighbors. They were Danes. Morally, the Nazis, with their evil ideology, were the true “Other” – not an ethnic but an ideological “Other” that it would be self-destructive folly to welcome into Denmark with open arms.

Today, there are quite a number of ethnic “Others” in Denmark who are grateful to live in a free country, who contribute to it, and who – far from being seen as “Others” at all – should in fact be treasured. Among them is the brave young Danish-Palestinian poet Yahya Hassan, whose blunt criticisms of Islam have made him a bestseller and have exposed him to death threats. But there are also more than a few ideological “Others” in that country (some of whom have been responsible for those death threats) whom Margrethe – following the errant logic of today’s left – would appear to be comparing to the wartime Danish Jews. Alas, the correct parallel is to the invaders who, seven decades ago, goose-stepped into her kingdom from the south.

On New Year’s Day, the New York Times served up another helping of this benighted brand of leftist logic about the “Other.” It took the form of an op-ed, headlined “European United, in Hating Europe,” by Andrea Mammone, an Italian historian at the University of London. (The title was telling: for Mammone, as for so many of his ilk, “Europe” isn’t the people of Europe but the supranational institutions that have been imposed on them.) How, Mammone wondered aloud, can European voters support “far-right” types like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders? For Mammone, European voters’ concern about the Islamization of Europe isn’t worth serious discussion: in his view, these voters are little better than mindless robots who – unknowingly imitating earlier generations of Europeans – are simply acting on a visceral need for “an ‘other’ to oppose, exclude, resist, restrict or oppress.” In other words, they’re the ideological heirs of the Nazis.

All this leftist balderdash about the “Other” is, of course, rhetorically very useful. Instead of defending their own positions on these issues with logical, fact-based arguments (which, in many cases, is an outright impossibility), these leftists respond to their opponents by purporting to diagnose them – thus neatly leaving the impression, in the minds of impressionable and ignorant readers, that it’s those opponents who are factually and logically challenged. In reality, however, it’s the leftists who, by employing this slick dodge, neatly skirt the obligation to mount legitimate arguments for their own views. And what they manage to disguise, by doing this, is that it’s not the critics of Islam and immigration who are fixated on the “Other” – it’s these leftists themselves, whose one-note, nuance-free ideology makes even the most alarming and malignant manifestations of the “Other” hopelessly irresistible to them.

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  • objectivefactsmatter

    “But that’s not enough for some of these European leftists, for whom such movements of population are shot through with profound ideological significance. For these folks, it’s almost as if their own countries are nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be filled – and given meaning – by new arrivals from distant shores. It’s as if they view themselves as little more than welcome mats on which immigrants are welcome to wipe their shoes. Or as servants waiting for their masters to arrive. Or as a godless people awaiting a messiah.”

    They want to impress their overlords. They look forward to more power in the regional and global communist governments.

  • Troll Hunter

    The Left doesn’t know its big A from its little a when it comes to the O/other, bless.

  • justquitnow

    Who talks like this? “the other” has never been used like this…it’s part of the dichotomy of “I and other” in philosophy or “same and other” which means the same thing. I know you’re working on a pseudo religious cult here with readership that doesn’t care, but you can you please not swallow and otherwise redefine concepts that are already part of the lexicon.

    “All this leftist balderdash about the “Other” is, of course, rhetorically very useful.”

    To who? You? You’re the only one using it. None of these other people or articles you cite are talking about “the other”, either properly or in your ba$tardized way.

    • johnlac

      In any article I’ve ever read concerning the use of the term “the other,” it has always, ALWAYS!!! been used by leftists. Bawer is dead on. The left is totally bereft of legitimate arguments and as usual employs the tried and true leftist stratagem of calling opponents haters and bigots rather than dealing rationally with the subject. Whether the people referred to as “the other” are actually assimilating or contributing to the countries they emigrate to is completely beside the point as far as the left goes.

      • justquitnow

        Where have you ever heard anyone use the term..relating to immigration or anything else. This is more collapsing of thought and language into anti-concepts. The left this and the left that.

        • Bruce Bawer

          A tiny sampling, based on a quick Google search:

          “Wilders is the latest in a line of right-wing European populists who claim to be protecting the people
          against a dangerous other.”

          http://theconversation.com/whos-afraid-of-geert-wilders-populism-and-the-politics-of-hate-12326

          “This biased approach of the media has helped drawing an emphatically demonized, sometimes dehumanized,
          image of Muslims in the minds of a certain class of people which is predisposed to xenophobic feelings due to the increasingly dire economic situation, or the simply to the irrational fear of the other.”

          http://www.legal-project.org/blog/2013/12/oic-blames-free-speech-for-islamophobia-in-west

          “The Dutch reacted to the threat in the manner Anderson had predicted them to: the nationalism will have a
          “populist” and “pathological” character and is rooted in
          “hatred and fear of the Other”—in this case Islam—and has “affinities with racism.””

          http://yris.yira.org/essays/311

          “Although, I am disappointed because of the growing fear of Islam, I also think there is a wonderful challenge for the Church in the Netherlands today. The elections have
          shown that it is very obvious that people live in fear. The Church can proclaim the Gospel: the message of hope and liberation, the gospel of the one true God, the message of good news that excludes fear of the other.”

          http://wscf-europe.org/mozaik-issues/rather-turkish-than-papist-dutch-debates-on-religious-diversity/

          • justquitnow

            Er…I’m not sure that Geert Wilders would qualify as the “these people” and “leftists” that the article is talking about, but it’s not the use the word “other” that was the problem. I guess if all this “other” talk helps you understand something then it’s not an anti-concept, but your examples again lead me to wonder what good it’s done at all. I mean, who among you isn’t already scared sh*tless of some coming tidal wave of sharia?

        • fmobler

          Mr. Bawer beat me to it. Just try searching for “othering immigrants” in google scholar to get a first pass at the academic literature. The key is to realize that ‘other’ is now a verb to describe the actions of the benighted xenophobes. I would draw attention to the irony of that usage, but irony might not be much use for someone who writes about ‘anti-concepts.’

          • justquitnow

            Are these the people it is rhetorically useful to?

            I didn’t know the writer was talking about colleges…but it’s hard to tell…”the left” using “the other” as part of their “nuance free ideology” to falsely label “opponents” as xenophobes while being the “ideological heirs of the Nazis.”

            Did you get all that? I’m sure this is really helping people understand something.

          • fmobler

            I am pretty sure your last comment is not helping people understand anything.

  • Ray O.

    “Perverted Onus” is a good term for this phenomenon.

  • Idl

    It’s a pathology on a grand scale. I don’t think they will be happy until their own cultures, which are thousands of years old in many cases, are completely submerged in “other.” Why would you want desperately to completely destroy your own? It’s a mental condition.

    • laura r

      trendy, go figure.

  • Race_Dissident

    For Leftists, the “other” is actually white people. And it is Leftists who have an irrational hatred of the other.

  • laura r

    my take: welcome committees, coffee, handshaking- is a way to set an example for the masses. its like saying “this is the way to behave to newcomers” its PR. right?

  • nimbii

    Great article, just the right amount of sarcasm about the lofty left.

  • GSR

    Why are most political elites today obsessed with “inviting” the 3rd world to occupy their nations? This is a curious phenomenon.

    • cacslewisfan

      They invite the 3rd world to increase the size of their constituency (voter fraud), increase the amount of funding to their district (skimming from that), and to obtain righteousness (telling themselves and others they are on a crusade for the downtrodden). Sickening.

    • Trevor Pilsbury

      Quite simple really. The two-headed nation-destroying snake is composed of Leftists and Corporatists. The Corporatists drool over a large pool of cheap labour, driving wages downward and otherwise saving huge amounts of money over employing the natives. The Corporatists see a nation as merely geographic boundaries in which to conduct business at maximum profit. Tradition, culture, the indigenous people and their way of life means almost nothing to the Corporatist. Money is his god.

      These are in bed with the Leftists who see no nation at all. All vestiges of indigenous Europeans are seen as evil and racist. The Leftist follows the cult of Equality and desires to live in a land of unicorns and cotton-candy clouds where the rainbow of people live in complete harmony and brotherly love, cherishing the diversity and enrichment of all personkind.

      • Derelictus

        So we’re all doomed?

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Why do you stay in Europe, determined as it is to swamp itself in colonizers from the quondam colonies?

    • Idl

      Where is there to go that isn’t importing colonizers form one place or another? Canada and the US are doing the same thing.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

    Interesting. Several decades ago when Ayn Rand talked about altruism, what she called “otherism,” conservatives weren’t particularly welcoming. In her definition of altruism (which she abhorred), the other comes before the self, other’s values come before one’s owns, other’s stomachs should be filled first, etc. The good, according to altruism (a word invented by the French socialist Auguste Comte) is that which furthers the interest of others. In French: “vivre pour autrui”.

    • American1969

      Perhaps people weren’t ready for her message at the time. Now they see it and have experienced what she talked about, so they’re more open to her ideas.

      • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

        I think you’re right. It’s becoming apparent that the left’s promiscuous “otherism” is a disposition that puts foreign interests ahead of our own, prohibits criticism of their culture while mandates damnation of ours, commits us to “nation-build” abroad while we sacrifice our men and women in the process, and has brought a return of egalitarian welfare policies at home.

        Conservatives are hesitant to fully criticize altruism due to the Christian emphasis on unqualified charity. Their position, that charity is a private imperative, seems hallow to the left in the face of continued poverty in the world. Rand could be faulted for not getting across that while she rejected this “other-first” philosophy, she still believed in passionate valuing of “others” when they are worthy and respected their rights even if they were not.

  • American1969

    How is decimating and destroying your own culture, history, and heritage a good thing? Same thing goes on in this country as well, and if anyone says anything, they’re labeled a “hater” and “racist” or “xenophobic”.

  • Drakken

    Well look on the bright side of this whole mess, at least the Bulgars and Romanian folks won’t tolerate a muslim slaughtering them in the streets of London, folks forget that ole Vlad “The Impaler” Tepesh is a patron Saint of where these folks come from, maybe they will be the spark that finally kicks off what needs to be done?

    • UCSPanther

      While ol’ Vlad was an evil man, he had such a well-deserved reputation that even the Ottoman Turks were afraid of him, knowing that getting captured ended with being impaled on a log similar in size to a fence post and slowly dying over the course of several days.

  • jordonvuz355

    My Uncle Nolan just got metallic Lexus NX 200t
    SUV by working online at home. look at here now B­i­g­2­9­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Lee

    “Keith Vaz, a Labour MP, and Mark Reckless (ha!), a Tory MP, actually
    dragged themselves to Luton Airport to shake the hands of arriving
    Bulgarians and Romanians and buy them coffee…Exactly what species of psychological disorder are these people suffering from?”

    Another important article from my favorite non-fiction writer. As you note, conservative politicians are also among those enthusiastically embracing the effective disenfranchisement of their own people – getting the thrill of exerting maximum power in being able to do exactly what their people do *not* want them to do.

    As British Labour Party adviser Andrew Neather wrote (commenting on the Labour Party’s pro-immigration policy – my emphasis) “The policy was INTENDED – even if this wasn’t its main purpose – to rub the right’s nose in diversity”

    There is clearly a special thrill of power in playing high-level games – in being able to transform an entire country, while watching people jumping up and down in anger and frustration as you do.

    • Lee

      I should have added that for politicians like Keith Vaz there is most likely a racist element as well – being able to stick it to the Anglos – while conservative politicians like Reckless sell their own people out in order to get cheaper labor (although British Labour politicians also admit to this), and to help hold down wage-demands through increasing the competition for jobs, and also to grow local demand for the goods and services of businesses.