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Humans are hard-wired for 'Otherism'


Published:   |   Updated: July 23, 2013 at 03:47 PM

Try as I might, I was unable to avoid the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman media extravaganza what with 24-7 cable news, racist emails and blaring headlines constantly butting into my life.

As a sentient being I consider it my sacred duty to ignore coverage of terrorist bomb plots, natural and man-made disasters, serial killers or celebrities acting badly. News of such events, which any well informed person should know about, is one thing. On the other hand, "coverage" as we've come to understand that term in CNN speak only interferes with comprehension of issues that have an actual and ongoing impact on peoples' lives.

Politicians, corporate executives and - other? - con artists are more than happy when the general public is distracted by media hoopla like the Zimmerman case to give cover to their sordid ways. But now that the show is over and the part where "comprehension" ought to come into play the viewing public will quickly lose interest and chase after the next media dog whistle.

Many are calling for a national discussion on race and racism. I think the issue goes far beyond race. I prefer the term "otherism." Humans are hardwired "otherists."

Whether it's our neighborhood versus the next one over; our branch office against regional; our Legion post contrasted with the VFW down the street; even Cheers up against Gary's Olde Towne Tavern, we're tribal. Sure, many times the rivalries are friendly enough but most often they are characterized by sniping, anger, envy, nastiness and particularly misunderstanding.

And the greater the differences or distances the more of that is present. Clans, social classes, regions, nations, races, sects, religions. All, Others!

What I tend to find is that the most intolerant, outspoken and chauvinistic characters when it comes to, say high school football rivalries, are most often the same ones who also hate, among others, France, Muslims, homosexuals, immigrants and atheists. Others! You can see why issues of racism are so entrenched and difficult. They are simply a subset of otherism, prebaked into our very fabric.

It's easy to slip into otherism. I'm guilty of it in moments of anger or frustration. Most of us are. Fortunately, my invectives are brief and, I realize, irrational. But what to do about a society in which otherism is neither short-lived nor rational?

In order to deal thoughtfully with issues of race we must first chisel away at otherism. A good place for each of us to start - without coming off as a Miss America contestant wishing for harmony and world peace - is to expand our perception of who we are and who's in our tribe by finding commonality with former "outsiders," other than celebrities acting badly of course.

Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.

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