Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z: Xenophobia

Xenophobia is the worst of the phobias, in that it is probably the only one that is reprehensible and vile.

Quick Quiz time: will this be a letter dedicated to a topic that inspires me or that I detest?

If you guessed the later then the silent drone of the computer and the hypnotic glow of the screen has not dulled your senses: you are correct!

This is one of the things that really bugs me, down to my core.  Probably because the potential for it is in everyone, seeing how the root of it is in that natural instinct we all have, from survival, for seeing the world as 'Us/Them'. But since it is a potential in everyone it strikes me that this makes it more important to fight, not less, because the danger of it growing is greater.  It is a latent threat in any culture, that if encouraged and allowed to spread has the most catastrophic results.  Fear and illogic can't survive in the harsh light of fact and reason, so let's get a big heaping of that to start.

I'll start with defining the terms and being as open minded and understanding as possible, then have at whatever is left.  Sound fair?

Strictly speaking, a fear of strangers or foreigners, but since that can be misleading with various citizenship, we're really talking about an unreasoned fear of that which is alien, different: other than self.

Not all fear is bad.  In fact, fear can be very good & right.  The whole subculture centered around 'No Fear' I find to be idiotic actually.  Some things should be feared. Crazy man has a gun: let's go walk up to him and call him a wus because we have no fear? That's not just lack of fear that's lack of intelligence.  You'll soon be dead: evolution at work if you haven't bred yet.  So fear isn't universally bad.  It is a survival instinct, and an important one.

So why is this fear bad?
After all, strange people you don't know and who have a different culture than yours could be a threat, could want to invade, enslave or enforce ridiculous new neighborhood CC&R's. So is Xenophobia warranted?


Hominids have developed a nifty attribute through evolution, called a sentient brain.  Call me crazy, but rather than throw away the work of a million years of evolution, why not use this quirk of biology to, yes, be skeptical of the unknown, but instead of going into blind panic and creation of boogeymen, to actually talk with, understand, figure out what the different people think, feel, believe and use that brain to reason out if there is a real threat, instead of pointing in fear and crying "Ah! Different! Bad! Kill it!"

Just a thought.
If not, what is the worst that could happen?
Well, the worst things that have ever happened, that's what.  Just a quick incomplete list:

* Most of the wars in the Ancient world.
* Slavery
* Destruction of Carthage
* Witch Trials
* Inquisition
* Reconquista of Spain
* Newconquista of the New World
* Pogroms
* Religious Wars of Europe after the Reformation
* American Genocide Wars against the Native Americans & Reservation System.
* Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Empire
* Japanese Imperialism
* Nazi Holocaust
* Soviet Holocaust
* Sudan Genocide
* So many others.

Clearly with all this violence, someone was a threat! Just usually not the people doing most of the dying.
No, Xenophobia is one of the most destructive forces in humanity.  When people fear people who are different, just because they are different, and make up any reason to justify this fear so that they can act against the people, it only escalates whatever problems are already there.

Almost always this fear is unfounded and illogical.  And often the fear is rooted in a strong ignorant bigotry.
Real quickly, lets look at the 'witch trial' period of history, where conservatively, 50,000 people were killed as 'witches'.
Where they witches?  Probably not. If they were they'd have put a spell on these jerks and ran away!
More likely they were people who were just different.  Thought different, acted different, maybe cured people with medicines instead of praying over them or trying to bleed them to death.
So there is the fear of other, where is the justification for killing them?

In the Bible, Exodus 22:18, "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
Oops. Sorry, that's not quite right, the more accurate translation is "thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live."

Funny story that... see, the word for poisoner, as one who uses herbs & potions to cause harm, got associated with anyone who was a "witch", which could have been anyone following an older spiritual tradition or just someone who knew some good herbs to help heal someone.

But the poster child for the dangers of Xenophobia has to be the Holocaust.
It is a strong case study in the phenomenon.  Most people now identify the dominant stresser on that to be the economy. Germany was in an economic tailspin, people where scared, they lash out for a focus for that fear and Hitler gave it to them.  So it's Hitler's fault.  Yes and no.  In the immediate sure it was.
But where did he get it from?  If he wasn't from a culture that was already ingrained with the Xenophobia of Antisemitism then he wouldn't have had the idea to begin with. And if it wasn't part of the general culture (not singling out Germany here- this was a problem across all western civilization) it's not likely he'd have been well received.  Because the 'facts' behind his theory are beyond daft.

Sorry modern Neo-Nazis, but there is no big Jewish conspiracy and control of western civilization.  There's more truth to most fairy tales than that nonsense. But this stupid idea does have a basis in history... or rather, a historical bigotry.  Hitler didn't come up with this idea. Let's investigate to find the source:

When the Christians became the dominant religion in Europe they had a lot of different versions. The one that won the battle of ideology became official and all others were labeled as 'Heresy'. To keep it clear, they decided what to include and what not to, and wrote it down in their bible and said "This is absolute truth."
If a Christian said he believed something different.. like the Arians (no, not like Hitler, just a phonetic coincidence) or Manicheans or Cathars, then they'd be heretics and fair game for a good smacking around.

This means anything that was written down at that point became "absolute truth" and they'd have a hard time changing it.  -Important bit for later.

But what about the Jews?  They lived in a lot of places in Europe- they'd been there since the Roman Empire.  They aren't Heretics... they don't claim to be Christians. They're 'Heathen" maybe.. they have a different religion.  So the Christian Church put up with them, since they weren't numerous, and since they didn't claim to be Christian, they weren't competing. Not a threat to the church: no alternative idea trying to convert people.
Doesn't mean they liked them much, but we don't get a major problem at this point.

Fast forward through the end of the Roman Empire in the west and the dark ages: economy goes down, urbanization recedes, communities are more isolated.  Then with Feudalism, things start to pick up: more stability, an investment into agricultural and economic infrastructure, increase of goods, towns & markets.
This also means an increase in the chance to invest money in financial enterprises and make profit. Before, the only chance to get more wealthy was to get more land.  Not so anymore.  If you have money, you can make more money! Even without needing to bash your neighbor's head and take his land. It's like the Roaring Twenties with colored tights.

So if you want in on this and make some profit you just need some money.  But who would loan you money when they could just invest the money themselves? Only an idiot. Unless you promise to pay them more than you borrow.  After all, you're going to make profit, so should they right?  Plus, there is now inflation... if it takes you ten years to pay it back, chances are the face value will be worth less than it was before. So the loaning person just charges interest and everything is fine right? But he can't.  Not allowed. Why? Because the Church says you can't.  Why? Because Jesus said you can't.  That's when he threw a hissy at the money lenders.. something about usury? yeah, that's it... if you loan money and expect more back than you loan out then it's a sin and you're going to hell. Church says so.  Well, Jesus might have had a point back in his day.  Loan out money back then and yeah, probably little chance the borrower could make profit enough to pay it back with interest.  Expect that and you really are a jerk.  But now you aren't.  Now it only makes good sense.  Now, if you can't charge interest then you won't loan money- which means, no banks: the economy will be forever stunted.  So get with the times Church!  Oh that's right: they can't.  They can't change, because they already established absolute truth.  Oops.

But wait! Jews to the rescue! They're still around, and they've been making some money, like everyone else, from this new economic system, why not ask them for money?  Again, it's win-win, since the kingdoms are just jerks to them already saying they're not allowed to own land, if they want to grow economically they have to do it through business, and as the only ones legally allowed to play banker, that sounds like a good plan. And remember: it's not the Jews who decided to do this, the Christian Church said Christians aren't allowed to do it but they are allowed to borrow from Jews.

Now, this had a chance to be a perfect symbiotic relationship.  But people got greedy.  And despite the bigoted stereotype that "Jews are greedy" we'll see that's about the exact opposite of the situation.  See, the economy might be generally going up, but that doesn't mean everything is a sure thing.  Crops can fail, goods can be stolen, people can just mismanage their investments.  When Christians borrowed money from Jews, and when a lot of them did, or just very powerful ones did, what happens if the borrowers are unable, or just unwilling to pay the money back?  Today the bank takes your house away from you.  Back then?  Jews had no real political power.  Often what happened was Christians called for a 'Pogrom': a Church-Sanctioned persecution of Jews: They'd go through their district, drag them from their homes and force them under threat to convert to Christianity.  Don't?  We will probably kill you or drive you out (We don't have to pay our loan!) if you do? (hey! you're not a Usurer are you? We don't have to pay our loan!).  See?

So which group is the greedy one? Which group is using institutions to control society?

When Jews tried to call in loans they could be accused of being "uncaring" and "greedy".  Dude, you're trying to weasel out of your debt!  Who's the real greedy bastard?

So this stereotype persisted and went on for over a thousand years.
Since the groups lived apart, since Christians didn't want to understand them, said they were dangerous to associate with because of their religion, they didn't know them.  They shared a continent for over two thousand years, yet they were still the other to many.
Hitler was just tapping into a persistent Xenophobia, not making up something new.
This crap is dangerous. And there are a lot of people who are still stuck in this nonsense today.

The most prolific of this kind of bigoted, ignorant, hateful Xenophobia today is Homophobia.
I have no tolerance for this.

Sure, in this, and many other countries, people have a freedom of speech and belief, but just like the idiocy of antisemitism, it doesn't mean these homophobes aren't idiots.

It is Xenophobia, pure and simple.
They dress it up as a religious issue, but it isn't that any more than antisemitism is an economic issue:
it is just bigotry.

It isn't just Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, with number of members competing with total brain cells for a lowest number contest, a lot of churches in America are decidedly 'anti-gay'.
Westboro Baptist Church protests outside Less Than Jake show

So let's figure this one out.  Where do they get this?
The most oft sited is Leviticus 18:22: Don't have sex with another guy.
-if you find the text you'll notice it says "that's an abomination" not "or you'll go to Hell"... why? Because the people who wrote Leviticus didn't believe in Hell! Old Testament predates the Zoroastrian influence that lead to the creation of Christianity.. but hey, don't want to split hairs.

OK, so they have a holy commandment from their god that says "dude that's nasty."  Case closed?
Not so fast.  What is this pick and chose m.o.? If they want to rest on absolute truth of their written text then what about the rest of that book?

Leviticus 19:28 : Don't get a tattoo.  That's right: Get Ink, Go to Hell.  Guess I'll see you there!
Leviticus 19:19 : Don't make mules.  Yep.  Get a horse & donkey to make the beast with two backs and off you go to hell! That's for any two animals of different kinds! Sorry Napoleon Dynamite, the Liger is a beast of Hell.
Leviticus 19:19 : Keep it going: Cotton poly blend Tshirt? Not just a sin of style, but god says abomination!
Better hope that fabric keeps you cool in hell cause that's where you're going for wearing fabric from two types of material.
Leviticus 11: 9-12 : Eat shellfish: go to hell.  Shrimp, Lobster, Oysters, Calamari, all on the menu at Satan's cafe, but you won't be served it in heaven.
Really?  You can't eat this? What the hell? 

So why do they only fixate on the gay people?
This is god's list of things he finds yucky, don't they all deserve equal attention?
People with tattoos might beat them up, and probably not a lot of old timey prospectors with mules around to pick on, but why aren't they at least out in front of Red Lobster and J.C.Penny?

Oh, maybe because this is just an excuse? It's all just bullshit to hide their bigotry behind?

Where did this list come from by the way?  Did you ever wonder?
Why does god hate gay sex, lobster and comfy clothes?
I don't think it is something the people who believe it ever ask.  But I have. And I found out.
Want to know?  Maybe you do, but maybe not- I haven't met many people who know this, and I think it's fun, so let's look at it for a bit if you're curious. This has already become insanely long, why stop now?

Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, these are the 'law' books of the Old Testament.
You can tell a lot about an extinct society from the laws it leaves behind. I once did a research project on Anglo-Saxon laws to find out more about how thorough their Christian conversion was and it was very interesting. Laws are very revealing.  The Hebrews at the time of these writings were in transition.  They had been a pastoral people: they were semi nomadic and herded domesticated animals as a way of life: predominately goats.  It wasn't always the easiest way of life.  As the centuries went on, civilizations got bigger & bigger, expanded, got more fancy and just like suburbs do,began to sprawl and take up all the good land.  What's a group of goat herders to do? if this keeps up, there will be no more land for the goats, and they'll all die. Solution? Go take a civilization. There is no land to make their own, and they don't know how to make one anyway, but steal one?  That just might work.  Enter the warrior phase: God Wills It!

God says I promise you some land: others have it now, but what of it? Go get it.
Who had it? The Canaanites.
Just an Average civilization, a lot like many of the ones in the area.  This means they are polytheists, urban, have agriculture, and nice things. Cut to the chase: The Hebrews smack them around and take their city.  And there was much rejoicing.  Yay! But there is a problem: how do you make this thing work?  You see this a lot in history: more aggressive, less 'civilized' tribe conquers a civilization, then doesn't know what to do with it.  So they make a system where they're at the top, and the old elite now work for them, keep things running smoothly.  But this means that things don't change much from the old ways: and the conquerors soon become assimilated and take on the culture of those they conquered: see this with the Aryans in India, the Romans with Greece, the Germanics in western Roman Empire, and the Hebrews with Canaanites.

But there is a big problem for the Hebrews.  They believe they won the war because it was God's promise.
Hebrews become infatuated with the new culture: their religion, their food, their clothing, etc.. not surprising, they took over because they wanted what they had! But the elders realize that's a risk: If the people take on this new culture, they'll become polytheists and God will be pissed off and take away their victory! And the cynic in me says they just saw a threat to their authority, but either way, they made laws to make anything Canaanite bad, so their people would stay away from them and not become like them.  Canaanites ate shellfish -not something goat herders ate- so that is now prohibited! Canaanites were farmers, they had cotton-makes for nicer feeling clothes than wool... so no! can't mix that in with your wool robes, stay with scratchy!  Canaanites had temple prostitutes -talk about motivation to go to church- so that's verboten now too!   And you guessed it, like a lot of ancient civilizations, Canaan was openly tolerant and rather bisexual, like the Greeks will be when they come onto the scene.
So, since about 10% or more of any population is going to lean that way, the Hebrews started exploring their desires for this if they had them. Well if it's good enough for the Canaanites it isn't any good for us!
God now says no!.
They became rampantly xenophobic to keep their culture from being replaced by the one they conquered.
They set those laws down and people today read them and think it matters. Well, they say some of them matter- others they pretend not to read.

Read the bible with a historical eye and you can see why things are in there as they are.  This isn't about what some god wants, it is about what the controllers of a now-dead civilization feared in losing the control of their people to the culture of another now-dead civilization.

Talk about really pointless.

But since probably 100% of people would rather wear wool-cotton shirts than pure wool, but less than 50% would rather have sex with their own gender than the opposite gender, that xenophobic rule stuck and the others got dismissed and forgotten.

Yeah, some people get uncomfortable because others like things that are different than what they like.
And they grab some obsolete irrelevant old law from a circumstance that no longer exists and use it as their excuse to indulge their xenophobia.

So weak.

Get over it.

I often hear them split hairs saying "We don't hate the sinner, we hate the sin."
No. You are hating the person.
You can't hide behind religion, heap abuse on people, try to deny them their pursuit of happiness and say you are simply following your god's command to stamp out sin.
Religious bigotry does not grant you more rights than someone else.

You don't have to like people who are different.
But an adult can accept that what they don't like doesn't trump someone else living their life with no real affect on their life other than their vague 'sensibilities' feeling queezy.
Just because you might think the person acts in a way that you think they shouldn't, if they aren't actually doing something wrong- something that hurts someone, then stay the hell out of it.  If you think it makes your god angry let your god worry about it.  Until then, let them live their life how they want to, how they feel right and happy even if you think it is weird.

If you are a man who wants to marry a woman, the fact that some other guy wants to marry or just have sex with another guy has absolutely nothing to do with your life.  It won't destroy civilization, it won't ruin your heterosexual marriage, it won't have any effect on your life in any way other than you may have a harder time pretending that everyone thinks exactly like you do. Get over yourself already.  Live your life and let others live theirs. And no, it isn't 'equal' to say your freedom means enforcing your bigoted nonsense on the life of other people.  A same sex couple living their life together is not an attack on you nor is it the same thing as you saying they can't do it.  No one is saying everyone has to be gay, so stop trying to make everyone straight.
If a homosexual told me I couldn't kiss my girlfriend in public I'd say they were a hateful idiot who should learn to tolerate the presence of someone different.  The thing is, that doesn't really happen.  It's only happening the other way. And it should stop.

Xenophobia isn't healthy for the individual or the world.

Bad things happen when we let it go unchecked.

I'd like to suggest we, as a species, grow up already.

Well, not related to Xenophobia, but this does start with X, and it's a great song.
Need some catchy enjoyable music after a good cathartic rant.


This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 


Anne said...

I knew you were going to pick this topic for the letter X. And I knew you'd do a thorough job of it as well. We humans, with our expanded neocortex still seem to have problems overcoming innate impulses. Part of that is due to the fact that there are more axons going from the "lower order" brain to the neocortex where rational thought exists. In comparison, there are much fewer axons descending from the neocortex (to be precise the medial prefrontal cortex for this topic) to the "lower order" brain. So it takes effort to subdue our more innate drives. However, because we are capable of learning, we as a species cannot hide behind this as an excuse.

As a mother of a gay son, I have a vested interest in seeing this type of behavior eradicated. I have watched him endure bullying, hatred and death threats and I must comfort him and protect him when these things happen. It is difficult to endure. We talk about this frequently saying "when will people change" "when will they learn" and we fear that it will not happen in our lifetime. People do not hate him for who he is as a person, they have an unreasonable hatred towards a label. We can only hope that through education these things can change.

Thank you for writing this Ferret.

tomogui said...

One of the best rants yet, LF! I came for the whimsical conversions and awesome brushwork, but stayed for the axe-grinding and relentless tilting at philosophical windmills! Also the kick-ass travelogue.

Mr. Lee said...

Indeed.. thanks for writing this. I have commented before, and will say it again, you are putting a lot more thought into this A-Z, and it shows. Shows proper, and you bring a lot of thinking away from your post.

I am going to have to re-read your post again, as there are some really good example in here that I might use in future conversations with the local gaming group actually. Check out the posts next week concerning my attempts to play in the new Turkish Gaming League..

Thanks again for the thought provoking post mate.. cheers as always!

S. L. Hennessy said...

This has always been one of the most interesting topics in my opinion. Why one earth does different wind up equaling bad? It just never made any sense to me. I think that's one of the things I love about science fiction, and one of the main topics for my A-Z blog posts. Sci-fi often examines this question, and how alienation from one another through our differences can cause irreparable harm. Whether its another species, or another culture or race, Xenophobia should be avoided at all cost.

Anne said...

I don't know what you have planned for the letter Z, but I'm challenging you to do something Zany.

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks Anne :) Guess you read my mind.. well it's the most interesting X word and one of humanity's greatest flaws, so I couldn't pass it up. Hmm.. so anyway to stimulate the growth of those axons you say we're lacking? that could be interesting...

Sucks how many people have their life diminished because of this,like your son. It is so stupid I'd think it would be beneath us by now, but I guess not. I wouldn't care too much if someone hates me as a person because of who I am as a complete person, but the idea that someone can hate based off of ignorance, a stereotype, some bigoted bias... no, that's just not acceptable: don't like that against me, don't like it against anyone else either. I think the only solution is information, to keep pointing out that the bigoted xenophobic attitudes are based on ignorance and eventually the majority of people will get past it- not everyone, there will always be pockets of people who cling to their hatred like a kid unwilling to let go of their security blanket, but most of civilization will advance and move along, if we keep insisting that it does.

Z: I do have something a bit zany in mind, not Zany precisely, but not far off. Won't be long now.

Mr.Lee: Thanks! glad you enjoyed it :) I'll look forward to those posts of yours.

Tomogui: Thanks :) I can't resist the lure of a rant ;)

SL: It is strange isn't it? I love things that are different. It makes life interesting. I dread the homogenization of cultures. Some differences I couldn't tolerate, such as if a culture decided it was great fun to kidnap and eat babies, but the kind of differences most people fixate on are so unimportant. I love sci-fi for this. I really look forward to when we meet our first sentient alien race, but I'm not sure most of our species could handle it considering the poor job we do at getting along with ourselves.

Lead Legion said...

Excellent Essay. Get it published. Seriously.

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks Lead! I enjoyed writing it.
Not sure who'd want to publish it other than my own blog ;)

Engel said...

I just stumbeled across this, sory for joining the party to late but its so good I just had to coment.
I went here for the leadminiatures but found gold...

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks Engel!
I'm opinionated enough to freely admit I'm opinionated ;) I had a lot of fun with the A-Z entries this year

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