A Taxonomy of Otherness

You.  No deep philosophy here, simply the ordinary observation that human beings are creatures with consciousness of self who see other human beings as likewise possessing consciousness, but a consciousness distinct from their own, thinking its own thoughts.  That is to say, I have an "I" who sees "you" as distinct from myself, but I also believe that you have thoughts about yourself just as I have thoughts about myself.  I'm not sure this is worth belaboring, but it is important to remember where we start from.

Them.  Again, a neutral term, simply to say that human beings, while seeing themselves as distinct individuals, are also prone to identify with other human beings in groups.  Those of us standing over here are different from those of you standing over there.  Groups form and dissolve all the time: we are the ones who arrived early, they are the ones who arrived late.  We are the ones who have seen the movie, they are the ones who haven't.  Dr. Seuss explored this phenomenon brilliantly in "The Sneetches."

Neighbor.  Anyone who is near to us, extended by Our Lord Jesus Christ to include all other human beings, whom we are commanded to love.  Often the cause of our greatest frustrations, particularly when it comes to the case of boundaries.

Opponent.  A slightly less neutral term, but not necessarily an adversarial one.  Athletes have opponents against whom they test themselves, but they are also in an important sense dependent upon their opponents to bring out the best in themselves.  Having an opponent may be simply situational: this fencer is my opponent in this bout, but at another time we may root for each other on the same team.

Outsider.  Now we start to get into the experience of others as somehow undesirable.  An outsider is a persistent "they," someone who does not belong to a particular social group.  This is an experience that almost everyone has at one time or another, most painfully during adolescence.  Certain social groups practice making others feel like outsiders quite purposefully; other groups are unconscious of the fact that those outside feel excluded.

Alien.  A stranger, someone coming from outside.  Threatening primarily in the sense of being an unknown, not yet belonging to any particular group.  We worry about aliens because we don't know who they are; they might be like us, they might not.

Foreigner.  Technically, also an alien, but with the sense of coming from a particular place, not just outside.  Not necessarily threatening, except to those who are anxious to identify themselves primarily with those whom they know at home.

Barbarian.  This is perhaps the trickiest term to define.  Barbarians lack certain customs typically associated with civilization, that is, living in cities, but sometimes those living in cities behave as if they did not understand civilized customs.  

Outlaw.  Someone who has been declared outside the law of a particular community.  Dangerous insofar as the law is intended to protect others from harm; potentially appealing if the laws are considered unjust.

Enemy.  None of the above are necessarily our enemies, but this does not mean that there is no such thing.  An enemy is someone who actively wishes us harm, either to assert his will over us or to destroy us utterly.  Enemies may be mutual, but simply having an enemy does not make one unjust.  Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to love our enemies, but he did not deny that we would have enemies.

Monster.  Dragons are the prototypical monsters: predatory, terrifying, but essentially amoral.  A predator does not feel guilty about killing its prey anymore than a cat feels guilty about killing a mouse.  Human beings may behave like monsters, but monsters are not human.

Demon.  Demons are not human, they are fallen angels.  They are intelligences who have been corrupted and who can no longer understand the good.  They cannot hurt us directly, only influence our thoughts, but they are relentless in their efforts to drive us to despair.


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