a nepalese, an irishman and a columbian
December 27, 2009, 10:49 pm
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Here is another excerpt from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Other.  In it he sketches nationalism as a coarse reductive tool we routinely use to categorize and separate people.  Why do we do it?  I don’t know.  I suppose to make ourselves feel better by pointing out how others are different and – by their difference – inferior.

I used to work in an American office in which also worked a Nepalese, a Columbian, an Irishman, a Japanese among the standard Americans.  I know, it sounds like the start of a bad joke.  And ironically, in a way it was a bad joke:  these men from numerous parts of the world would regularly get together in the back of the office to tell racist jokes and banter.  I know I would have joined them if I weren’t cursed by a ‘serious’ gene, and the inability to react wittily in conversations like these.  How could this ritual help them, all first generation immigrant family members to America?  It seemed then and even now like a strange form of cultural suicide.  But they relished it and goaded each other deeper and deeper in.

At the end of this excerpt, Kapuscinski warns that nationalism will lead to hatred of the other.  He is unequivocal:  the hatred that results is inevitable and dangerous.  Here is the excerpt:

The nationalist treats his nation, and in the case of Africa, his state, as the highest value, and all others as something inferior (and often deserving contempt).  Nationalism, like racism, is a tool for identifying and classifying that is used by my Other at any opportunity.  It is a crude, primitive tool that oversimplifies and trivializes one’s image of the Other, because for the nationalist the person of the Other has just one single feature – national affiliation.  It does not matter if someone is young or old, clever or stupid, good or bad – the only thing that counts is whether he or she is Armenian or Turkish, British of Irish, Moroccan or Algerian.  When I live in that world of inflamed nationalisms, I have no name, no profession and no age – I am  purely and simply a Pole.  In Mexico my neighbors call me ‘El Polaco’, and the air hostess in Yakutsk summons me to board the plane by shouting ‘Polsha!’  Among small, scattered nations, such as the Armenians, there is a phenomenal capacity to see the map of the world as a network of points inhabited by concentrations of one’s own compatriots, be it one single family or one single person.  The dangerous feature of nationalism is that an inseparable part of it is hatred for the Other.  The degree of the hatred varies, but its presence is inevitable.

-excerpted from The Other, Kyszard Kapuscinski, Verso, London

pity you’re not like us
April 1, 2009, 5:13 pm
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Another excerpt from Kapuscinski’s book The Other.  Here he describes the tendency for strong cultures/nations to become self important with results that range from narcissism to aggression.  We see this tendency living here in America, in conversations, glazed over looks, refusals to engage.

The next problem in contacts between us and them, the Others, is that all civilizations have a tendency towards narcissism, and the stronger the civilization, the more clearly this tendency will appear.  It spurs civilizations into conflict with others, triggering their arrogance and lust for domination.  This always involves contempt for Others.  In old China this arrogance took on a very subtle form — it was expressed through pity for anyone who was not born Chinese.  This narcissism was and is masked by all manner of rhetoric — usually to do with being the chosen race, or having been summoned to a salvation mission, or both combined.

-Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Other

the inveterate, avowed rabble
November 24, 2008, 12:32 am
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Here is a description of how Europe colonized the world between the Middle Ages and modern times, as described by Ryszard Kapuscinski.  His book The Other is short and sweet and so good for understanding our perennial tendency to look lovingly inward.

In their violent desire to expand into and profit from the outside world, European powers used men from low strata of society to do the dirty work.  The violence of those excursions was caused by both greed and by the xenophobia of the men sent.  Call them what you like, they were outcast:  beginning at home, and then cast out into worlds of mercenary violence.  They were nothing – because of their class – and everything – because of their mission.  And centuries later we recognize them as a medium that has channeled into our world fear and intolerance of the other.

“The image of the Other that Europeans had when they set out to conquer the planet is of a naked savage, a cannibal and pagan, whose humiliation and oppression is the sacred right and duty of the European – who is white and Christian.  The cause of the exceptional brutality and cruelty that typified whites was not only the lust for gold and slaves that consumed their minds and blinded the ruling elites of Europe, but also the incredibly low standard of culture and morals among those sent out as the vanguard for contact with Others.  In those days ships’ crews consisted largely of villains, criminals and bandits, the inveterate, avowed rabble; at best they were tramps, homeless people and failures, the reason being that it was hard to persuade a normal person to choose to go on a voyage of adventure that often ended in death.”

~Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Other