Tuesday, August 16, 2016

There Goes the Neighborhood

Primer desembarco de Cristóbal Colón en América obra de Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín. (Source)
Little Bird raised his hand, then dropped to one knee, something on the other side of the clearing had caught his attention. He knew they were not far from the river which delineated the eastern boundary of their clan's traditional hunting area. The rest of the hunting party followed his lead, dropping down to be in cover and holding themselves very still.

As Little Bird watched, that which had drawn his attention resolved itself into a group of strange looking beings. While they looked similar to his own clan, the way they dressed had subtle differences, also their hair was bound up in odd ways. Little Bird had no idea who these strangers were, but they had crossed the river into clan hunting territory and they might be a threat.

This was not the first time members of Little Bird's clan had encountered strangers. In the earlier encounters they had managed to avoid them, thinking that perhaps the strangers had gotten lost while out hunting. It happened often enough when the game moved on, sometimes following new paths as forage grew scarce from overgrazing. But now these encounters were becoming more frequent.

Since the last moon, blood had been shed when a party of strangers had been startled by two members of the clan, paying less attention than they should have, coming up on the strangers unexpectedly. One of the strangers had been slain when he made a sudden move, no doubt in panic, one of the clan had also died. Now hunting parties were always led by an older man. Better safe than sorry.

But what to do about these strangers? Game was becoming scarcer and scarcer, there was barely enough meat for the clan to live on, having to share hunting lands with these strangers would be impossible. Either the clan must move on, or the strangers must be driven out. There seemed to be no alternative.

For now, Little Bird was determined to kill this small party of strangers. The clan was hungry, there was no time to wait for the strangers to move on. It was kill, or starve.


fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign
If you look back to the ancient Greek terms that underlie the word xenophobia, you'll discover that xenophobic individuals are literally "stranger fearing." Xenophobia, that elegant-sounding name for an aversion to persons unfamiliar, ultimately derives from two Greek terms: xenos, which can be translated as either "stranger" or "guest," and phobos, which means either "fear" or "flight." Phobos is the ultimate source of all English -phobia terms, but many of those were actually coined in English or New Latin using the combining form -phobia (which traces back to phobos). Xenophobia itself came to us by way of New Latin and first appeared in print in English in 1903. (Source)
The fear or distrust of those "not like us" is deeply rooted in the human psyche. In the earliest days of our species, humankind was spread across the planet, our numbers were small, the land available was vast. As time went by, different cultures found their niche in the environment and prospered as well as could be expected given the difficulties of survival in those days.

Imagine, if you will, that your quiet little town stands alone, there are no other people, no other settlements, in any direction for a hundred miles. Your town is self-sufficient, raising enough crops and having enough game to feed the entire town with a bit left over to tide you over in case of a failed crop, or a harder than normal winter.

Away to the north there is another small settlement, once self-sufficient but now the soil is devoid of nutrients, the crops have failed for a second season. The game has migrated to greener pastures, perhaps the nearby river has been fished out. This settlement has two choices, stay where they are and die, or move on, like the game, to greener pastures.

So you're out in your fields one day, tending your crop. As you move further out you discover that something has been in your fields, eating the food meant for your people. Now wary, you move on, discovering a small band of people, who perhaps dress differently, maybe they even look different. But there they are, harvesting your crop. What do you do?

Fear of the unknown is something built into us, when confronted with the unknown we have one of three reactions: we prepare to flee, we prepare to fight, or (consumed by indecision perhaps) we freeze, maybe hoping that the threat will go away. It's a survival instinct, unless completely isolated from other humans, those groups who neither fled nor fought would certainly be destroyed. (Those who froze were nearly always destroyed. The deer in the headlights reaction is not always a viable survival strategy.)

Now as our species thrived and spread across the planet we came into contact more and more with other members of humankind. Usually the more advanced group would drive out (or kill) the less advanced. This can be seen in any place where a more advanced culture has collided with the lesser advanced. Ask the First Peoples in this hemisphere, ask the Aborigines in Australia.

In modern times many people still atavistically fear that which is different. Especially those from cultures which are somewhat isolated, with no experience with cultures different from their own. A denizen of New York City would probably not even spare a glance at a family of hasidim walking down the street.

Hasidic family in Borough Park, Brooklyn. (Source)

The gawking (and rude comments no doubt) in small town northern New England when I was a youth would (no doubt) be rampant. Of course, seeing a black family in the days of my youth was also extremely rare. And would have drawn the same gawking and rudeness, perhaps not overtly, but it would be there.

My point being is that cultural diversity is nothing to fear just for the sake of something being "different." While an extreme example, fear of other cultures is no more logical in modern times than a blue-eyed fellow like myself being mistrustful of someone with brown eyes. (Which would make me most unpopular with the bulk of my tribe. Most of whom have brown eyes. We blue-eyed types are most certainly in the majority in Clan Sarge.)

Xenophobia as a survival instinct is no longer useful. At some point in our history as a species it did make sense. Nowadays, not so much.

Don't fear that which is different, learn about it, discover its origins, its goals, don't fear and hate that which is different. Only fear that which is malevolent. There are plenty of examples of things to fear and hate in this world.

And some of them look just like us.


  1. Good post. Thought provoking.

    One of the thoughts it provoked: Today's xenophobia has nothing to do with fear, and everything to do with hatred. I loathe the term because it comes with a built in excuse (I was askeered!) and was most certainly crafted and promulgated by that modern-day majority of self-absorbed haters who want nothing whatever to do with peaceful coexistence and harmony.

    Another thought was the monty python sketch that would result when modern first-world humans tried to produce their own sustenance. I suspect that fitness centers would see a slight falloff in membership.

    1. Thanks Shaun.

      I would agree with one caveat, we often hate that which we fear. I also think that there is a great deal of self-loathing in the modern day "progressive."

  2. The culture clash between the folks who move from the city to a rural area and the "good ol' boys" would be a good example

    1. Hahaha. I've seen that culture clash first hand.

    2. It's probably why I am wary of folks from LA and SF.
      I've seen what's happened there.

    3. As to the destruction of downtowns, I don't understand what you mean in the context of city folk moving to more rural areas. The "good old boys" aren't generally tolerant of city-born troublemakers. Unless you mean big box stores moving to smaller towns and ruining the downtown economy, that I've seen.

      (I understand that ex-pat Californians are destroying Colorado and parts of Texas. But that's political.)

    4. Being wary of the denizens of LA and SF is just smart. And yes, from my perspective it's those two metropolitan areas which are destroying California. Particularly the SF crowd. Parasites, all of 'em.

    5. Sadly, the folks destroying SF mostly came from somewhere else, with a few exceptions, of course.
      They were able to take over because the natives were moving to the suburbs.

      About the destructtion... or, rather, the abandonment of downtowns... demand for more commercial land created the need to 'jump' over residential ground and newer modern shopping districts were created.

      Sadly, many of those are also being abandoned because of the convenience of the Internet.

    6. Ah yes, that's kinda what I thought you meant. And yes, the Internet is changing how we do business. I like it in some ways, I don't like it in others. But it is what it is. Evolve or perish is the order of the day.

      For businesses and for species.

  3. You've got to be carefully taught. You've got to be taught before it's too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate,

  4. At a low-level (cos I'm a low level-loving type)I was at a gathering recently to do a talk on the work of the Air Ambulance. I was in a small village hall, my village hall, mainly attended by locals of long standing but most of whom I didn't recognise as they were from `up the other end of the village`. The guy who introduced me said that I lived in the `new development and had moved in a couple of years ago`. Someone joked `another foreigner` (the village is popular with "second home owners" as it is a lovely part of the country oft visited at weekends by Londoners escaping to the country). I jovially noted the quip and jovially pointed out that my family tree had its roots in the area going back 350 years. Someone asked what my surname was. It turned out he went to school with a second cousin of mine from my grandfathers side. Suddenly I was one of them, yet I had not changed one iota,except in their minds.

    1. They didn't recognize you at first.

      Excellent example of what I was on about.

  5. I've always held that we humans are a tribal species. We're descended from folk who were not so very good at survival whilst living solely alone. Consequently, we're genetically wired to exclude those who are not a part of our own "Tribe." Survival was hard work . . . very hard and the spoils of the hard-won hunt were not to be wasted on the feeding of strangers. Overcoming this wired-in prejudice is what the U.S. is all about. Living here requires an abundance of tolerance. Building that tolerance requires work . . . by one's parents, one's schooling, one's associates. The army was pretty good at forcing people to learn tolerance. Stairwell housing, with black, brown, yellow families all living together forced people to accept each other . . . and learn about those others who came from tribes different from ours. It wasn't always that way, of course, but even institutions need time to learn what's right, what's wrong. I could ramble on all day on this topic. I'm not without sin. I come with my own built-in prejudices . . . and I don't know why they exist but I've learned to ignore them. The Constitution is a great moral compass . . . more so than religion, as it excludes no one tribe.

  6. As usual, good post, good comments.

    Paul L. Quandt


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.