One thing that science fiction has done since perhaps the Golden Age is to explore what might best be termed The Other: the other person, gender, species, background, idea, or culture. For me the exploration of the other comes forth in many works both old and new but books such as A.E. van Vogt’s Slan and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness come immediately to mind. Such works explore with great vigor what it means to be both within a culture but also to stand apart from that culture. Indeed the characters in many such books live in the world but must often simultaneously hide from it. The parallels between fiction and history are endless, and I’ll let the reader explore such titles further. The best things about such works is that they do, hopefully, engage the reader and establish empathy not just for the characters in a book but for those around us: friends, neighbors, co-workers, distant strangers.
In philosophy and psychology several people have explored what it means to be The Other. This has included Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Lévinas, and Jacques Derrida. Edward Saïd suggested that identifying a person or group as The Other establishes an Us-vs-Them mentality and from there a State, any State, can disenfranchise either foreigners or a segment of its own populace.
The crux of this was described in an entry on “Otherness” in The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Third Edition, (1999) as “the imposition of Otherness alienates the labelled person from the centre of society, and places him or her at the margins of society, for being the Other.” Grim stuff, and the linkages to the internment of Japanese-Americans as well as the ups and downs of the recent executive order from the White House are obvious.
Yet on a more hopeful note I would have to agree with the author David Brin who wrote: “(A) Doctrine of Otherness insists that all voices deserve a hearing, that all points of view have something of value to offer.” It takes real courage to listen, perhaps more-so to evaluate and reason. Empathy is a tough path and there are easier trails to navigate. Sadly, those easier, less burdened trails typically lead downward.
There was a recent photographic display about the internment of Japanese Americans at the Hartnett Gallery at the University of Rochester. The photographer had taken a road trip and photographed the various camps around the country. With few exceptions not much remained of these places. Maybe a single standing structure or a plaque. History, I suppose, strikes a locale but briefly, and then moves on.
I’m wondering if at some point all of these internment camps should not have been preserved. If visits to these remote places were made part of a required high school curricula (either on-site or thru a travelling exhibit or oral history presentations) I have to wonder if the enormity and illegality of the current and intended Muslim and Immigrant Bans would not register with a wider proportion of the citizenry. Perhaps. Perhaps not. We remain, as a culture, a throw-away society. I am now certain that in addition to Fact this also includes both memory and all recollection of wrong-doing.
I saw this article at CNN and opted to re-post it here. I can think of no better spokesperson for what happened in 1942…and the recent events in these early weeks of 2017…than George Takei.
The future will be better, even if it takes a long time to get there.