Othering, and the devastation of division and hatred

Hate is a word I try not to use too much. It’s a word that describes the worst of human emotions. It is an intense feeling.

As the news of what happened last night in Manchester comes out, hate is not the first feeling that comes to me. Melancholy. I feel an intense sadness that people can do this to others, particularly children, who are guilty of nothing. Just enjoying life.

I question what it is that could drive a man to blow himself up, in a concert hall full of kids. Some not much older than my own. And where I feel sorrow at the results of the evil act, I can only imagine that the Manchester-born young man hated intensely. He hated himself, otherwise how could he have ended his own life intentionally? He must have hated humanity, or how could he have murder children and young people so indiscriminately?

When a child smiles or laughs, when you watch them enjoying themselves, I can’t imagine the soul of a man that would use the death of these lights of the world for political ends. What did humanity do to him that was so bad for him to want to destroy its future?

But when I think about it a bit more, I realise, it wasn’t necessarily humanity he hated. He hated us. And we’ve been here before. There has been no shortage of mass murder and genocide in human history. When they occur, I believe there is a common event preceding it: painting some group as “the Other”. It is this Othering that allows people to do some of the most heinous acts.

During war, armies kill the enemy, not just because it is their duty and they know it is a “kill or be killed” situation, but because they are the “Other”.

During republican and communist revolutions, nobles were executed as “Others”; “they’re not like us”.

During the well-documented Holocaust, there was the systematic “Othering” of the Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and that facilitated their extermination.

I look upon our world today and see a lot of divisive hatred. Aside from the cultural conflict of Islamist extremism, there is Right Vs Left; Leave Vs Remain; Internationalist Vs Nationalist; Working Class Vs “Metropolitan Elite”. And through all of this Othering, perpetuated by much of the media and politicians, they have got us all hating each other. But not hating each other because of our actions, but for what we believe.

I’m sure there was a time when a conservative and progressive could have a good, reasoned discussion. But when our own politicians, during debate, descend to school yard antics, it doesn’t set a good example for the rest of us. They’re supposed to be the most educated. The most informed. Yet they don’t seem to be interested in winning the discussions based on the strength of the ideas, but by weakening the credibility of the person delivering the opposing idea.

Humanity has faced a great many conflicts. Many millions have suffered because of this Othering. If we don’t find common ground — if we don’t seek compromise — how can we proceed as a species? Right and Left, Religious and Areligious, Christian/Muslim/Sikh/Jew, Remainers and Leavers, we all need to find the points we agree on, then look at those we don’t and try to meet in the middle — the centre ground. If we can achieve that, maybe we can avoid the level of hatred in the future that will lead to our own mutual destruction.

The worst of our capabilities as a species was seen yesterday night. But in the aftermath, we also saw the best. How the whole city pulled together, united by a common grief. Taxi drivers offering free rides home, restaurants giving free food, local residents offering their sofas and beds for those stranded. People were kind, considerate, giving.

I know that is who we truly are as a culture and species. I guess I always had, but recently I’d forgotten or become  disheartened. Let’s try and remember that, and not allow those that hate to divide us.

Home (and whatever the hell that means)

“Home”, and what the word really represents, is one I’ve considered a lot. Maybe it’s down to me having moved around a lot as a kid.

In my time, I’ve often been asked “Where are you from?” I’ve never really been able to give a straight answer. I used to say, “Well, I’m not really sure.” It seems a pretty strange answer. How can I not know where I’m from? Well, I just never stayed anywhere long enough.

I was born in Manchester, way back in 1981. I was still a baby when I left. Obviously I have no memories of life in the city. I have early memories of Rochdale. I was about maybe four or five when I was in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I remember being six in Edinburgh. I was nine when I moved to Reading (it was 1990, the year of the World Cup in Italy). Fourteen took me to Stourbridge. Eighteen to Slough.

I could say that Berkshire is my home region. The closest thing I have to a home town is probably Reading. I spent my early formative years there, and when I was in Slough, I spent most of my free time there. But now, except for a couple of old friends and some damn good memories, I have nothing there. I haven’t even set foot in the town since 2008.

In spite of — or maybe because of —  all that moving around, I always settled quickly in a place. “Home is where you hang your fucking hat,” I used to say. Where ever I went after I was free of the restrictions of childhood, I settled in pretty quick. I wouldn’t say I made friends easily, but I felt comfortable. I never really needed very much. As long as I had my books, my guitar, and music to listen to, I was fine. Mostly. Obviously, we are social animals, so being alone for a long time gets depressing.

After leaving home, I lived in Ironbridge Gorge, Bath, Brighton, Lincoln, Kamakura (Japan), each for a few months to a year, and no matter how long (or short) it was, I felt comfortable. Happy. At home…

Which is why I always said what I used to say.

In 2009, I moved to Frankfurt, Germany. A country I never even thought about visiting. I upped and left my homeland, to take up a job. At the time, I never really imagined I’d end living here for seven(soon to be eight) years. I said then, I’d see for a couple of years, get some work experience, and then head back. That never happened. But, in that seven years, I’ve really learned to appreciate what home is.

Home really isn’t just a place to rest your head. That’s a purely practical thing. Home is not just having a few friends around. Home is having a place that, after a long journey, you get back and breath a sigh of a relief. Not because you can rest, but because it kind of completes you being there. It’s a feeling that’s really hard to express with words, but only when I didn’t have it did I realise what it was. I think after a long journey everyone’s happy to have a chance to rest. But when returning home there’s always something else. Kind of like when you’re away there’s a piece missing, and only when you get back do you find it again.

But I’ve been living in Germany for a long time now. It’s the longest time I’ve spent in any single city. When ever I returned “home”, from wherever I’d been, I never really felt like I was being reconnected with that missing piece. I only ever felt that relief that I didn’t have to travel anymore. I don’t look upon the cityscape and feel a soothing contentment at being home.

But then, when I look at the events going on back in the UK, I wonder if the country that I had always loved even exists anymore. I mean in spirit, of course. Maybe I’m guilty of living in a bit of an arty, liberal bubble.

I was naturally drawn to people like me. People who thought like me. I guess that cut me off from what a lot of people seem to think. The politics of division are going wild, stoked by Farage and his ilk, and the festering wounds under the nation’s skin have burst. I feel like my country has been dissolved in my absence, like Tom Hanks’s character in “Terminal”. It seems that my green and precious land — the one of tolerance, individuality, of generally progressive values — was a fantasy. A pure fantasy. My liberal, progressive utopia never existed, except in my own little bubble.

Stateless. Homeless. Even if I do actually have a place to hang my fucking hat.

The world…

The world we have today is an odd one. One of violence, suffering, beauty and also love. I can’t help but be enthralled with all of them. Not in a positive, leering way do I look at violence. But to stay informed, it’s important. Ignorance is never virtuous.

I like to think about things, and then reflect on them. Writing about these things is a wonderful way to think. It allows us to collect our thoughts, and forces us to organise them in a coherent way.

And that brings me to you. Come with me, if you fancy. Rambling through the weird quirks, the oddities, the nightmares, the insanity, and everything that makes up… me.

Let’s go…