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Gloria Jean Gabrielle

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What makes us xenophobic?

How do you see the xenophobia in your everyday life? Do you think it's natural or is something the mass media teaches us? Who wins if people hate each other?
How do you treat different people? (cultural, racial, bodyshape, sexuality)

And do you think we're capable of accepting aliens, if we cannot accept our neighbors ?


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  • Dec 5 2013: A generalized fear of the other is probably a natural response to the unknown and the risks involved in encountering it. However, the natural response to that fear is to minimize it by seeking to know the other, because knowledge has a tendency to reduce fear and to encourage cooperation. This is why humans form societies in the first place. But as societies become more complex the fear of the outsider is magnified because there is more at risk.

    I interpret your question as referring to extra-terrestrial aliens, but the same rules are at work even among different earthly cultures. Our expectations for aliens are based on what we know of ourselves. We can only imagine alien cultures that are variations on our understanding of our own. And we tend to exaggerate certain traits (for good or ill) and thus simultaneously over-simplify and dehumanize the other. This leads us to either rhapsodize the nobility of the alien or to develop paranoid fantasies about the alien's evil intent.

    So we are equally capable of accepting aliens as we are our neighbors. Sometimes that's good; sometimes it isn't. What we can assume is that extra-terrestrial beings and their societies are going to be at least as complex and diverse and full of contradictions as our own are. It is possible we may eventually be proved wrong in that assumption, but it is a better starting point than the extremes.
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      Dec 6 2013: Thank you, David,
      I like what you wrote especially about fear.
      However, do you believe fear makes us agressive and dangerous or more like - helpless?
      Do you think that we'd destroy something before we know it's idea, just because we're scared of it?
      Like hitting someone with a bat in the dark.

      I'm interested by the way you treat the different ones? You seem pretty much optimistic.
      • Dec 6 2013: I am optimistic, because I believe that for most people it is, to paraphrase the late Nelson Mandela, "just as easy to love as to hate," and I believe most people prefer love.

        Although we talk about the "fight or flight" response to fear, our only choices aren't aggression of helplessness. The "flight" response can include gently declining to engage, accommodation or compromise where one person's need is greater or both can be addressed partly. "Fight" can include passive resistance, active negotiation, public advocacy. Because, realistically, we are highly unlikely to be faced with a choice between "ET" or "Alien," we can allow ourselves to imagine that aliens here and elsewhere are more like us than different from us.

        On the other hand, I am sympathetic to those who see the current polarization of the world and its overuse of sudden, often pre-emptive, violence as suggesting that we might be unprepared to give the alien a chance to be known before we start shooting.
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          Dec 6 2013: Hmm, you say that you believe that most people prefer love. But don't you think we are quite bi-facial? I mean, we can be loving and nice to special group of close people and complete arseholes to another?
          Now an episode of Doctor Who comes to my mind, when Rose tried to save her father from death. Then she met her mother, which was very rude with her. But suddenly after she found she's her daughter, she became very loving.

          Usually we judge very fast and give freedom to words not worth saying to hurt people around us. I think it's hard to choose only "love" or "hate". You cannot deny there are people you simply cannot stand. However, I think the tolerance comes here.

          Maybe the key of being different is to be tolerant. To go and turn on the lights before you hit with the bat. Who knows, maybe somebody brings you a surprise cake!
      • Dec 9 2013: To prefer love is not to be without all the other human emotions. We are and will remain imperfect beings, but I believe that most people do the best they can and prefer to act from their better natures.
        I don't like the idea of tolerance, however. To be tolerant is to see ourselves as superior; we judge the other as inferior, but we will be big enough to put up with them in spite of who they are. I prefer to think in terms of seeking to understand the other, to accept them as they are and to choose whether I am comfortable or safe or feel good in their company. Most people, regardless of their particular faults, which are simply different faults than my own, have something to teach me. I do not need to tolerate behaviors or actions that are harmful or dangerous, and I don't need to subject myself to people who do those things.
        There are, certainly, people I don't like and do not want to be around; but that is as much because of me as it is because of them. Remember that there are always two sides to our relationships with others; and in any relationship we are also the "other." The key to being different is to value difference rather than fear it or ignore it or be tolerant of it.
        The Doctor Who example is interesting, because what it says to me is that once the mother saw Rose as her daughter, she could no longer see her as the "other." When we feel a personal, intimate connection to someone it is harder to see them as an "other' to be feared or hated or dehumanized. This is a natural response. The more we see someone as connected to us, as like us in some way, the more likely it is to build a positive relationship with them; and vice-versa.

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