The Other as Hell Spawn

The other as hell spawn demon.png

I've just finished The Girl, by Madhuri Blaylock, an intriguing series opener with attractive characters and an original world. I'm definitely looking forward to how the author develops her concepts and characters. I love that this book dives deep into one of the more unfortunate aspects of the human animal, which is to deny humanity to our enemies and competitors. It is a well-documented fact that we humans like to demonize those we hate, to objectify them in order to make ourselves feel better about behaving badly towards them. So, in Ms. Blaylock's book, even her title points to a major theme of the story; the main protagonist is, in fact, just a girl, not the crazed and animalistic demon she is portrayed as being by the powers that be who seek to destroy her.

For the vast majority of the population, it would be unthinkable to kill another human being. But when we need or want to hurt or kill, literally, such as in war, or figuratively, such as in bullying or character assassination, one of the ways we make it easier on ourselves is to think of the "other" as being wholly alien from who we ourselves are. “Not like us” equals OK to demean, degrade, deprive, and destroy. 

How do soldiers prepare to kill fellow humans who happen to wear the uniform of an opposing force?  By making them sub-human and therefore worthy of death. In fact, all military and paramilitary training is designed to help human recruits overcome the natural reticence we all have to take another human life, and to live with the regret that normal, healthy humans experience when we do kill. In another example, we may wonder how whites in America were able to enslave and mistreat their darker-skinned brethren.  The answer is the same: by designating them as only partially human (three-fifths human, to be exact, a little more than half). How did Nazi officers kill Jewish babies in front of their mothers and then go home to play with their own children without a second thought? Because Jews were portrayed as being less than human and therefore in a completely separate category as the Aryan race. How do serial killers torture and kill their victims?  By seeing them as objects, not people. Do you remember the scene in Silence of the Lambs where the senator’s daughter tries to tell the crazed killer her name so that he might see her as human?  Didn’t work, of course.  He loved his dog a lot more than the “thing” in the pit.

And there are many other examples of this very ugly, very human phenomenon.  The rationale behind it must be that we are somehow biologically hardwired to recognize another of our kind and to see ourselves in them so that we are naturally reluctant to kill or damage them in any way because it feels like hurting ourselves.  Therefore, if we want or need to behave badly, we must first rewire our brains so that we do not recognize ourselves in the “other” so that we can destroy with impunity.

And lest we think that this activity is limited to others who take this tendency to the extreme, let me assure you that we are all alike in this way.  It is human nature to decide between two options:  generally, either we identify in or we identify out. So, for example, when we audition to join a new group, be it professional, personal, or religious, we must first decide—or have it decided for us—whether we are a good fit. If we are already in the group, it is up to us to determine whether the candidate is “one of us.”

Some groups are determined by like-mindedness or common benefit, such as special interest groups, hobby groups, or religious and political affiliations.  Some groups are determined by function or purpose, like labor unions or industry associations. Some groups are purely social, and exist mostly to distinguish between “us” and “them.” The Greek system (sororities and fraternities) and exclusive country clubs come to mind in this category. And, of course, not all groups adopt an exclusionary clause—I’m sure there are some groups that genuinely embrace a live and let live approach, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule.

We form groups to define ourselves, to provide a label that can tell us how to act and even how to think.  It is so much easier to color within the lines if we know where they are. We also seek to belong to groups that represent something bigger than we are so that we can remind ourselves that there is more out there than just us.  It’s lonely as a lone wolf.  We want to be part of a pack.  We are hardwired to this too.

Which would be just fine if we didn’t need to take that tendency a step further and promote our own affiliations at the expense of others.  Because while it is true that we can all stand taller on the backs of those who don’t belong, such positioning creates a shaky foundation for growth and authentic expression.  And when we take it to the next level and demonize the other, as The Sanctum does to the girl Madhuri Blaylock’s book, the results can lead as far as death and destruction, as it does in this story.  But Ms. Blaylock also shows us hope that at least some of us can overcome our tendency to exercise the exclusivity clause, and replace it, instead, with a more inclusive approach. I believe that when we overcome our more reflexive responses, and engage the more reflective aspects of our consciousness, we begin to walk the road of authenticity, which, as you know, is one of my primary goals in life.

We don’t need to fear the other.  We certainly don’t need to damage or destroy in our fear.  We can take a page out of Madhuri Blaylock’s book and choose to expand our group, to change our self-definition to include the other.  Because, in truth, we are the other.