"Otherness" is only a toddler's step from egocentricity.
For each of us life before birth was cognitively simplistic and
a construal of limited sensations. Because pre-natal awareness
centers inevitably on the self, the concept of "otherness"
must await the birth process, when the infant is physically separated
from her/his mother. Birth serves physically and cognitively to
establish a point on the cognitive map from which "not self"
or "otherness" will create a dichotomy. Usually this
other is the mother or care giver for the infant. The two points,
origin and destination, define a simple cognitive map between
what the infant wants or needs and the "other" who can
meet that need. The organism thereupon commences the long, tedious
process of filling in a number of intervening variables between
"self-hood" and otherness." Often the map is limited
in its development by the society in which the child lives.
This paper seeks to analyze the cognitive phenomenon as represented
in the semantics of "otherness," or "not I-ness,"
as it touches the abuse of citizens by political leaders. The
term "Gentile" ("not Jew") marks an ancient
usage designed overly to simplify perception of "otherness."
The word "Philistine" is found, also, in the ancient
Hebrew language, before pointing was added to the texts, in the
exact syllabic letters required to spell "Palestine."
The semantic confusion plays into extremists' hands thousands
of years later, when Philistia (land of "barbarous people")
no longer exists politically. During the Roman Empire the term
"barbarian" (denoting a people considered by those of
another nation or group to have a primitive civilization) helped
focus the semantic elements of cultural difference on a dichotomy
of use to generals seeking to enlist military support.
The same Roman influence through the Latin language gave us the
term "alii," from which has been derived "alien"
(meaning "other"). These terms often connote a person
"from another and very different people or place," frequently
"an outsider." Recently in the United States politicians
have built on the relative naivete of voters whose cognitive maps
of "otherness" remain largely dichotomous. The term
"alien" has been joined with "illegal" to
form a powerful semantic component in political campaigning: "Anything
that happens to the 'illegal aliens' they have brought on themselves."
The cognitive ingredients in this abusive use of language appear
to go unnoticed, perhaps even by the abusers.
Essentially any concept emerges from contrast to itself. Cognitively
dichotomies form from this ability to generalize from "that
which is" to "that which is not," from the "warm"
to the "not warm." Political leaders have made use of
this form of cognitive processing by casting the people they seek
to lead as the "good guys" (familiar looking and acting)
in contrast to the "bad guys" (unfamiliar looking and
acting). By denying or ignoring the relativity of the concept
being used to rally political support, politicians can create
perceptual patterns or maps that lend reality to the contrasts
they wish to play upon. This is how "otherness" has
historically served political processes.
KEYWORDS: semantics, cognition, mapping, dichotomy, politician