Redefining differences

defining the differences


It is undeniable that we have learned, by our own instincts, to discover differences among individuals surrounding us. As babies, we begin the lifelong lesson by making preferences either with our family members or with peers of the same origin – say the least, of racial background. Maturing up, we make the differences all the more obvious: we configure our own circles, befriend those of the similar interests with us, of equal skills and capabilities, of the same hometown or skin color, and consider others different from us as adversaries, or something less than humane. Take that to a larger scope, either about schools, cities, ethnic groups, religions, or even nation-states. Unexpectedly, it brings tremendous effects to human civilization.

Wars have been fought because of political interests and differing ideologies; some countries end up shattered and others peak into the paramount victories of the superpower phantasm. Myriad lives have been lost due to conflicts, ranging from microscopic-scale inter-tribal wars (often fought simply because of differing cultures, languages, or even accents), until Armageddon-scale high-technology battles involving predominant world powers. We all envision the heavenly notion of ‘eternal world peace’, but the ‘notion of differences’ we all have formed in our mindsets contradicts in perturbing how we should progress to achieve this dream.

Can we really afford to remove the entire differences defining us as the human race? This essay on Aeon Magazine attempts to explain the complicated human nature regarding perceiving the differences. This is also worthy of a leadership lesson about group unity.


Excerpt from the article:


The idea of ‘us and them’ was crystallised in the 1906 book Folkways by the American sociologist William Graham Sumner. In his vision, it wasn’t just ‘us and them’ but ‘us versus them’. ‘The insiders in a we-group are in a relation of peace, order, law, government, and industry, to each other. Their relation to all outsiders, or others-groups, is one of war and plunder, except so far as agreements have modified it,’ he wrote. For Sumner, these relations demanded each other: ‘Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, warlikeness without — all grow together, common products of the same situation.’

He introduced the term ‘ethnocentrism’ to describe ‘this view of things’ in which one’s own group is ‘the centre of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it’. The term included the tendency for groups to regard others as less than fully human: ‘As a rule it is found that nature peoples call themselves “men.” Others are something else — perhaps not defined — but not real men.’ Sumner saw ethnocentrism everywhere, from Papuan villages in New Guinea ‘kept separate by hostility, cannibalism, head hunting, and divergences of language and religion’, to the great powers, each of which ‘regards itself as the leader of civilisation, the best, the freest, and the wisest, and all others as inferior’. Whether they wielded stone axes, like the Papuans who were still isolated from outside influence by the New Guinea highlands, whether they built ‘dreadnought’ battleships, as the great powers were racing to do, humans would always conjure up an Other to threaten with their weapons.