"We are all the other now"

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Writing recently for the online Ideas section of Time, Jeffrey Kluger took on the "We are all X (now)" trope, or as it's called in these parts, a snowclone. "This increasingly common trope has an easy, fill-in-the-blank quality to it that allows us to affect a bit of purloined heroism, put it on the credit card of someone else, and feel pretty darned good about ourselves in the bargain," he writes. Kluger quotes me on the history of the snowclone (which I looked into for a 2006 LL post), and its ready adaptability to various expressions of empathy and solidarity. Now, in a thinkpiece about Obama's re-election, David Simon (creator of the HBO shows "The Wire" and "Treme") takes the snowclone to its logical conclusion: "We are all the other now."

The context:

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against each other, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense.

Here are relevant OED senses for (the) other:

9 a. Chiefly Philos. Usu. with the. Freq. with capital initial. That which is the counterpart or converse of something specified or implied; (spec. in structuralist and post-structuralist critical and psychoanalytic thought) that which is not the self or subject; that which lies outside or is excluded from the group with which one identifies oneself; (in Lacanian thought) the unconscious, the symbolic order. Now usually opposed to self.

1863   E. V. Neale Anal. Thought & Nature 205   It is the essential character of thought to set itself over against itself, as the ‘other’ of itself, which yet is itself. All our thoughts..are a something set over against our thinking being by its own action; different from itself and yet one with itself.
1876   A. M. Fairbairn Strauss ii, in Contemp. Rev. June 136   He has eternally to cause the other of himself, Nature, to proceed from himself.
1940   Mind 49 177   The otherness of ‘self’ and ‘other’ need in no wise conceal the inseity of the ‘other’ from the ‘self’.
1993   Diacritics 23 18   This ‘lack’ of the Other is a question of/about the Other that remains fathomless and untamable.
2000   S. Connor Dumbstruck xvii. 388   The enactment both of severance and continuity between self and other.

b. A person other than oneself; a person or group that is outside or excluded from one's own group.

1910   R. M. McConnell Duty of Altruism iii. 54,   I reply that other individuals are also illusions, and I will not sacrifice any enjoyment of my illusory self for any enjoyment of an illusory other.
1964   M. F. Lowenthal Lives in Distress vi. 93   It was an impersonal other, such as a physician or social agency representative, who first became concerned.
1988   P. Brown Body & Society (1989) ii. 39   Slaves were the second inferior other in the world of the free male.
2009   M. Gubar Artful Dodgers Intro. 22   The strand of Romantic rhetoric that sets the child up as an uncivilized Other.

Also related is the verbal noun othering:

The perception of an entity as distinct in relation to other entities; (in later use) spec. the perception or representation of a person or group of people as fundamentally alien from another, frequently more powerful, group. Cf. other pron. and n. 9.

1910   A. W. Moore Pragmatism & its Critics iv. 81   The process of ‘othering’..is the essential contribution of Hegelianism to logic—the insistence that an idea is not a mere algebraic symbol, but that it is an act in which things pass into new interaction.
1939   Philos. Rev. 48 135   Croce rightly criticizes Hegel for confusing distincts, opposites, and contradictions. They are all ‘others’, but the ‘othering’ is very different in the three cases.
1958   P. Weiss Modes of Being i. 93   There is no knowledge unless there are at least two items interrelated. Because the items, to be two, must be other than one another, the relation which connects them is a form of othering.
2003   S. Morton G. C. Spivak iv. 88   This othering of the non-western woman has contributed to the larger justification of British imperialism as a social mission.

But if we're all the other now, is there no one left to other? Or will every other other another other?



20 Comments

  1. X said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

    I'm pretty sure he means to imply that most of the others other others. Certainly he doesn't mean that the former Us (not us) in the US is going to stop othering anybody regardless of whether they've been othered by others. But on the other hand, thinking of us (not Us), he'd probably agree that some others treat other others as brothers, so there is some hope for the US.

  2. dw said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    Imagine the possibilities of this verb:

    "I tried to say hi to this girl but she was like totally othering me."

  3. Dan Lufkin said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    What would one do otherwise?

  4. Ross Presser said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

    Can this be connected to the fall of the USSR (more Us than US)?

  5. Rod Johnson said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    What is the thing the other is other to? "Us"? "I"? I don't think he's saying "there is no more us." After all, "Je est un autre."

  6. Jason said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

    @dw:

    Imagine the possibilities of this verb:

    "I tried to say hi to this girl but she was like totally othering me."

    I don't think you quite understand. This is already standard usage, at least within the humanities. Google "othering" and it immediately reveals hits like:

    "How does othering constitute cultural discrimination?"
    "Othering – Geek Feminism Wiki"
    "Othering and being othered in the context of health care services."
    "Impacts of Othering – Dismantling Arab Stereotypes"

    The possibilities have already been well and truly imagined.

  7. Kasper said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    In the UK, if you're over a certain age, 'the other' means 'sexual intercourse' (originally 'the other thing'.) This could lead to some interesting conversations between visitors & locals.

  8. Brett said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    @Kasper: That euphemism came up in John Mortimer's "Rumpole and the Judge's Elbow," in connection with a prostitution ring. When I saw the television dramatization rebroadcast in America, I thought it was a very odd way for the undercover cop character to proposition the woman giving him a massage. It makes a lot more sense if "the other" was an established expression.

    [(bgz) OED has the sexual euphemism from 1922, in two quotes from Joyce's Ulysses: "They would be just good friends like a big brother and sister without all that other" and "Bit light in the head. Monthly or effect of the other." It's also in Lady Chatterley's Lover: "She loved me to talk to her and kiss her... But the other, she just didn't want."]

  9. Cameron said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

    In philosophy, much of the discussion of The Other derives (these are often lengthy and circuitous derivations to be sure) from the work of Emmanuel Lévinas. Translators of Lévinas have had to deal with the distinction he is able to draw on in the French language between l'autre and l'autrui. Various conventions have been used to convey this distinction . . .

  10. Morten Jonsson said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    We have met the enemy and he is us.

  11. Brian said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    The other of my other is my brother?

  12. Mike G said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

    Perhaps othering only happens to someone else, but we're all someone else to someone else.

  13. Rubrick said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    That British usage is new to me. Makes this sort of survey question rather intriguing:

    Sex:
    1. Male
    2. Female
    3. Other

  14. Philip said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

    Don't forget the punning possibilities with "utter" and "udder."

  15. Saskia said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

    Someone who is completely excluded has been utterly othered. A cow who has been completely excluded, udderly othered.

  16. Alex Boulton said,

    November 9, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    Another snowclone which has been discussed here before I think, "X is the new Y".
    The clothing manufacturer Morgan has a series of advertisements with "happy is the new chic"; you can see lots of examples if you put this in inverted commas in Google Images.
    What's interesting is that this poster campaign is used heavily in France… in English (with the obligatory asterisk and tiny translation hidden somewhere in the photo).

  17. richard howland-bolton said,

    November 9, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    I've usually heard sexual euphemism (60's, 70's: southern England) as "a bit of the other", "getting a bit of the other".

  18. richard howland-bolton said,

    November 9, 2012 @ 6:52 am

    the sexual euphemism

  19. David Morris said,

    November 9, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    In one episode of the British political satire "Yes, Minister", the civil service bigwig is shocked when one of his circle is revealed as spying for the Russians. He says "But he was 'one of us'. If 'one of us' can be 'one of them', then … 'all of us' could be 'all of them'".

  20. KevinM said,

    November 9, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    So in German the euphemism for impotence would be "Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders."

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