Contemplating otherness

After the excitement of election day, I spent most of the past week trying to figure out just what it all meant.

The election of the nation’s first African-American president, followed shortly thereafter by the heart-breaking results on Prop 8. And at the same time, the meaning of bikeism, after a stomach-wrenching report of a deliberate attack on a group of Aussie cyclists.

And contemplating the confluence of these seemingly unrelated events.

It took awhile to penetrate my sluggish grey matter, but it finally sank in that what these events all had in common was the concept of otherness — the objectification of people who are, somehow, found to be different from those judging them.

Just as the people in that car down under saw themselves as somehow different from, and therefore superior to, the “wankers” on their bikes, and so decided they were deserving of death.

Just as 52% of the voters in California saw themselves as somehow different from, and therefore superior to, a minority population, and so decided they were undeserving of equality under the law.

And just as a sizable minority of the population tried to convince Americans that Barrack Obama was a closeted Muslim, and someone who would betray the U.S. to its enemies, and therefore undeserving of being elected president. A canard impressive for its sheer audacity, since it was based on two simultaneous fallacies — first that Obama was/is a Muslim, and second, that there is something inherently wrong with the Islamic faith, rather than a relative handful who profess to follow it.

Fortunately, most Americans had the intelligence to see through the lies; to see the man, rather than the fraudulent image some had tried to create.

If only the voters in California had shown the same insight.

Over the past week, the news has been full of people who said they voted against same-sex marriage because they felt homosexuality — and therefore, gay marriage — was a moral failure, rather than a civil rights issue. Never mind that by voting yes on 8, they condemned gays to second-class status under the state constitution. And no one I know ever chose to be gay, any more than I chose to be white or my next door neighbor choose to be black.

On the other hand, bicycling is a choice, yet one that is protected under the law. And certainly not one which justifies the hatred and violent vigilantism demonstrated by the Australian attack, or by the good doctor’s Mandeville brake check.

What these all have in common is the objectification of another human being. Because it’s hard — if not impossible — to attack other people, physically or otherwise, if you see them as equals. As real human beings, with needs and desires, families and emotions.

But if you can classify them in some way as different from yourself — as an Islamic terroist, a faggot or an arrogant, obnoxious cyclist — you no longer have to show them the courtesy and respect that is the birthright of every human. And then it becomes easy to attack them physically, emotionally, or legally.

Something I’ll try to remember then next time some driver cuts me off or passes too close, and I’m tempted to curse all drivers — a category that includes virtually everyone I know.

Including myself.


Gary and Lauren write about some of the No on 8 protests; this one made it almost impossible for me to get home last week, and kept us awake as the helicopters and sirens continued well past midnight. But if that’s why you’re protesting, you can keep me up anytime. Alex writes about last weekend’s RoboRide, while Bike Snob describes his first SoCal Critical Mass — including an unfortunate Raccoon encounter. Around here, even the famous bike — and get hurt; actor James Cromwell was hospitalized over the weekend with a broken collarbone following a weekend bike accident. A Times writer got robbed by another cyclist while riding her bike. According to the LA Creek Freak, the city is finally going to get around to closing some of the gaps in the L.A. River bikeway. Finally, a happy Veteran’s Day to all those who’ve served their country; CNN reports on a Loma Linda vet who was held in a POW camp at Buchenwald.

One comment

  1. disgruntled says:

    I have to admit, I failed the test and did, briefly, curse all drivers after my close encounter. But then I remembered how courteous most of the other drivers here are, and settled for just cursing that particular one…

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