The Importance and Dangers of “Othering” for Our Opponents

Image Courtesy of Mimi and Eunice
Image Courtesy of Mimi and Eunice

I had originally wanted to get this into yesterday’s post, but I couldn’t make it work without descending into “let me ramble on semi-coherently about yet another thing.” That’s a blogging style that I’ll leave to the resident expert, Brady Board Member Joan Peterson. In any kind of political fight you’re usually going to see both sides engaging in “othering,” namely setting your opponents outside the class of reasonable people, and often, even outside the class of people.

Most of us find it highly insulting, and I’m certainly no exception. I don’t like being compared to an unthinking animal, to the bottom rungs of society, or the lowest of the low any more than other people do. I don’t particularly appreciate seeing my liberty interested boiled down to some faceless “corporate gun lobby,” nor do I like seeing my views misrepresented as supporting “deep pocketed gun manufacturers,” or “merchants of death.”

But there’s an important strategic reason that they engage in this, and that’s because, “Hey, let’s go take away something important and meaningful from your friends, family and neighbors,” doesn’t have quite the same motivational ring as, “Let’s go stick it to those dumb, ignorant, stooges of the merchants of death!” That’s the first strategic goal of othering; people need an enemy and villain. Your friends, family and neighbors don’t make great enemies and villains unless you’re demented. So you have to be convinced that “those people” aren’t any of those things. For us, Bloomberg makes a great villain. He others himself. How many of us have megalomaniacal billionaires as friends, family or neighbors? No one? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

But there is a second prong to othering, one that can be introduced through this article by Tony Canales that speaks of liberal gun owners:

Writer Christopher Ketcham essentially comes out of the gun-ban closet and admits, openly, that as a Way-Lefty he and a number of his friends still like their guns. Furthermore, the reasons to have firearms  essentially parallel the very rationale of the Founding Fathers, that being of the need for the average citizen to oppose governmental tyranny as well as having the ability to defend oneself when being confronted by criminals and wildlife bent on harm.

The other purpose of it is to silence those people on your own side of the cultural divide for fear that they will be likewise othered into the negative cultural stereotype. In short, othering helps keep liberal and moderate gun owner’s mouths shut, and prevents them from speaking out. Anything we on our side do that makes people feel uncomfortable about joining us (I don’t know, like carrying AR-15s to Chilis at the low ready) only helps the other side other us.

But there is a downside to othering for our opponents: the crap they say about us is highly antagonistic to ordinary gun owners. Their othering can be a powerful means to bring more people into political engagement with the gun rights issue. When they accuse NRA of being “the corporate gun lobby,” it might be laughably false, but most gun owners aren’t NRA members. When they mention that gun owners only live in places that don’t have roads, are stupid for owning guns, and presumably also lack proper dental care, that insults about 80 million Americans, which is well more than half of the electorate if they all voted. Our opponents have a habit, going back many years, of taking things too far, of overreaching, and losing. What I worry about is seeing the same thing on my side of the issue.

So “othering” is a tactic that pretty much everyone uses in political battles. It’s distasteful, but it’s reality. But one can take it too far, and fortunately for us, our opponents do a lot of the hard work for us when it comes to bringing more people into the issue. I think it’s wise to keep their folly in mind when we look at our own side’s behavior.

17 thoughts on “The Importance and Dangers of “Othering” for Our Opponents”

  1. I’m one of those others. I’m a liberal (though not a Democrat – they’re too conservative for me) and a gun owner. And I’m not a buy a pistol and keep it in the nightstand type. I shoot regularly, both for practice and for fun.

    And I get the other from both sides. I get it worse from the gun owner side. Not all of them, but the immediate branding as a “libtard” makes it difficult for me to engage in any sort of conversation, even if it’s just about how much more fun it is to shoot a lever gun than you would reasonably expect if you’ve never done it before.

    I try to reach out to both sides. Sometimes it works. More often, I’m just written off as that other.

    1. That’s unfortunate. “Libtard” is one of my trigger words that if I read or hear it in someone’s argument, it will basically turn me off to anything else they have to say. And that’s not say I’m on the opposite side. I think we’re all generally better of “agreeing to disagree,” than just hurling pejoratives around.

      1. >agreeing to disagree

        I think, in a complex society, this is required. Even if we disagree on other issues, we can work together on those we do agree on (such as the 2A) without completely alienating each other. But I rarely engage anymore, because the responses tend to be visceral and completely nonproductive.

        Thanks for having a forum that isn’t like that.

        1. To be honest, there are a lot of money changers in the temple that profit from dividing people along convenient lines, for them.

          I think there is such a think as American populism, and no proper ideologist really likes the implication. Jacksonian populism is crude, at its core. It is unthoughtful, and unnitellectual. But it is very much American. As much as Apple Pie, I think. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement are born from it.

          The founding father of American Populism, Andrew Jackson, is the embodiment of what I’m talking about.People on both sides of the spectrum could probably have a reasonable conversation about what ah asshole Jackson was, but Jacksonian populism is alive and well in this country, and I think elites on both side fear it.

          I fear it too, because I think once it’s unleashed, no one really knows where it will land. But I think one party will figure it out. Which one I don’t know. But I think we’re in for a populist uprising, and money changers on both side are going to be the losers. Intellectuals might be too.

      2. You can “agree to disagree” until the government shows up to enforce their viewpoint on your liberty and rights, and at that juncture you will realize just what allowing them to “disagree” without absolutely effective opposition will mean to you, PERSONALLY.

        “Libtard” is too innocuous a term for them.

  2. That’s the first strategic goal of othering; people need an enemy and villain.

    This tactic worked very well for Hitler.
    Give the masses someone to hate and you can get away with

  3. I think it’s easy to “other” NRA members because let’s face it, we make up a paltry amount of overall gun owners. Of course part of it is the anti-gun propaganda about how the NRA is some kind of front for manufacturers, but I think a lot of gun owners just don’t want to be associated with such a fervent organization.

    I think even if the NRA would make more effort to attract left-leaning gun owners (I’m a life member but am personally starting to take issue with how their annual meetings are morphing from a strictly pro-gun one to basically CPAC II), they would never come close to totaling the number of gun owners in the country because I think as with any interest or hobby the number of people who simply partake in it always overwhelmingly outnumber those who actually join groups, pay dues, or vote with it in mind. I think it’s just an indication of how our society is more than anything else. We all enjoy the things we enjoy but generally don’t take it to the next level.

    Gun owner vs. NRA member
    Hunter vs. NWTF member
    Driver vs. AAA member
    Enjoy Star Trek vs. STARFLEET member

    1. I agree with you on the politics of the NRA annual meetings — and I’m a conservative who thinks Rush Limbaugh is sometimes “too squishy”. (Of course, I’m also a libertarian on most domestic issues, so there is that. . . )

      I want my single-issue organizations to remain single issue, not become branches of the GOP.

  4. I’d say “nice article” but I am a communist socialist who wants to take away your freedom.

  5. “I don’t like being compared to an unthinking animal, to the bottom rungs of society, or the lowest of the low any more than other people do.”

    I understand. And you, because of your sane and correct comprehension of American First Principles and your patriotism, shouldn’t be.

    But progressives ARE worthy of those categorizations. They are worthless, anti-American, unprincipled tyrants-in-waiting.

    In other words, they are not our “fellow citizens”, by definition, because they have “othered” US. They are SCUM and when push comes to shove, they are our enemies.

  6. I always raise a skeptical eyebrow whenever anyone, no matter how well-intentioned or educated, claims that anything that the gun-grabbers do is “well thought out”, “conceived” whatever. The simple fact of the matter is, is that they are remarkably stupid people. It doesn’t matter how many degrees they may have. It doesn’t matter which cities they are mayors of, or which businesses they are CEOs of. It wouldn’t strain anyone here to name several dozen CEOs, mayors, governors, etc. who are apocalyptically stupid, and their stupidity is showcased in the abominable conditions of their businesses, cities and states. That being said, those of us here know without any reasonable doubt whatsoever that the vast majority (if not all) gun grabbers are truly and willfully ignorant of the facts regarding crime not only in this nation but in others, the Constitution of the United States, and the rights to self determination and self defense in general—content to vent their unreasoning, unnatural, and immoral rage and violent actions against anyone who does not conform to their illogical and preposterously unlikely imagined Utopia.

    They are like sheep, milling around mindlessly until a sheep dog—who is assuredly NOT about rights one way or the other, but is entirely about control—races in and causes blind panic.

    The people like Mothers Demand Action, and MAIG, etc. are made up of sheeple. They are not the ones we should be worried about, because we see time and time again that they are hopelessly outclassed and outmaneuvered by thinking people like you and me. It is the few who create those groups who are the ones we should be fighting. Eliminate them, and their followers will go back to milling aimlessly around in their pens.

    1. I think you’re both right and wrong about this. Bloomberg, for example, has clearly demonstrated an ability to think, analyze and plan–otherwise, he wouldn’t be a megalomaniac billionaire, in a position to do damage to gun rights.

      But then he goes and makes stupid gaffes, like announcing terrorists as gun victims, or announcing Everytown before securing Facebook pages, or claiming that populous cities in Colorado don’t have roads. It’s as if he’s completely clueless about the people he’s opposing!

      And I think that’s the key: the Gun Control movement isn’t interested in learning about guns, or the people who have embraced gun culture. They don’t care what a barrel shroud is; they only know it’s related to guns, and therefore must be scary. They could care less about individual gun owners, because they are confident that the gun rights movement is solely the creation of Evil Gun Merchants of Death, so they are caught by surprise, again and again, when individuals watching the Gun Control Movement closely snatch up, again and again, their websites, shortly after they announce their initiative, or when they organize and carry off recall elections.

      It isn’t just that they are ignorant, but that they are willfully so: they have so much disdain about guns and the people who own them, that they are absolutely unwilling to “get their hands dirty” and actually learn something about guns and gun culture.

      And, in an odd sort of way, it might actually be good for their cause: if Bloomberg actually became deeply familiar with guns, and with shooting sports, and self defense, and even the reasoning the Founding Fathers had in creating the Second Amendment, it’s quite possible that he’d change his mind and join the fight to preserve our rights. At the same time, this ignorance hinders The Cause to ban guns, because they think they are hurting Gun Culture, when in reality they only strengthen our resolve…

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