Prompted by the vilification of asylum seekers, I'm discussing how the idea of an 'other' is often used to prop up a weak selfhood.
We don't have a well-formed identity, so we need something to define ourselves against. A sample:
In Being and Time, Heidegger wrote of 'das Man' referring to the anonymous 'they' we bow to. 'They' say refugees are terrorists. 'They' say the Duchess of Cambridge is having twins. Another translation is 'one': 'one' does not question press releases.
For Heidegger, das Man is more than rumour or gossip. And it's not an actual community. Instead, it is a nameless, faceless mandate for one's ideas, values, emotions. It is the mass authority to which we defer, as we avoid any responsibility for our own existence.
But this 'they' can also provide a mass to work against. 'They' becomes a 'them': the others, against whom we shut our doors or launch our drones. The Third Reich and their followers – Heidegger himself was a card-carrying Nazi – had Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, communists and other 'degenerates'. Many Australians have an equivalent: the loony left, the blue-tie right, the home-wrecking feminists, the mad-bomber Muslims, the nihilistic atheists and, of course, the refugees.
Put simply, 'they' and 'them' are crutches for a limp existence: a team to hand-pass one's responsibility to, or an opponent to hip-and-shoulder for kudos. Either way, they supplement a well-crafted 'I' and 'we'.(Photo: SMH)