Background report: Inventing The Other!

MONDAY, JUNE 24, 2013

Buddhist lynch mobs and the factions around Anne Frank: Unless we consult the better angels of our nature, we humans will split into two warring tribes in every way that is possible.

For one example, you might consider Thomas Fuller’s front-page report in Friday’s New York Times. Fuller describes a surprising new case in which a well-known group has been hunting and killing The Other:
FULLER (6/21/13): The world has grown accustomed to a gentle image of Buddhism defined by the self-effacing words of the Dalai Lama, the global popularity of Buddhist-inspired meditation and postcard-perfect scenes from Southeast Asia and beyond of crimson-robed, barefoot monks receiving alms from villagers at dawn.

But over the past year, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords and the vituperative sermons of monks like Ashin Wirathu have underlined the rise of extreme Buddhism in Myanmar—and revealed a darker side of the country’s greater freedoms after decades of military rule. Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
“Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims.” There is no way to invent, then loathe, The Other that we humans won’t devise.

For a second example of this impulse, consider Scott Sayare’s report about the two warring factions which now surround Anne Frank.

There have been no lynchings here. But a lawsuit has now been filed between the two organizations Otto Frank created to oversee the memory of his brilliant daughter.

Otto Frank created the Anne Frank House, which operates a very famous museum in Amsterdam. And he created the Anne Frank Fonds, which was “founded in 1963 to manage the copyrights to the Anne Frank diary.”

Now, these organizations are in a cold war about the way Anne Frank’s legacy should be explained to the world. Undoubtedly, each group has valid points to make. We recommend that you read Sayare’s report about their long-running dispute.

But when we humans invent The Other, we wipe away all favorable thoughts about the point of view of that group, which we long to loathe. As Sayare described the genesis of the lawsuit, we were most struck by the highlighted passage:
SAYARE (6/17/13): There are few images of the Holocaust [at the Anne Frank House], or of concentration camps or Nazi propaganda, a choice the Fonds has criticized.

The museum is “missing context,” said Yves Kugelmann, a Fonds board member and spokesman. Anne’s smiling face is “overpresent,” Mr. Kugelmann said, and the House has become a “pilgrimage place” where the girl is used “for everything and nothing.”

“They have a, let’s say, wrong perception of the truth and history,” he said, in an echo of decades of debate over Anne’s portrayal in popular culture.
There could never be just one correct way to tell Anne Frank’s astonishing story. That said, one official at the Anne Frank Fonds seems sure that his counterparts at the Anne Frank Museum “have a wrong perception of the truth and history.”

What happens when we invent The Other? Just a bit later, Sayare reports that Kugelmann recently compared an action by the Anne Frank House “to the seizure by ‘the Germans and their accomplices’ of the Frank family’s possessions.” This is where things tend to go when we practice to loathe.

Anne Frank didn’t conjure the world this way, and she was brilliant and deeply mature, a point we’ll extend tomorrow. That said, we liberals are training ourselves these days in the best ways to loathe The Other.

As we will explain all week, we think it’s a bad idea. Before you know it, those Buddhist lynch mobs can be out in the streets.


  1. As someone who is sometimes guilty of excessive loathing (in case you're wondering, I think it's okay to loathe war criminals), good post. As usually tends to be the case with us humans, I see this tendency most clearly in others. And yeah, it's very common with some of my fellow liberals unfortunately. Some conservative or libertarian will actually take a stance that is pro-human rights, but if it is critical of something Obama is doing then it doesn't matter. It's a conservative or libertarian making the point, therefore it's wrong, because conservatives and libertarians are evil in every conceivable way and can never be more correct than any liberal.

    1. ...and vice versa.

    2. Good comment, echoing Glenn greenwald on Democracy Now this morning.