Otherisation

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Hi there. I hope you will watch the above video in which I have my “stiff upper lip” face on – it’s almost always on these days – and talk about how the UK government persistently has been vilifying migrants for a long time and most recently has been touting the myth that EU migrants are low-wage, low-skilled labour, a cheap commodity on which the UK has been relying for far too long.

That’s otherisation, a term apparently first used by Oxford neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor, for example in her 2009 book “Cruelty. Human evil and the human brain.” Some people now also call it “othering”. Neuroscience plays a major role in otherisation, which is why pointing fingers and blaming people for otherising behaviours is not always the right thing to do. But it is very hard to avoid.

…even mild otherisation primes people for aggression”

– Kathleen Taylor

Talking about cruelty makes it easier to be cruel – unless one’s talk incurs swift punishment. Acting out the otherising ideas, especially in a group whose members compete for status and egg each other on, can push people into extreme otherisation with remarkable speed.”

– Kathleen Taylor

One “reason why people sometimes fail to to empathize with those who look different or believe different things than they do” may be because “it’s metabolically costly for the brain to deal with things that are hard to predict”, writes neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett in “Seven and a half lessons about the brain”.

The more familiar people are to you, the easier it is to empathise with them. There is a certain unpleasantness to learning something new, Feldman Barrett explains and that’s because the brain does not necessarily want to put in the work. Brains clearly do not exist in a vacuum, but depend on interactions with others, however. The more we limit our interactions to “people like us”, the harder it is to empathise with others.

This is why it is so dangerous that potato head politicians deliberately sow division, pitch people against imaginary enemies and then promise to defend them against that enemy to gain votes rather than seek to unite.

We also have growing extremism among police officers, not just in the UK but also in countries like France: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jul/10/growing-culture-of-extremism-among-uk-and-european-police-forces-report-warns

In the UK, particularly the police forces of London and Bristol are sources of great concern (the Met and Avon & Somerset).

That said, I also urge you to watch this video about policing and the brain, in which Lisa Feldman Barrett also features. It may provide you with very valuable insights that make it easier to see where (some) police officers are coming from. They only have a split second to make their decisions, and it’s usually their brains that decide for them.

If the topic of otherisation interests you, then please also watch this talk by Rebecca Saxe about the neuroscience of hate. She gave it at Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics in 2019.

The more familiar people are to you, the easier it is to empathise with them, Feldman Barrett points out i her book, I just said. That’s more or less also what Rebecca Saxe found.

Rebecca Saxe interestingly and importantly remarts that some people – notably liberals – tend to believe that more parochial people are less empathetic, but that this is not the case. They are merely committed to a different distribution of their empathy. The level of empathy they have is just as high.

We see other people as less empathetic, apparently, if they don’t empathise with the same beings that we empathise with? If they don’t hold the same opinions?

That in itself is a form of otherisation.

I hear this bias frequently when I listen to American liberals and to English Remain voters, but I also saw it a little bit in the Covid vaccination debates.

In her talk, Saxe says a lot about out-groups and in-groups. In England, I’m in many out-groups.

I am not only a migrant, portrayed by some as cheap, low-skilled labour and hence perceived as (a thief and) a liar by others. By the way, isn’t it ironic within this context that I – with none of the UK government’s massive resources behind me and presented to the British public as a low-skilled and cheap labourer – found myself repeatedly ahead of the UK government when the Covid pandemic hit? 🤣

But I’m also, for example, a woman (seen as fragile and feeble-minded as well as desperate for a man) and I’m over 45 (seen as a cantankerous 3-year-old who doesn’t want to admit that she’s gone senile and can no longer keep up).

The perceived mental slowness of the over-45s is often merely caused by the fact that their near-sight is declining and that it takes them longer to focus on anything that’s within close range. I am the first to raise my hand and admit that I am guilty of this prejudice because I too, as a 20- or 30-something didn’t realize that this why I sometimes saw slightly older people as “slower”. It simply took them longer to find certain keys on their keyboard or read certain things on their screen but it was their eyes that were slowing them down.

You will now even often see me make odd typos, as I am in my sixties myself and often have trouble focusing on my screen. You will also see me skip words sometimes. (I usually correct these hiccups later.)

Otherisation is about whether you are in an in-group or an out-group, says Rebecca Saxe, and disparity (and worse) arises from power imbalances between those groups. There usually is no evil intent behind this. It just happens this way, but it can later spiral out of control. The feeling that there is not enough to go around, for everyone, plays a crucial role. In times of scarcity, you look out for “your own kind” first. It’s automatic.

In England, the poor are also often seen as subhuman, which is tragic as about one third of the English population lives in poverty so that the UK government can balance it books without inconveniencing the rich too much.

Instead of empowering the poor, agency is often taken away from them, again as if they are flawed individuals, adults who are like three-year-olds. (If you tell people that they are like three-year-olds, keep repeating the message, keep treating them as if they are like three-year-olds, they may eventually start behaving like three-year-olds. If you leave people powerless, childish rebellion is often all they are left with. Some may escape into crime and gang life to find some sense of significance.)

Sometimes, people with political influence even talk about how the poor should be sterilised.

However, poverty is not a character flaw or the result of a gene defect but a mere lack of sufficient cash to support oneself, Rutger Bregman pointed out in his 2017 TED Talk. (Rutger Bregman later became famous when he took a stand at the World Economic Forum in Davos and lambasted the rich. He did not get invited back after that. If you point out things that clash with people’s beliefs, you tend to be perceived as a threat. Kathleen Taylor discusses this in her book “Cruelty”.)

“Poverty is a political choice,” agrees Philip Alston. He is an Australian national, a law professor at NYU who’s investigated poverty all over the world, as a Special Rapporteur for the United Nations.

This means that governments play a major role with regard to the level of otherisation in their countries and how often this otherisation results in cruelty.

As individuals, we may not have as much influence on whether we will be cruel as we would like. We may see ourselves as people who could never ever be cruel. Because we find it easier to be cruel to people who we otherise (without even noticing it) and we tend to see cruelty as something that only other people do. That’s why it is so important to know how otherisation comes about. Because otherisation lowers the threshold to cruelty.

Back to the UK now.

Migrants have also been paraded as the reason why wages in the UK are so low and that this is one of the many reasons why the UK needed to leave the EU.

In reality, it looks like the UK needed to leave the EU so that the UK government could start tearing down workers’ rights in Britain (so that scrupulous, already very wealthy people can become wealthier?) and so that it could finally do away with those pesky human rights.

Human rights were not invented by the EU and are not intended to frustrate the British government. They are not about the right of prisoners to watch porn or about whether a proven terrorist can be deported if he has a pet cat.

Human rights are very basic rights such as the right to peace and safety in your home and to be free from burglaries, the right to good health and healthcare, and the right to choose your own profession and the right to work – without a government turning groups of people into slaves – and the right to celebrate one’s culture and be free from discrimination and harassment. It includes the right to vote. They are also intended to stop governments from going overboard and starting to eradicate certain people from the population by putting them in concentration camps and killing them.

These rights were drawn up after the atrocities of World War II when the west swore it would never allow anything like that to ever happen again. The UK played a major role in the drawing up of those rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a heavy emphasis on westerns values and these rights have also been regionally adapted into a workable set of rules such as the European Convention on Human Rights. It was signed in 1950 and became effective in 1953. The EU was founded in 1993, by contrast.

The English usually speak of “Europe” to refer to either the EU or to the European continent, that landmass beyond Ramsgate, Dover, Harwich, Hull, Folkstone, Portsmouth, Newhaven, Southampton, Poole, Plymouth and Newcastle. That expression of British exceptionalism still does not magically relocate Britain to the other side of the world or even to another planet. Britain is in Europe, whether it likes it or not. It is a geographical fact that no amount of English wishful thinking can change.

The real problem with those pesky human rights, of course, is that rights come with obligations, also for rich industrialists like Arron Banks. We can only have rights by the grace of others respecting those rights. Others can only have rights by the grace of us respecting their rights. Whether we like it or not, whether we like those other people or not, does not matter.

That’s because we all have these rights. Because we are all human. We are all human beings.

(An obvious exception is made with regard to prisoners. Their freedom has been taken away from them and whether prisoners can vote varies by country.)

Hi there. Still with me? Grrreat.

I’m a critical thinker and researcher, and perhaps an educator. You can see me as an advocate, too, if you want, or an activist, a thought leader or a ninja warrior.

I’ve been in Hampshire since the end of 2004, smack on England’s south-central coast. I’m from Amsterdam and have previously lived in the US, where I felt really at home. I had not expected that at all. I had been fed a lot of myths about America and certainly also about balmy but supposedly oh so dangerous Florida.

Both the Netherlands and the US have a much more direct communication style than England where English people regularly drive foreigners crazy with their convoluted and immensely time-consuming ways of trying to get a message across – leaving ample room for misinterpretation – and where women are expected to know their place, that is, be seen but not heard, look cute and act subservient unless they are prepared to grow a very thick skin and swim against a strong current of perpetual disapproval.

So I was frequently seen as a loudmouth who did not know her place, someone who was far too confident, certainly for a woman and a foreigner, after I moved to England.

I was also someone who did strange, suspicious highly un-English things such as trying to make small talk and even address complete strangers.

Taken aback by how easily offended I found the English to be, how frequently upset and flustered they responded to things I said or did or wore, or didn’t, how badly impacted they sometimes were by something I said – I am talking about strangers here – and for how long, I started tiptoeing around them, as if on egg shells, very careful not to step on their oh so long toes.

This apparently English over-sensitivity is not something that I associate with mentally healthy adults.

But then again, English humor is often also only crystal-clear to English people, while bewildering to others who may even find it sadistic.

One of the hardest things to deal with, for me, is that near-pathological obsession of English people with strangers in their community and the degree to which they often vilify these strangers. But it’s also what the UK government does, so it has to be cultural to some degree and I should respect that. This too, after all, is part of the human rights. It includes the right of the English to gossip about strangers or be obsessed with celebs.

This otherisation of strangers is also sometimes called insularity.

Becoming the subject of malicious gossip, declaring hem part of an out-group and blocking their access, that’s how such strangers can become marginalised and isolated, however. They can get pushed into poverty and can even end up being the target of physical attacks, such as happened to Bijan Ebrahimi and the Sim family in Bristol. It has the potential to not only wreck but end lives.

Having operated at a much faster pace and at a very different professional level before I moved to England, being used to much higher levels of efficiency, I started otherising too. I found most of the English provincial and unmotivated, often nasty or at least petulant, lazy, slow-paced, often rather backward and frequently not making much sense, and certainly far from efficient.

I used to be afraid to say this, fearing the wrath of the English, and kept to myself, focusing on what I considered more positive and more empowering and more promising. (This sometimes led to people perceiving me as shy and insecure, also about my own abilities.)

I have meanwhile realised that a lot of this is the result of prolonged deep poverty as well as the class structure. (Think: “government politicians looking after their own and their pals’ interests, ignoring other people’s interests to the extent that they can get away with”.) Never having seen anything like it before, I did not realise the massive impact this has on people. It is to a large degree also purely the result of people not being able to function well as a result of prolonged deprivation.

However, how I saw things, this is also how the English often see themselves and how they think of their own country. They aren’t proud of their country, but often seem embarrassed about it, which has puzzled me from the beginning because I have not come across this in other countries (although the election of Donald Trump changed that for many Americans).

This:

10 July 2022: “It wears your soul down.”

What a strange contradictory package this makes…

On some level, this must also be why the English are so concerned about foreigners.

They also often seek to emulate continental sophistication, that is, the ones who have experienced other cultures enough to become aware of how differently these cultures tick. You encounter it in the descriptions of eateries, for example.

I don’t stand alone in my views. I have heard it from others.

An English expert on cultural differences, Richard D. Lewis, points out the famous or infamous way the British – make that: English – think and calls it “muddled” in his book “When cultures collide” and concludes the chapter on Britain as follows:

“Finally, there is the question of British insularity. Brits generally have a feeling that foreigners intend to ‘outsmart’ them.”

If the English – because I think that this is primarily about the English – feel that foreigners intend to outsmart them and if the English seek to emulate their perceived sophistication, then how do they manage to combine that with the colonial view that people from countries beyond Dover are all cheap, low-skilled, uneducated and useless or “daft and naive”?

Feelings of personal insecurity? Or a feeling that there is not enough to go around for everyone? The latter usually lies at the root of otherisation, after all. It is the driving force behind increasing income inequality.

But where does this British habit of otherisation come from?

Maybe we can find an explanation if we take a look at the 19th century, which was a very impactful period in Britain’s history.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was one of the founders of a way of thinking that has impacted England very heavily (utilitarianism). (France, by contrast, rejected its own version of utilitarianism, concocted by Claude Adrien Helvétius. Remember this.)

When you look into Mill, you get the impression that while he certainly was not keen on the British working class, calling them liars, he wasn’t very fond of the British in general either. He considered the British “parochial” and took pride in being able to read and communicate in French. Mill first visited France at the age of 14 and reported that he enjoyed the “free and genial atmosphere of Continental life” very much.

Mill also noticed that the French didn’t suppress their feelings, whereas 19th-century Britons did. Both Mill and his father didn’t know what to do with emotions.

This stems from a fascination with the stoics, which was misinterpreted by the English as the need to suppress one’s emotions rather than to understand them and deal with them in a Buddha-like fashion (which is to acknowledge and accept emotions without judging them).

This is behind the famous phenomenon of the stiff upper lip. It has created generations of what have been called “emotionally stunted” individuals who often behave like rowdy and unruly teenagers. Drama queens who do not know how to accept and regulate their emotions and who believe that a robot-like demeanour is something to be strived for, thus sometimes exploding and going overboard after imbibing alcohol.

This suppression of feelings may be why English people often appear very tense to me. They don’t come across as secure and relaxed to me, but as coiled springs confined to tight steel corsets of the mind and frequently obsessed with inconsequential trivial matters. (Of course, this does not go for everyone! Hush! Besides, I also know very well that the English are highly flexible. They have to be, to survive.)

The stiff upper lip phenomenon also seems to have made it possible for a succession of British governments to cause widespread deep poverty among the British population because this stiff upper lip has taught the British never to stand up for themselves and not complain about hardship and pain. To a large degree, these good folks still see themselves not as citizens but as subjects who must obey and not have ideas above their station.

Are we now also seeing some of this reflected in the UK government’s wish to curb the right to protest, shackle courts and judges, and stop journalists from writing about matters that inconvenience the government by threatening to put them in prison for up to 14 years if they do?

By the way, have I just also discovered why “mad” means “angry” in American English yet “crazy” or at least “silly” or “foolish” in British English?

To a far too large degree, the British survive in spite of their government’s policies, not because of them, and so they have a tendency to grumble and whinge all day long. For some of them, their frustration and pain only come roaring to the surface when they get drunk. This can land them in prison. That’s sad.

Brexit was also supposed to restore British values.

Have you heard of the “Prevent” strategy? If you have, then you are likely aware that organisations that encourage cycling or that advocate against senseless badger culls and also Extinction Rebellion were on the list of organisations associated with “terrorism” within the Prevent context.

Part of the counter-terrorism police’s Prevent strategy is to promote so-called fundamental British values. These values oddly enough include democracy (odd because democracy is being hollowed out by the government), and also the rule of law, respect and tolerance as well as individual liberty.

Tolerance is the degree to which something bad can be put up with, so “respect” seems to refer to the old class differences. I don’t quite know how to interpret “individual liberty” within an English context, certainly not if lemming-like blind obedience to the government is the end goal.

Although “respect and tolerance” actually stand for “mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”, I still come away with the impression that this is about “putting up with” rather than “accepting and embracing as equally valid and valuable”.

Maybe looking at Mill again can help explain what I mean.

Mill was home-schooled and his father started him on reading classical Greek at age 3. He began learning Latin soon after and read Homer in the original Latin at age 7 or thereabouts. Mill put great emphasis on intellectual pleasures and considered food (and housing and shelter, no doubt) and also sex as sources of lower pleasures.

I think it is fair to say that Mill’s views on life were probably somewhat distorted. Wouldn’t he in fact have declared a large part of his own life a failure or at least a life of cultural poverty if he had openly placed at least as much value on other types of pleasure than the ones that he indulged in?

Perhaps you can also say that Mill merely put up with for example the “belief” that food is more than a “lower pleasure” and ignored the fact that people need good nutrition because in his own world, access to good food was a given. He didn’t need to place any emphasis on it. It was not important to him because the need for food never featured in his life.

He placed greater emphasis on what can be regarded luxuries if you look at it from the situation of the working class people he so despised.

Isn’t that a form of otherisation?

Mill’s mentor Jeremy Bentham, the co-founder of utilitarianism, went to Oxford University at age 12, studying law. He was well to do, did not need to work and was free to pursue his own pleasures. He was one of the founders of what later became University College London (UCL). You could say that this is where the idea of eugenics was invented as this was the intellectual home of Francis Galton and of the Galton Laboratory. In the past decade, eugenics again featured at UCL, in secret meetings held on its campus.

Bentham was the one who proposed to round up beggars, not necessarily to help them but apparently mostly because their visible presence decreased the happiness of the more fortunate. He wanted the beggars to be put to work in workhouses, in an order that, according to him, would reduce unhappiness. He wanted the deaf and dumb “next to raving lunatics, or persons of profligate conversation”, aged women next to “prostitutes and loose women”, and the blind next to the “shockingly deformed”.

Isn’t this about eugenics? Isn’t this about otherisation?

It certainly seems to be the opposite of accepting human diversity and promoting equality.

It is part of the explanation why the level of income inequality in England is so excessive and it is why poor people too often get moved across large distances, away from places like London where the sight of them offends the affluent.

So let’s counter this and let’s keep busting myths. Other people are simply people. Just like you. They are not “by definition” this or that. The only quality that we all have by definition is that we are human.

With regard to my own local situation, I know that the worst thing I can do is tiptoe around the locals and “tolerate” their beliefs and cultural habits, for example, when they sling insults at me that come from the crevasses of their own minds, not to mention the alcohol they’ve drunk in the pubs where they cook up gossip about the strangers in their midst (and sometimes plan all kinds of activities focused on those strangers).

Because, people, that’s very often – far too often – abuse. It is not a matter of me “needing to respect your culture” in which everyone shouts insults at everyone else.

You’re going to be laughing next.

Doing my utmost to avoid stepping on the long toes of the people around me in Southampton affected me so badly that I even found myself automatically whispering in my own home with its paper-thin Victorian floors. (When carers came in to look after the lady with Alzheimer’s in the flat below, and opened and closed kitchen drawers, it sounded like they were throwing heavy armchairs against the ceiling.)

I heard about the London 7/7 attacks in 2005 from someone in Canada, not from the guy with the stern emotionless face in whose shop I asked for something, impatiently, very frustrated with something that I had just done to my hair, completely unaware of what had just happened in London. (I went back the next day to apologize.)

After those attacks, a Dutch colleague who had moved to England at about the same time as I had, to be with her English partner, warned me that people around me were likely to wonder if I might have anything to do with those attacks. I’d been keeping the curtains closed to keep the sunshine off my computer screen after all and it was known, she said, that the attackers had used a computer and added that the people around me were bound to know that I had two computers. I am not making this up.

In England, it can also happen to you that a stranger in a shop suddenly turns on you, terribly offended that you “have been checking him out”, while you hadn’t even noticed him plus have a partner at home anyway or a shop owner with who you are having a conversation suddenly starts repeating loudly “don’t worry about it” (which in this kind of situation means “get the hell out of here”) without explaining why he suddenly got angry.

We foreigners generally have a hard time figuring you out, you English, particularly if we are from a culture in which people are very direct. British insularity in the sense of how Richard Lewis describes it in his book seems to have been what got me to start tiptoeing around you and it also got me to hang one or two pullovers with university decals behind the door so that anyone looking through the window in the door could see them and conclude that perhaps I really was who I said I was, a self-employed scientist.

But the English also play lots of games… and many of these English “oversensitive” responses are also just a game.

The English aren’t WYSIWYG, that’s for sure.

They negotiate very differently than the rest of us, often slinging mud at you, trying to make you angry so that they can find out what you are really thinking, what you really want, is their reasoning, expecting you to be playing the same games as they are, or to drive you crazy so that you’ll agree to anything just to make them go away.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/dec/25/make-what-you-want-seem-normal-david-frost-and-the-brexit-deal

We’ve also seen this with the Brexit negotiations. Theresa May drove even Angela Merkel crazy. “But what is it that you want? Just tell me what you want!” the latter exclaimed at the former one day.

The entire world is still curious to find out what on earth England thinks to achieve, what it wants from Brexit. Why: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/ etc

According to former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, there are three main types of negotiators. The English appear to fall in the “analyst” category whereas I am in the category that clicks least well with the “analyst” type, namely “assertive”. In trying to mould myself to English habits, I probably became too much of the “accommodator” type and lost myself in the process, accommodating to the point of whispering in my own home.

But then again, I’ve also always had a tendency to mediate.

In my experience, negotiations are a matter of give and take for most other people, certainly in business. Both parties make clear what they want and then they negotiate until they have a compromise that they can both live with. Because you can’t negotiate well if you don’t know what the other party wants and in business, you can’t provide the other party with what he or she wants if that person does not say what he or she wants, or needs. (This is part of the reason why we have contracts. Agreements. It helps identify misunderstandings and miscommunications before they can become a problem.)

In some negotiations, that’s also because you need to know in which areas you may need to compromise or which bargaining chips you have – which offers you can make – to keep the other party happy, and vice versa.

Because everyone knows that you can’t always have what you want and you can’t keep and save your cake and eat it at the same time.

Not the English. They want to have their cake and eat it – and they want yours too. In contracts, they will also usually try to incorporate some leeway enabling them to have the upper hand later should they need it. They want to leave enough manoeuvring space for themselves. Wiggle room.

And they’ll test you to see if they will be able to get away with taking your cake.

This is part of why they play all these games of pretending to be offended when they aren’t. Whatever the cake is, they want to keep what they want a secret so that you won’t be tempted to take it away from them.

It’s just a game.

So, did otherising language also start out as a game in England? A game intended to find out what game you were playing, expected to be playing the same kind of games?

It’s probably the other way around (or a bit of both), people feeling that the power imbalances in the country were so huge that it is was imperative to protect themselves any way they could and not show any vulnerability. Maybe that’s what’s caused all that game-playing, the indirect language, the hinting rather than clear unequivocal statements. They play hide and seek.

Maybe this is why England, with its peculiar class system and its millions and millions of destitute and oh so miserable people is now awash in otherisation and verbal abuse.

This verbal abuse is often dismissed as mere banter, but this “banter” affects people’s minds and can cajole them into aggression and violence. If the “banter” victimises women, or LBGTQ+ people, or Goths, or people who aren’t white, the ensuing aggression and violence will also be aimed at women or LBGTQ+ people or Goths or people who aren’t white. This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. It is a result of how the human brain works. But it begins with the otherising “banter”.

This is how Nazi Germany developed too, isn’t it?

This is not only happening in England. We’ve seen how Donald Trump’s utterances convince a group of people to storm the Capitol on 6 January 2021.

On 23 June 2022, someone forced his way into a Dutch politician’s home. His wife and daughter were at home. Thankfully, three male engineers happened to be in the house too, installing a security system, and they threw the intruder out. The politician – Wybren van Haga – was in The Hague at the time, attending a debate about nitrogen (nitrate), currently a very hot topic in the Netherlands. He interrupted the proceedings to raise attention for the fact that sharp language can lead to acts of violence. He asked his colleagues to tone it down and not say things about each other such as “he is poison”. This particular intruder may have been in the throes of a mental health crisis, but that is beside the point.

The point is that words can have unintended consequences and that certainly goes for the language of otherisation, contempt and ridicule (so popular in English culture, sarcasm along with Schadenfreude being the main forms of “humour” here).

I used to ignore all the verbal crap flung at me here in England. In fact, I even often laughed along for a while, but it was not a matter of giving as good as you get. Ignoring the crap or laughing along signalled to the people abusing me that it was okay to continue to abuse me. One problem was also that I often didn’t even have the foggiest idea what they were going on about, even when it was clear that they were being abusive. At other times, I couldn’t even discern more than at best one of out of ten words of what the person was saying, with so many consonants having a tendency to disappear here. (The perfect English I learned in secondary school has little to do with most of the language I hear around me.)

In hindsight, I have to conclude that it really often was a matter of some people believing that I didn’t know my place and needed to be cut down to size. Other people, people I didn’t even know and who did not actually know me either, started spreading nasty rumours about me. In one case, someone lied to me straight to my face while painting me black to others behind my back, which I found out about through sheer coincidence. People were often targeting me because I was merely a woman, over 45, a foreigner and, oops, not married, the latter a sure sign that a woman is “not right in the head” and can safely be endlessly harassed without fear for repercussions. Poverty later got added to it, and made things far worse. I should not go around thinking that I could have independent thoughts and opinions.

But even before all that, I had already been attacked once, in the previous town.

I became very depressed and then angrier and angrier and angrier. Enough!

I recently told one local Englishwoman that she represented what was wrong with Portsmouth, and that I was going to beat her up if she yelled at me one more time. That helped. I think I literally said that I was going to put her in hospital or worse.

I learned the hard way that “asking nicely” rarely works in England. People will walk all over you when you do that in England. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets noticed here, the smooth-running well-balanced one gets ignored, no matter what people do to him or her.

Usually, the only thing that helps is telling people off, quite “aggressively” – not angrily and frustratedly, but calmly when needed, and also often authoritatively and in a loud, powerful voice – and sometimes risk getting beaten up, knowing that on most days, I am no longer a match for these 20-somethings and 30-somethings or 40-somethings.

I have stopped a couple of people from pulling a driver from his car in busy traffic to beat him up; they were likely high on meth and merely needed to be distracted. Yes, the woman then came for me – but did not touch me – and the guy got distracted enough to leave the driver of the car alone.

I have had women yell at me, even weeks later, after I told them that they shouldn’t leave small children in a car parked in strong sunshine, while they were inside a house, chatting away, door closed so that it was not even clear whose kids the kids in the car were and I started looking for a police car to flag down when knocking on doors initially got no result. (Do I understand that the women were worried about losing their children to child services? Yeah sure. So I instantly completely ignored them after they got to the car on the day in question, to indicate that I had no further interest in them – you can’t say anything at that point; that will only make things worse here in such situations – and I also ignored them afterward but one of them still stupidly started yelling at me (not about the kids, of course), weeks later, playing the game that English people often play, but having forgotten its purpose. Or maybe it was a game? Maybe she was trying to find out whether I had reported them somewhere after all? No. We all make mistakes. This particular mistake could have become one that they might have bitterly regretted and I was not out to harm these women in any way.

I have yelled at people harassing renters in their homes to get off the damn roofs or to get off the damn patio and I have probably stopped at least one man from breaking down the door of the house where his ex was living. And when men get into a row here or work themselves into a frenzy, sometimes stopping traffic, then I also sometimes interfere and get them to move on. Sometimes, one woman calmly standing there, not even saying much, or anything, can be all it takes to break it up.

I must say that after years and years of having experienced England first-hand, it becomes hard not to start acting out too occasionally.

No, England is not quite the cute, sweet or romantic country that many people abroad swoon about. It is drenched in excessive inequality but it is also not WYSIWYG; a lot goes on here that is hidden from the casual observer’s eyes or that may look like a rare anomaly, but isn’t.

There certainly isn’t the sense of safety and security here that I know from other countries, and when the 2011 riots broke out, I was not surprised at all. For years, there had been so much tension in the air here. It was bound to explode one day.

I’ve been in England since the end of 2004. Otherisation and (neuro)diversity as well as forensic psychology have became the main topics that I’ve been dealing with and researching for 10 to 15 years now.

Otherisation, including the “banter”, can of course be a form of displaced aggression. Displaced aggression is anger caused by one source redirected towards a person or persons (or an object or animal) perceived as less risky to lash out at.

Thus, displaced aggression conveys a judgment, namely that you are being assessed as less valuable, less powerful and less worthy of respect, when you are on the receiving end of that aggression. At the same time, it is often an indication that the person lashing out of feels unable to deal with something that is affecting that person. It is a form of “acting out”. It’s an expression of some form of real or perceived inequality. Otherisation is almost always related to such a perceived or real power imbalance. (I can’t think of an example of when it would not be.)


Speciesism, too, is a form of otherisation. It’s human arrogance to place humans above other animal species, which have often been on the earth far longer, and to dismiss their intelligence and capabilities. We inherited the stewardship for the earth from them, not the other way around.

I believe that when humans can see how much they have in common with other animal species, it can make it much easier for them to realise how much they have in common with other humans. This can put a stop to otherisation and unite people. This is why I sometimes fantasise about setting up pigeon rehab activities. (I got into bird rehab in Florida in the 1990s, adopted two non-releasable birds from rehab; I currently have a slightly handicapped English bird who I rehabbed and who later chose to stay.)

Birds have taught me a lot, also about unconscious biases (blind assumptions). I have seen birds display Theory of Mind towards mammals, and maybe even compassion, after having considered birds “dumb” creatures for the first 30 years of my life. There is a video on YouTube of a bear fishing a drowning bird out of the water. What may make the difference is… whether the compassionate animal has enough food and feels that its needs are taken care of. That would tie it to how otherisation among humans comes about.

New York Court of Appeals Judge Rowan D. Wilson in June 2022:

When the majority answers, “No, animals cannot have rights,” I worry for that animal, but I worry even more greatly about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion.


In the workplace, otherisation leads to decreased productivity. Who can function well when there is a lot of bickering, nagging or even workplace bullying around you, requiring you to focus a great deal of attention on that, instead of on your actual job?

Otherisation can also be the cause of community bullying. It can even result in extremism and in certain stalking behaviours as well as the fact that stalking behaviours can be misunderstood as threatening when they aren’t.

Otherisation begets otherisation.

Being persistently otherised and abused can make a person very angry. The powerlessness of being otherised and abused, with everyone ganging up up on you, spectators sometimes cheering the abusers on, can be overwhelming, the injustice of it harrowing.

Otherisation affects people’s access to healthcare and education and nutrition, the quality of the healthcare they receive, the level and quality of the education they can get, their housing situation, their work situation (empowered or not) as well as how much noise, pollution and stress they are exposed to, whether they are likely to get tasered or stopped and searched by police officers, whether menstruating young teenagers are asked to strip to prove that they are not hiding drugs, and what opportunities there are for exercise and relaxation (leisure activities).

It also affects otherised people’s children, if they have any.

It can even impact their children’s brain development and what these children’s adult lives will look like. This is neuroscience, not a “lack of character” or the result of “bad genes”.

Children need a supportive and loving environment in which they can feel safe. No child feels safe when strangers throw rocks through the windows or mobs show up to yell angry slogans at their parents.

Children need good nutrition – and good housing – in order to grow well-developed brains, be able to do well in school and get into top universities. That’s not a character flaw. It’s biology.