Insiders and Outsiders

2. Boundaries, inclusion and exclusion


It's all a question of boundaries – who stands inside or outside our territorial and psychological boundaries.

Periodically, the masses lay down the rules – even in dictatorships. Fired up by deep feelings, they reset the socio-political boundaries.

There's immigration, and attitudes toward victims and refugees. There's rivalry between different interest-groups within a nation. Then there are authority-figures and the privileged and powerful: their power can nowadays turn quickly against them.

These vexing questions concern a group's self-definition – what it sees itself to be and exist for. It's feelings-based, sometimes highly instinctive. Public sentiment plays a big role in shaping the 21st C, even if only at intense defining moments.

We all need to belong, to be counted in. In doing so, we usually omit to consider those excluded and counted out, or we dehumanise them, to deny their needs or rights.

The need to belong and the need to exclude are genuine. But resources are often limited, and accommodating outsiders involves input, effort, time and cost. These questions often lack objectivity. "If we take them in, there will be less for us, and our identity could be weakened – we might stop being us." The historic tendency is to close ranks against threat.

But hang on, aren't virtually all nations made up of immigrants, and don't we all live in the same world, affecting one another? If you were a refugee, how would you feel?

When a nation is genuinely threatened, there is short-term justification in closing ranks – though it hurts dissenters, foreigners and marginal cases deemed a security risk. When it becomes longterm, and there is no real threat, the matter is different. Some nations make a habit of this. Arguably, the Cold War and the War on Terror have both been a projection – us-and-them, belonging stuff.



When nations disapprove of, criticise and oppose other nations, there are ghosts of a similar nature in their own cupboards.

If one nation oppresses others, its insensitivity is such that it becomes fully aware of the effect of its actions only when the tables are turned. They do turn – even for strong nations. We're watching a big table-turning happening today.

'Insiders-and-outsiders' involves projection on others of a picture that justifies ill-feeling, discrimination, sanctions or aggression. This can also be levelled at those who acquiesce, disagree or stay neutral: "you're with us or you're against us".

We are the forces of light and goodness and they are the dark forces, the corrupting influences. This is a cover-up.

Projection usually has some relation to reality or history. But an extra, fatal twist and spin is injected, accentuating sins and downplaying graces in the opposing party.

Projection covers the crimes of the accuser – and it always takes two to tango. Projections are fed and nourished by guilt and fear, shadow-stuff we don't want to see or be seen. This needs to change if world peace is to prevail.

There is a contrasting tendency to project positively. A few decades ago, everything American was admired and consumed. Now, this picture has turned.

Projection is not just prejudice. It is a grasping for certainties in a tumultuous, confusing world. Habituated faith in the authority of the media and public information doesn't help: it makes us believe what we're told even against the advice of our own eyes.

Our challenge is to exercise commonsense, understand others and willingly change our perceptions. Today, an intense succession of world crises rips and tears at our feelings, stretching our perceptual boundaries and exposing our projections.

Suddenly, we see people in Mozambique, Albania and Afghanistan suffering ills that we know could befall us too. That could be my daughter getting raped. It could be my son doing it.



Seeing the whole situation helps us take responsibility for our part in it. It leads to retraction or unprojection.

Society's willingness to acquiesce in the world's wrongs is diminishing: when pushed, a sudden awareness of hidden connections and a backlash of conscience can come bubbling up. It is getting more difficult to get away with shady deals and crimes, however much they once were accepted.

We are in an immense collective truth-revelation, prompted by events and poignant imagery which raise disturbing issues. The collective human soul is acutely poised.

Or perhaps the 'force of circumstance', charged up with pain and sheer weight of consequences from the past, has adopted an agenda of its own, regardless of what humanity thinks.

What with the wars and arguments of today, and a world riddled with armaments, the present time doesn't look too spiritual, and humanity doesn't look like it's on a path of reconciliation.

Yet we're getting faced with our 'stuff'. Events are forcing matters, squeezing awareness out of our dulled human sensitivities. We cannot get away with things like we did before. We're all in this together. It's no one else's fault.

Hence, 'them and us' must be resolved. Bertrand Russell: "War isn't about who is right, but who is left". Nations need to see themselves as others see them. International frictions are a tragic way by which nations become more aware.

We all have our differences and need 'safe space'. But we hang together or we hang separately. Your tribe and my tribe are part of the human tribe. This is our home.

For the first time in history, there really are no 'others' – they are all us. This isn't idealism, religious zeal or pie-in-the-sky. It's a pragmatic fact of the next few decades. We'd better get used to it.


Continents of the Mind

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