Why to avoid xenophobia and xenofilia

Extreme attitudes like xenophobia and xenophilia entail a dramatic reduction of the complexity of life leading to a type of „either-or” attitude: who is not with us is against us. Later on, this mental convenience will be expensively paid.

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The Stranger is not only an unknown person but he is the Unknown, with all its most mysterious and threatening possibilities. Fear of the Stranger, natural and reasonable, operates a defense mechanism through which the unknown and therefore potential danger is converted into something known – through a process called assimilation (anthropophagic strategy), or it is isolated (anthropoemic strategy). Anthropology suggests that in human history there have been only these two ways to manage an encounter with the Different Other, namely:

  • The anthropophagic strategy: literally means ingesting another man, assimilating foreign substances, devouring foreign bodies concretely or symbolically, \”from cannibalism to cultural crusades\”. The goal is the annihilation of differences, the transformation of the non-similar into the similar, of the unknown into something known. Natural and forced acculturation are forms of this strategy.
  • The anthropoemic strategy: literally means the spitting, vomiting of dangerous substances, of those perceived as strange, foreign, and therefore dangerous. The aim of this strategy is to keep the health and safety of community by isolating \”foreign bodies\”, preventing physical contact, dialogue and interaction. There are many forms of this strategy but among the most common are: incarceration, deportation, crime, spatial segregation, urban ghettos, selective access to different spaces. (C. Levi – Strauss cited in Bauman, 2000: 96).

When \”reasonable fears\” are ideologically confiscated, they become exacerbated, irrational and easily manipulated. Both at the individual and social level, a phobia signifies a shift of the hatred toward a “substitute” object because the confrontation with the real enemy is not possible. (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1994: 44). That is why in crisis situations like sudden social changes, wars, economic and political crisis, the society (as well as the individual) needs an „embodied enemy”, somebody to blame for its sufferings. Racism, chauvinism and nationalism for instance, are ideologies that point to the stranger as guilty for different social failures and a means to justify aggression (Udangiu, 2016).

Xenophilia on the other hand, is an exaggerated, uncritical attachment, for everything foreign, new, exotic: beings, ideas or artifacts, coupled with a devaluation of ones own ideas, traditions etc. This means an exaggerated and automatic attachment to something, not because it is better or more functional, but only because it is foreign. Expressions of xenophilia arise also in crisis situations but this time we talk about identity crises.

An example of xenophilia is given in Crisis of European consciousness 1680 – 1715, where Paul Hazard describes the fascination for \”strangers\”, \”novelties\”, \”exoticisms\”. While traveling throughout the world at that time, the European had suddenly realized that the Other- the Stranger- found the secret of happiness. This secret had nothing to do with Christianity, but with “natural religion” or with “the True philosophy”. It had nothing to do with the way in which the European societies were organized, but with \”a primitive communism, ensuring justice and happiness at the same time.\” When he looked at himself through the eyes of the Other, the European could see only a “poor, civilized man, lacking courage, energy, unable to provide food and housing”, “rude and morally degenerate” (Hazard, 1961/1973: 15-24).

An example about what is not xenophilia: the celebration of St. Valentine in Romania. It began in the 90s and a year after it was followed by the revival of Dragobete, a traditional Romanian celebration of love. We can say that St. Valentine revived Dragobete. This was a healthy social reaction that brought together the old and the new, the local and the foreign. So we have on February twice more love, joy and gifts to receive (!).

Extreme attitudes like xenophobia and xenophilia entail a dramatic reduction of the complexity of life leading to a type of „either-or” attitude: who is not with us is against us. They often involve extreme actions that can abruptly cancel thousands of years of civilization. Let us remember the Holocaust from the Second World War, justified by a racist ideology. Or let us remember the confrontations in the former Yugoslavia, accompanied by ritual killings and justified by a nationalist ideology. Not to mention also the beheading of hostages in the Middle East or in African conflict areas, justified by a religious ideology.

Extreme attitudes are psychologically “comfortable”: no shadows, no uncertainties, everything clear. But this is only in the short run. Later on, this mental convenience will be expensively paid in terms of consciousness of guilt, isolation, prestige and material losses.

References:

Bauman, S. (2000). Modernitatea lichida. [The Liquid Modernity]. Bucuresti: Antet XX Press.

Hazard, P. (1961/1973). Criza constiintei europene. [The Crisis of European Consciousness]. Bucuresti: Univers.

Laplanche, J. and Pontalis, J. B. 1994, Vocabularul psihanalizei [Vocabulary of Psychoanlisys], Bucuresti: Humanitas.

Udangiu, E. 2016, Multiculturality and the Management of Differences, in Cross-Cultural Management Journal, Volume XVIII, 9 (1), pp. 31-34.

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