The comfort of classifying ‘Other’

Forgive the title, but just trying to think through a few things that I’ve noticed.

There is some evidence that people are less likely to see homeless people (and others) as human – see the original study here and some discussion around it here. Anecdotally I find that fairly easy to believe – behaviour observed in both myself and others around homeless people, where eyes avert and very few people want to even recognise that there may be a problem with someone lying in the street; and how dare they ask for money? Have they no homes to go to?!

It was always very easy to classify those people as ‘other’ – i.e. someone that lives a life so different from mine that whatever caused their current situation started from somewhere infinitely far away. My mind was OK with accepting that happy lie for quite a long time, but then I read this article which blew away that comforting blanket of insulation; no longer could I honestly say that mine was a different world from <generic homeless person>, when it’s clear that all it takes is a couple of chunks of bad luck for anyone to end up in that state.

Then just this week I read this article, and I just found it so…disgusting? I’m fairly selfish and semi-sociopathic (not really, but …) at the best of times, but even to me that behaviour seemed like a horrible escalation of the general trend of classifying e.g. homeless people as ‘other’ – people who you have no empathy for, who you see no need to relate to or have social obligations towards. In this case, pitching homeless people as the enemy because they were trying to live in forests, rather than figure out why they might be needing to do that in the first place.

Maybe stating the obvious here, but it seems like much of this antipathy and resentment against homeless people (and other ‘other’ groups) is really because, by mentally classifying these groups as ‘other’ it means you never have to consider or internalise the possibility that maybe you or people you know aren’t as far from that group as you would like to believe.

I don’t have a neat tidy way of signing this off. So;


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