What are we afraid of? Why we label and shun the “others”

So I’m sure you know about homophobia, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, religious discrimination and all the other heinous ways prejudices poison our relationships with each other. With it running so rampant I thought I’m gonna tell you my ideas of why we are that prejudiced in first place.

These prejudices are old. Really really old. In fact many mammals are know to shun members of their own species which look different such as say albinos. So in order to understand a concept that has apparently been around for many many years we might benefit from looking how it originated in order to understand it better.

So let’s go back to our sabertooth tiger again. The one I have already invoked . Same situation again: you are faced with this animal. Let’s assume you have never seen it before and you do not know yet that you might benefit from instantly developing the new hobby of running or fighting for your life. Well you won’t make that mistake twice.

The next time you see something huge and alive, especially with protruding canines you won’t ponder whether or not that poor thing is just an orphan looking for a mommy or wants to talk to you about it’s religious beliefs. Once you have made an experience with something as very painful and possibly life threatening you develop fear of it and even things looking like that. You attach a name to it and tell all the members of your social group how they should not mess with the big stripy kitty.

So now they are afraid of sabertooths as well, even if they never had to fight one and life to tell the tale. From then on the sabertooth will be discriminated against as dangerous and it only took one incident, because this one incident was life threatening. Bears and wolves might be considered dangerous by proxy of being big, alive and predatory as well. We overgeneralise what we are afraid of and for many hundreds of generations this has helped us surviving.

So what does it have to do with discriminating members of our own species these days?

Well it only took one clash with a sabertooth for the entire community to become wary of sabertooths, bears and wolves. So whenever we are making scary new experiences the quickly become defining for a much larger set of possible interactions. The funny thing is what is perceived scary and life threatening is not necessarily actually scary and life threatening.

Sure meeting mommy with her cubs you better keep your distance. Meeting one of them injured but still able to lash out you better have your guard up. Meeting one that is well fed, relaxed and would like to play a game of tag or get a belly rub even if the other participant is not a member of its own species is something quite different. But you are on your guard anyway, because you have this fear instilled of you, you know the label and you act in accordance to it. You will try and ostracise even the most playful large predator because you expect to be hurt or worse if you don’t chase it away. So no belly rubs and this time, the fear and the label was the reason there was no fun time.

So what are the things we are scared of so much, that we keep fun times from happening? Things we learnt are dangerous, naturally. Things our parents, teachers and mentors told us are dangerous. (Of course many of these warnings will be tested and found true.) Most importantly we are also wary of things we do not know well. During our early years we learn a lot of things: the oven is hot (stay away), mother is the best in cuddling and there is this doting relative with all the best sweets. We also learn to stay away from strangers, we are warned of some things and especially when young we heed the warning without second guessing.

Everything we experienced as children then becomes our normal. Which is why it is so important to socialise the young. The more they learn, the better they know how to deal with the world at large. Because you may have grown up in this sheltered village and you never knew there are people of different skin colours, same sex couples, people lacking body parts or whatever it is. If you meet one later in life you do not know what to do, you are uncertain and a little wary. If they look different, maybe they are acting different as well, maybe they will hurt us… This wariness can all to quickly turn into fear.

I think deep down we do not distinguish between “mommy said sabertooth tigers are dangerous and will eat us” and “this new person has this and this weird thing about them i have never seen before thus i do not trust them.” Both are equally “dangerous”. Even when there is no actual reason to distrust the mentioned minorities at large.

Now let me be very clear: I did grow up never seeing a person with a skin colour different from my own, I never knew about same sex couples or disabled people. I carry this lack of socialisation with me all the time. I have gay friends, friends with different skin colour and beliefs but inside I still am very unsure, I am afraid, I have this distrust, this deep seated fear that I am very ashamed of. Homophobia for example means fear of homosexuals. Yes even tho deeply ashamed of this I have to admit to being afraid, to being homophobic. Words can not convey my shame about feeling this way. Being part of the autistic minority myself does not make me any less afraid of other minorities.

I strongly disagree with the quote attributed to Morgan Freeman that circulated a while back. It claimed homophobia was not based in being scared but in being an a-hole. I reserve the right to know better how I feel about things than some random meme maker on the internet. I AM scared and there IS a difference between homophobia and being an a-hole. Namely the difference in how we deal with our fear. The moment we take our lack of socialisation out on others we become a-holes. The moment we expect others to remain within the boundaries of what we have been taught is normal we are behaving extremely asocial indeed.

There is a fundamental fear of the unknown which just exists. I can not decide to not be afraid and be done with it. This is not how feelings work. Fear is meant to be a warning signal. KNOWING there is nothing to be afraid of does not translate to feeling safe. This fear can only be battled by education and exposure. This is what I want for myself and for everyone else. I want them to understand autism and mental health better and I do not want to be afraid of people who look different, believe in different things or have changed their bodies biological gender or whatever it is. I want to overcome this inherent fear of the other for all the cases where I know there is no rational reason to be afraid. (I am still afraid of thugs and drunken people. These fears I consider reasonable 😉 )

The problem is I am past the age of early socialisation. Rewiring my brain will take a lot of work and likewise most other people will need many years to tackle any fear they want to tackle. We need to be patient with each other there. But at the same time we need to come down hard on the self righteous egoed up idiots who think they can fit everyone else into their little world because they are to lazy or afraid to change. There is no acceptable excuse for asocial mindsets.

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3 thoughts on “What are we afraid of? Why we label and shun the “others”

  1. I think you might be meaning “anti-social” when you say “asocial”? I think as an autistic person, your fears may not be the same reasons NTs are racist, sexist, ableist or whatever. Autistic people have other reasons, which are usually innocent, such as phobic tendencies, aversion to change, need for sameness etc. An autistic person is statistically far less life-endangering to others than NTs, so the analogy with the sabre-tooth tiger doesn’t adequately explain the attitudes of NTs to differences, they have no reason to be suspicious or afraid of autistic people. In fact, autistic people are often victims to NTs, hate crime, “mate” crime etc. NT brains are wired to have better understanding than those of autistics, yet ironically, it frequently appears to be NTs that lack empathy, not us.

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  2. Being autistic does not mean my emotions are fundamentally better than a neurotypicals emotions. Autistic people can be just as judgemental, racist, homophobic, abusive and hurtful and any other person. I have seen this happening multiple times. And yes my homophobic tendencies are just as despicable as NT homophobic tendencies. I’d be a right idiot if I gave myself any leeway for the same emotions. They are hurtful to other people and serve no other purpose than to make other people bend to my arbitrary will. This is WRONG and needs to be treated as such. End of the story. There is absolutely nothing innocent about this. Abuse has no excuse.

    The entire point of this post was that there does not need to be a reason to be afraid of otherness. Word of mouth alone is enough.

    I also think NTs brains are most expressively NOT wired to understand human interaction better. They are better at understanding NT interaction. Woho! Difficulties in theory of mind and lack of empathy can be seen all around. The only reason why their particular view of the world and what they understand in it could be viewed as advantageous is because there are more NTs than there are people on the spectrum. And if you view it as advantageous then you are exercising privilege.
    Why would I believe their pathetic story about having more empathy or anything being better than someone else. Their justifications for their little egos do not concern me. If it makes them happy I will not interfere. If they want me to still be their friend that’s their loss. And if they think they have any right to prosecute me because they are “better” it only shows they are still the racist, ableist, homophobic, judgemental, selfrighteous bigots that always engage in that crimes. No amount of patting themselves on the back and attempting to justify their crimes will make their crimes any less brutal. It will only make them look more dangerous.

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  3. Hi thanks for your candour about your fears. I can relate to some of them. You say change will probably take you hard work. Which can be a daunting prospect.
    I would like to being to your attention a website called Everydayfeminism.com. They talk about intersectional feminism and opression and how it affects our everyday lives. They deal with a multitude of subjects like the ones you mention at the beginning of your article.
    To get back to the reason I wanted to being this website to your attention is that it very gently eased me into a different way if thinking in the areas where change was necessary due to fear. Reading their articles and other readers’ comments on Everyday Feminism’s Facebook page gave me a sense of homecoming rather than awkward confrontation.
    I am not in any way affiliated to this website other than being an enthousiastic reader.

    Here’s two articles that deal with the things you described:
    http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/the-many-faces-of-homophobia/
    http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-checking-privilege-means/

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