In his book Identity Francis Fukuyama argues that much of the recent shift in politics in the world is a result of people feeling that they are not getting a proper amount of respect or that they feel invisible or humiliated by the world as they understand it. These two motivations have led to the rise of nationalism and authoritarian governments on the one hand and identity politics on the other hand. Honestly I think that Fukuyama is on point with his argument. The rub is that I think a lot of people feel these ways for legitimate reasons, but just because a reason is legitimate does not mean that voting for an extreme government – on either side – is the right way to solve the problem.
Many minority groups are in need of a hand up in order to be seen and respected. It makes sense that they would push for a government that would give them a hand up or at least protect their rights. At the same time if you are at the less successful end of a majority group this can feel an awful lot like you are being neglected or disrespected, which would likely make you want to push for someone who (at least pretends to) see you. I understand the need to be seen and feel respected. The question that comes to mind, for me at least, is whether expecting these two things from politicians is wise. Of course it is not wise, but people still do it out of a lack of other options.
I would argue, and this will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, that the cure to this problem is found in hospitality. The problem exists not in a person’s understanding of themselves as disrespected or invisible, but in the zombification of the other.1 If the other side can be seen as merely a brain eating drag on culture it is easier to see pushing for ones rights alone as more palatable. The task then is not to make people care less about themselves, but rather to help them see the other as fully human. Whether it is a poor white person complaining about affirmative action and how it helps everyone but them or a queer person who is protesting the heteronormative laws that dictate their life, the task is to see the one who they are protesting against as human and deserving of respect the same as they are. It is only when we are able to see the other as equal – and in fact human – that we are able to move past voting solely in our own interest. That being said, a poor white person and a queer person both need the same respect in return.
Hospitality in this sense is giving the benefit of the doubt. Holding the space for the other person to not be entirely wrong. It goes back to the principles of dialogue that require honest listening on both sides to be able to move to a place of mutual respect. This sort of shift will be near impossible with politicians inflaming the hordes to despise the zombies seeking to destroy them, but if we can find that space individually change can happen. It will be slow, but even a single person holding space that the other is a fellow human in need of respect is progress.
1 Nikos Papastergiadis, “Hospitality and the Zombification of the Other” in The Conditions of Hospitality: Ethics, Politics, and Aethetics on the Threshold of the Possible, Thomas Claviez ed. (Fordham University Press: New York), 145.