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I hate this book

I don’t hate this book because of the format. Although I am not particularly familiar with graphic novels, I enjoy the irony of a tale presented in such a medium in which the characters are afraid to look at images because those images might spark a hidden memory or impulse.

I hate this book because one of its prevailing themes is the ability people have to deny the humanity of other people. I understand that we can’t know everything about everyone – we would go insane. In order to function in the world, we have to make assumptions and organize what we see into categories. One of the ways we categorize people is same vs. other, or those who are like us in physical appearance, belief system, etc. If those people are not like us, we think of them as other, and once we do that, it can be easy to forget that they, like us, are people. Even in writing this post about a mechanism of human thought that bothers me, I have had to use the language of that mechanism. When I say “us”, who do you think of? Who do you think of as “other”?

Those of you who had the pleasure of hearing the lecture last week by Eric Gable will no doubt remember his assertion that race is false, or rather that race is an entirely human construction unsubstantiated by biological evidence. This is true, as I understand it. Essentially, geographic isolation created populations that are true-breeding for certain physical characteristics, such as eye shape and color, skin color, hair texture, and bone structure. This is why children of “interracial” pairings often seem to blend theĀ appearancesĀ of their parents – their genes incorporate some of the previously true-breeding characteristics from each parent, the alleles are determined to be dominant, recessive, contributing, codominant, or incompletely dominant, and then the resulting phenotype is expressed. Therefore, “race” cannot be considered a valid criterion for sorting people into groups of same and other.

Ethnicity is somewhat less certain because in some disciplines the term has more to do with culture than race or anything else. Culture can be used to create valid same and other groups because it may involve language, knowledge, customs, and values that are not necessarily universal. However, like race, culture becomes less easily defined once populations are no longer isolated. For example, once the native tribes of Papua New Guinea began to have contact with Europeans, some converted to Christianity and now are not entirely of the same culture as their fellows who did not convert. As another example, I am of European descent but am not Christian. However, other people of European descent sometimes speak to me about their churchgoing experiences or whatever with the assumption that I know what they are talking about.

Anyway, I find the expression of this theme in this book painful because, as a reader, I can see the humanity in both the tortured and the torturers.

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