But hey, I’m good at “being interesting.” This is what I’ve been told. So I’ve come up with a regurgitation of one of my recent reads that has really gotten be immersed in thinking.
There’s an essay called “Inventing the Enemy” by Umberto Eco, a recent author in my collection that is occupying more and more of my time. Even now, in light of what is going on around the world, I thought the essay shows how anyone can create an “enemy.” An enemy doesn’t have to be someone were are at odds with in this scenario, just someone that we consider alien to us, or not of our kind, nationality, race, social standing, or otherwise. I wanted to give a birds eye view of Eco’s argument below. The essay is still available in print and I highly recommend reading it, even if the language is stilted and archaic. (It was originally written in Italian and translated pieces can seem stale on the outside.)
- Eco states that enemies are first geographically different than us. They come from the outside. He cites the barbarians invading Rome at the peak and decline of the Roman Empire as chief examples. In today’s terms someone can be an “enemy” of ours if they reside in another country. We may never have met these people, or have had any long distance contact (i.e. wireless communication, internet chatting, etc), but they are someone removed from us. And their distance makes them the easiest target for creating an enemy for us to fight/oppose.
- Likewise, another degree of separation occurs with language. Eco cites the same example of the “barbarian” languages that invaded Rome, weakening the national identity of Rome. The word barbarian suggests a corruption of language (bar-bar-ian, like a stutter in speech). Those that we can’t understand, which requires us to have contact with them either personally or via audio message, we would reject as people we are against.
- After language comes those that live inside the city walls. Those that are strange to us are most likely to be immigrants. The United States has a long history of targeting immigrants, either 1st or 2nd generation, that have come from foreign lands to be with us and are at the beginning, or in process, of assimilation into the parent culture. These are people that are ESL (English as a Second Language) or they work less desirable jobs or they are having trouble finding a footing in a strange and new environment. They are easy to pick out in a crowd, maybe because their clothing is different, or because they live in ghettos where other fellow immigrants reside. We often make enemies of these people because they are easy to blame for things that are seemingly outside of our control. Crime, population density, government spending, and education burdens can all be easily blamed on the “immigrant” by the interior culture.
- Eco suggests, after his studying of Medieval history and philosophy, that those suffering from deformities would be the deepest layer where we could make our enemies. Assuming that the person on the outside has come in, learned our language, adopted our culture, and has demonstrably become essential to the community, those that are missing limbs, blind, mentally impaired, or suffering from congenital defects are seen as enemies because they lack on a fundamental level core abilities of other humans. This may not be as much an issue today as it was a thousand years ago, but an equivalent can be found in the homeless, who are dehumanized for their inability to care for themselves. They are seen as feral, unstable, and incomplete, therefore becoming an adequate enemy. Eco seems to have the most sympathy on this level of inhumanity simply because individuals of this strata are the easiest to blame and have few advocates.
All these ideas are potent for discussion, but I’ve discovered personally that even with lengthy discourse there is still a degree of separation between theory and practice. We can talk about something in depth, but we can never see that we too make our own enemies on a daily basis, even subconsciously, and not even care about it.
They key point Eco makes, the final conclusion he makes in his essay that is chilling to say the least, is that having an enemy, or maintaining a diet of enemies to consume and present, creates positive growth. I will leave you with these. I hope they make you think about the weightiness of his conclusions.