Empathizing with The Other

Like many students in Professor Aparna Vaidik’s Trends in History Foundation Course, I found Johannes Fabian’s article, “Time and the Emerging Other,” to be a challenging text, as it was densely packed with information, vocabulary, and unfamiliar concepts. However, Gabe, the Teaching Assistant for the course, imparted a few reading suggestions that I believe have helped me distinguish the gist of the article from a dispersion cloud of perplexing material.

The last paragraph of the article ties the divergent stands of the article into a nice little bow. “Little more than technology and sheer economic exploitation,” Fabian claims, “seem to be left over for the purposes of ‘explaining’ Western superiority.” His argument is self-explanatory – Western societies tend to marginalize other cultures and dismiss them as behind modern times. However, they gain the credibility to disparage other cultures simply because of the factors mentioned above. I am going to focus on the point of technological innovations. Our class discussion brought us to an interesting metaphor. Societies tend to follow similar historical trends, a few members of the class claimed, and these societies and trends are reflected by the separate boogie carts on a roller coaster and the similar paths they follow. Each cart takes a similar path to arrive at the same location, even though it is not synchronous. I believe that in using this metaphor, it is important to realize that the roller coaster goes in a loop and does not necessarily have an endpoint. The end of the roller coaster is not necessarily an end in the true sense of the word, for it is a loop and is constantly returning to the past. Clichéd as the following statement may be, history repeats itself. While the analogy is effective in debunking the notion of a linear innovative progress across a period of time, it does not account for the cultural differences in societies that might even change the pathways to a similar result. There are a variety of possible processes that might lead to the same temporary result.

Our discussion has refined my view of South Asia, and specifically, India, in many ways. As I was born and brought up in the United States, I must admit, rather shamefully, that there have been times when I viewed parts of India as backwards societies. But our readings and class discussions have forced me to consider that because there is no universal truth or concept of modernity, it is unfair of me to criticize cultures as backwards. I might not agree with their values, but that does not make me more modern than they are.

Overall, I have come to the conclusion that Fabian is encouraging us not only to give up any superior attitudes we might have towards supposedly less developed cultures, but we also should not deny coevalness with societies of our past. Since time is not linear and there certainly is not a linear progression of humanity across time periods, it is reasonable to assume that we might be in fact repeating the mistakes our ancestors made. The concept of time should not forge a distance between ourselves and our ancestors. Being born at a later time does not make us better than those who were born earlier. Hopefully, studying diverse historical cultures will allow us to see similarities between ourselves and past citizens and allow us to develop a sense of empathy for those whom we refer to as the Other.

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