If it weren’t for the ancient Greeks, we wouldn’t have such wonderful words as xenophobe or xenophobia. The roots are xenos which means foreign or strange and phobos meaning fear. You’ve heard that word more in the last three months than you did in your entire previous lifetime – irrespective of your age. Of course, the modern understanding of the word is that it means not fear but hatred of foreigners.
So why have these words been transformed in the common usage? We can thank the Greeks once again. The word meme comes from mimema which means that which is imitated, often with slight variations. Think of the old game of “telephone” in which a message is passed from one person to the next until it reaches the person who initiated it. When that message gets back to the person who originally made it, it is often distinctly different from what its originator actually said.
But our gratitude to the Greeks shouldn’t end there. Among other ancient cultures, they gave us people to whom we still refer to by using a single name. Yes, long before we were blessed with Twiggy and Cher there were people like Demosthenes and Plato, Pythagoras and Socrates – people who actually were important and left their stamp on history and human thinking.
For years, western colleges and universities employed the Socratic method of teaching. It was a system where open debate between the student, other students and the teacher was encouraged. A person was welcome to hold any opinion. He simply needed to explain and defend the logic of that position to others engaged in the debate. Compare that to today’s American schools where there is no need or permission to engage in debate since everything has already been decided.
Apparently the mission of our schools today is to infuse and genetically bond into its student body the “truths” that have been revealed to tenured faculty and make sure that when they hand over that diploma, the student has been thoroughly indoctrinated into this wisdom and be able to cite it, chapter and verse. We used to refer to this not as educating but as memorizing and, in its most extreme form, brainwashing.
Returning to xenophobia, the word has been used exclusively to accuse and deride those who the memists deride as the “alt-right”. As justification for their view they cite the effort by President Trump and conservatives to provide a secure border, enforce existing laws on immigration and remove from the country those who are already here illegally and have demonstrated violent behavior. They attribute racism to those who support those goals as the vast majority of people who are here illegally come from Mexico and Central America. Yet the very same people who cry xenophobe the loudest are perhaps its strongest proponent. Take the case of Russia.
From near and far, high and low, those on the left who represent their districts and states in Congress to the masked mobsters who roam the streets wherever there is an opportunity to demonstrate, the word is out that, “Russia interfered with our election and there is an as yet unseen trail leading to President Trump and his staff who purportedly facilitated this subversion.” So I am confused (which happens more often than I would like to admit).
Aren’t Russians foreign people? Whatever our political posture in this age of divisiveness I think we can at least agree on that. So wouldn’t that suggest that the true xenophobes are those who oppose Russian interference – not the right? Why should the Russians who aren’t even here be expected or compelled to follow the laws of the United States any more than the illegal immigrants who are here and in some fairly large percentage ignore them – well, technically all of them?
We need not reach all the way back to classical Greece to find an accurate description of this sort of behavior. Groucho Marx hit the nail on the head with this memorable song from his best movie, “Horse Feathers.”