A review of “The Other” by Ryszard Kapuściński (2008)

In so many disciplines – philosophy, anthropology, psychology, sociology, politics – there is a fundamental difference between the Self and the Other. This slim volume of just 80 pages of text on the Other brings together an English translation of six thoughtful and enlightened lectures and essays by the renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński with an introduction by Scottish journalist Neal Ascherson.

There are many ways of distinguishing the Other and Kapuściński focuses on race, nationality and religion, while other ways would include gender, sexual orientation, and ableism.

Kapuściński (1932-2007) travelled extensively in Africa, Asia and Latin America and this book critiques the Western idea of the Other: the non-European and non-American idea that the Other is inferior and indeed dangerous. This Western-centric approach has been increasingly challenged as, in the second half of the 20th century, two-thirds of the world’s population was liberated from colonial dependency and as, since the advent of modern electronic communications, the word of nations has become a global village.

Kapuściński subscribed to the view that “there are no superior or inferior cultures – there are just different cultures which satisfy the needs and expectation of their members in different ways”.

Kapuściński underlines that fundamentally there are three possibilities when a man encounters the Other: “he could choose war, he could fence himself behind a war, or he could start up a dialogue”. He views it as a moral imperative to take the last of these three courses – to engage in dialogue wherever and whenever possible.

I am with Kapuściński on this which is why I love living in a city like London, travelling to other countries, and learning about other cultures. 


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