The alien within

We’re all raised in one form or the other to belong to something bigger than us and at times bigger even than the sum of all of those “like-us". For the most part, it comes about anything and everything but mere humanity on earth.

I understand that from a survival point of view, this initial affinity is crucial in its inclusion at first but maybe also at who and what it teaches us to exclude. The regional and national traumas, the tribal one, the family wisdom, the lessons learned from our great grandparents…, etc. Each teaches us who is the main existential adversary and the less obvious ones lurking around the corner. It also teaches us who are our friends and allies.

In our pursuit to find our own path in life, we might later internalize all of those teachings to the letter or feel a mixture of anxiety and danger if and when we dare to think different, or when faced with someone who just did.

Part of us probably hates those marked as alien enemies in their collective form. We question their intentions, even if the person we think is representing a specific alien-hood is at times oblivious to it. “How can they be?” We scream silently or maybe right in their face. The default understanding is mostly that they collectively, historically, philosophically conspire about people like-us. Whether they belong to a certain class, follow a creed, come from another culture, country, or geographic region, or of course a racial ancestry.

I used to think of those identities as components of a pyramid, with a clear hierarchy. Later, I thought of them as layers of an onion, but that didn’t work either. So what are they? They are not a simple naive sum of everything I am. Nor does one have priority over the other. Some can be superficial while others are deeper. Some become a whole different identity when combined. Few of those are in seemingly conflict with one another. Imagine meeting a veiled Muslim queer sex worker, or a right-wing atheist. I met them.

Nothing in what I’ve mentioned above is necessarily a bad thing. Humans, we are social creatures, and group selection is a big part of our evolution as a species. Without such tribes, we’d be very lonely to the degree to going maybe mad. We’ve spent many lifetimes over in our attempt to structure ourselves in a manner that creates heavenly peaceful living on earth. These structures keep failing at different levels and due to many interlocking reasons. Even those few places where they measure the highest in happiness or wellbeing are inherently closed societies who don’t permit much diversity within their citizenship regime or if they did, the heated conversations still revolve around the validity of cultural assimilation.

How come this evolutionary system of group selection has not been upgraded? In every aspect that matters it pretty stayed the same, while the social structures and environments we mostly live in today had dramatically changed.


In an attempt to find an answer, I went on questioning automatic systems of false safety or false hostility. Because the saddest/shaken I’ve been was never in the face nor company of such nasty aliens, since I’ve been raised, taught, or adapted in ways I can deal with them. It mostly came in the face of those I’ve been made to believe along the way they are like me/like-us.

It’s within the boundaries of false safety of a presumed allyship, friendliness, common narratives and stakes lay what truly blinds us. The essence of what we originally thought brings us together escapes us fully when faced with a sudden aggressiveness or perceived betrayal.

The dynamic of false hostility is quite different, and the associated loss within such a dynamic can have a larger range of consequences. From being part of a war to mass murder to assault, all the way to an unnecessary nasty behavior, and even a show of contempt in the face of utter kindness.

What the potential falsehood of both safety and hostility shows is the magnitude of how we have still managed to simplify what brings us together and what drives us apart. Think of a couple, one family, some town, a country, the whole region, and the planet at large. Have these systems become entrapment machines pushing us into an endless process of self/group vindication in a matter in which, whenever we uncover a false element, we simply move it into the stack of either fresh to-be-presumed safety or a new adversary? Could it be that simple? Could we if not to question the essence of those systems yet at least recalibrate the underlying lenses through which we didn’t make a good choice of an ally or forgone a chance of making one?


Going back to attempting to answer my question earlier if there hasn’t been an upgrade to this group selection/identity divide. Maybe the upgrade did happen. Yet in the manner that permitted an expansion of our identities and affinities, but kept our attitude the same. Even when powered with various new tools of expression to deal with this expanded identity spectrum, it has not changed our demeanor significantly. We still perpetuate the “us versus them” existence over multiple fronts across different mediums.

What would bring a change to this attitude? A collective effort will render itself futile as the complexities of the historical narratives, trauma, and the systematic policies of exaggerating differences are too great for anyone to compose a unifying discourse against.

Also, a real sense of safety as well as the fear/ anger that comes from hostility are very human and thus in principle can't change nor the need to change them is ever the point. Yet the attitude from which we tend to give events around us a license to instill false claims of either state is the thing we need to become more aware of and maybe add a mental check before absorbing.

I would go further as to spur myself to extend effort at deconstructing those automatic systems relevant to me, get discomforted, force out a baseline of empathy, and a good level of curiosity, then I might be able to crack it and tease out that upgrade.

I hope you join me.

Razan Khatib

Razan Khatib

Playing at the intersection of culture, technology, and values. Trying to structure my thoughts and share experiences, learnings, and insights. Co-founder of @spring_apps
Amman, Jordan