The Greek word xenos means stranger, guest, or host. Most people, from my experience, are not acquainted with this full meaning of the word, but only with the use of the word combined with the word phobia as xenophobia. Phobia means fear. Defining people through fear is not healthy.
Stranger, guest, or host – these words all express some element of otherness. Strangers are unknown. Guest and host both imply not family. Noting difference is how meaning is generated and the word “we” is defined. But guest is so much better than foreigner or stranger.
In a world where tribalism is accepted as a reason for the way people divide themselves into identity groups, we can expect xenophobia to increase. Many years ago when I was a beginning anthropology student, the cultural development model used to show the stages through which human society passed was the Band – Tribe – Chiefdom – State model. It is still used but with more caveats. The traits of each type of organization are distinct in type of organization, leadership, kinship groups, and political institutions. The use of the word tribe to describe groups within a state level of society is misleading. Mythical common ancestors, kinship linkages, and specific protocols for interacting with other groups are not used in contemporary, supposedly tribal groups.
This is totally conjecture, but with the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places such as in several African countries, we have created a devoted warrior class who really does not understand why we are fighting, but who none-the less have experienced several deployments to areas of active armed conflict. When I was first made aware of war, in the late 1960s when my brother was in Vietnam, soldiers who re-upped for multiple deployments were looked at askance as disturbed individuals. Now when these guys return to civilian life, they no longer fit in, and are often attracted to or recruited to groups of patriots. These groups most often have no more idea why they are ready to take up arms against our own government than why they fought in another land. Geopolitical disputes are often extremely complex and rooted in governmental support of corporate interests that are not taught in boot camp.
The others defined by governments have little long term logic and come to resemble the ever-warring Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia in Orwell’s 1984. Is it little really so strange that warriors who return home look for enemies against whom to band and that their families and communities join with the “leaders” who encourage this divisive thinking as a strength.
Perhaps we should reinstate social studies in K-12 classes that look at the rich cultures of the world and not the history of wars and borders. We are what we are taught to be. The world is what we are taught it is. We could bring back the full meaning of xenos and focus on guests, hosts, and people we do not yet know, rather than creating strangers out or members of our own communities who look or identify themselves as different from our little in-groups.