Saturday, September 27, 2008

Augustine on xenophobia

...the diversity of tongues now divides man from man. For if two men, each ignorant of the other's language, meet, and are compelled by some necessity not to pass on but to remain with one another, it is easier for dumb animals, even of different kinds, to associate together than these men, even though both are human beings. For when men cannot communicate their thoughts to each other, they are completely unable to associate with one another despite the similarity of their natures; and this is imply because of the diversity of tongues. So true is this that a man would more readily hold a conversation with his dog than with another man who is a foreigner.

- Augustine, City of God, XIX.7.

It is passages like this that make reading Augustine such a joy. I am amazed at how many of the postgraduate students in Edinburgh are working in English as a second (or third or fourth or fifth) language. I guess they forgot to bring their dogs with them.

3 comments:

Joshua said...

That's a fantastic quote. I'll try and squeeze it into my project somewhere.

geoffc said...

So true is this that a man would more readily hold a conversation with his dog than with another man who is a foreigner.

Who wouldn't? Once you start talking to a foreigner and realise it's going nowhere you can't just scratch him behind the ears or get him to fetch a stick. It can get pretty akward.

byron smith said...

Joshua - what's the project on? (Are you one of the Joshua's I know?)

Geoff - Yes, and Augustine's point is that it's more likely to end up with one of you scratching the other behind the ear with a big and sharp stick. The foreigner's very similarity (in sharing my humanity) is a threat in a way that a dog is not.