The Proximate Self

Gordon Torr
4 min readJul 12, 2021


How the people of Proxima Centauri came to be subjugated by the people of Alpha Centauri is not important. It happened to have happened that way in those particular versions of their respective solar systems in a galaxy we call the Milky Way in that particular version of the multiverse. In another version of the multiverse it would have happened the other way around and no one would have known any differently. That’s the way it happens to work — we inhabit the version of the multiverse we observe whether we like it or not and can only speculate about the alternatives.

Until they were subjugated by the people of Alpha Centauri, the people of Proxima Centauri thought of themselves as themselves. They had no reason to think of themselves as anything other than themselves because they thought they were the only self-consciously sentient beings in the universe until taller, greener versions of themselves arrived in bigger, shinier spaceships with deadlier, more accurate lasers. After their predictably heroic resistance proved predictably futile, the hardest thing to get used to was having to think of themselves as something other than themselves since the stronger, more dominant and more technologically advanced people of Alpha Centauri called themselves Themselves and forbade anyone who didn’t speak the Alpha Centauri language of Themself to call themselves anything other than Others and to call their various languages anything other than the Other language.

When their grandparents were all dead and gone and their tragic history had been rewritten in their new language of Themself in a book called How Others Found Themselves aka The Golden Dawn Of Life, Light & Liberty, the next generation of Others came to accept that unless their children stopped speaking Other and learned instead to master the language of Themself, they would be doomed to repeat their parents’ own bitter experiences of lives barred from opportunity and advancement in the Big Society Of Self Before Others, as it came to be called out of deference to the sensitivities of those Themselves who felt their selfhood threatened by the post-colonial influx of Otherness.

So it was that the Others scraped and starved themselves to the brink of death to afford to send them to the best Schools of Themself while discouraging them from speaking the language of Other even in the privacy of their own homes in case Themselves were listening next door. It wasn’t long before the language of Other lost its former status as a tokenly juridical language in the renamed Land of Themselves Too (sometimes misspelled as “Two”) and was quietly and progressively stripped of its capital O until it became the other language or simply another language. But as assiduously and determinedly as the children of Others tried to learn to speak and write Themself and to master its complex grammar, its inconsistent rules of pronunciation and it orthographic peculiarities, native speakers of Themself could always tell them apart from Themselves not only because the accents of Others who attempted to speak Themself were unavoidably as coarse as their hair but also because there were simply too many idiosyncrasies of tonality, enunciation and idiom for even the brightest and most brilliant of Others to master in a lifetime of learning, never mind the subtle and usually ironic references to former literary or historical usages of certain phrases, metaphors, metonyms or oft-repeated self-referential quotations of coyly self-deprecating significances known only to native speakers of Themself that peppered both their political pronouncements and their casual conversations, nor the hundreds of thousands of tiny little accompanying facial expressions and the myriad tics, tricks and techniques of body language that Themselves had developed over centuries to indicate in conversation or general discourse with other Themself speakers if they really meant what they said or not while the people who weren’t born, schooled and raised by the most privileged of the privileged Themselves couldn’t tell the difference.

In the rare instance of an Other becoming sufficiently accomplished in both the cultural complexities and the linguistic fluencies of Themself to pass themselves off as one of Themselves and be admitted into the inner circle of privilege and power around and for which the Big Society of Self Before Others had been devised in the first place, they were as amused by them the way women in silk gowns and men in mink tuxedoes might be amused in the cocktail hour of a summer evening garden party by a monkey playing the piano.

The end is as predictable as the beginning. As long as the Others couldn’t master the language of Themself they couldn’t become Themselves. But to the extent of the effort they had exerted in attempting to become one of Themselves, they had to that same exact extent distanced themselves from the original Otherness of the selves they had never thought about as anything other than the selves they never thought they weren’t. It was only when they realised how pointless it was to continue blaming Themselves that they at last began to understand that they had only themselves to blame.