Monday, March 15, 2010

Enemy Mine

Psychological research is fuzzier than most. Exes and ohs are less rigid, numbers not easily applicable. Still, it often produces ideas worth chewing. Here's an example which, happily, comports with a central belief of mine:

A research team led by social psychologist Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas reports on four studies that suggest people are “motivated to create and/or perpetually maintain clear enemies to avoid psychological confrontations with an even more threatening chaotic environment.” When you place their findings in the context of the many threats (economic and otherwise) people face in today’s world, the propensity to turn ideological opponents into mighty monsters starts to make sense.
Of course I'd like to think that it doesn't apply to me: my warnings about the RWS™ are accurate, whereas their railings about Obama, as well as those of the tea bagging conspiracy theorists, are insane. Rather than giving me comfort, rather than helping me avoid angst, my feelings about those guys are deeply disturbing. Still, it's possible it's a human thing.

Deliberately or not, governments often seem to understand the need for scary enemies. Traveling in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, I concluded as much as I observed the ubiquitous demonization of the US. (In that case, I intuited that it was because their socialist paradise was a delusion, and the only way to make it -- and its people -- work was to create an existential enemy.) In the disproportionate reaction to terrorism coming from the right side of our own political spectrum, I hear echoes. It's not unlike the response to communism a few decades ago. Diverting attention and energies from power-grabs and oppression, cranking up a perpetual enemy works wonders. Right, Dick?

I wish we had the ability to see ourselves in terms of our frailties and failings. I wish we could get a little more meta, and recognize how our fears and needs enter into, distort, and color our beliefs. If so, might we rise above, at least a little, the hyperpartisanship that is destroying us? Might we see what we are doing to ourselves in giving a platform to, and following, such damaged souls as Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly? Could we understand the unworthy -- if human -- need behind it?

Well, people might say, I'm demonizing those guys as much as they demonize me. I'm just proving the point of the study at the center of this post. Am I, though? Is it all of a piece? Is there no difference between my point of view and that of Glenn Beck? Do people who think like I do have the same blinders as those who revere Glenn? Is paranoia the same as pointing out reality? I don't think so. He's crazy. I'm not.

But maybe I'm not meta enough.


  1. Sid, you're so crazy Charles Manson says "Day-um Sid's Crazy!" when he reads your posts...
    I don't think your crazy at all...
    Might have spent too much time near the power lines at that hostel in Chernobel....
    but not crazy.


  2. SeaSpray: Yes
    Sid: No



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