Breaking the Silence: The Us vs. Them Mentality

By Nicole Beaver


With the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Trump calling himself a “nationalist,” and the rise of violence against people of colour and the Jewish/Islamic faiths, it is no wonder we’re all getting a collective headache. For those who are practitioners of Judaism or Islam or another minority targeted by supremacists, it is getting quite scary out there.


Fear is, in fact, the cause of many turning points in history: the fear of dying out, the fear of being conquered, the fear of losing oneself, and the fear of the unknown. The last one is what I am primarily focusing on, as it is the perpetrator regarding the rampant racism and anti-semitism. Please note that what I am about to delve into details white supremacy and Nazism. I do not condone their actions or beliefs. I only hope to explain why such hateful people exist and what might be the cause of their hatred. Making sense of disorder is a human thing to do, and what we crave. It gives us comfort and hope.


In Star Wars, Yoda summarizes this idea quite well: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” In the simplest terms, this can be equated to Islamophobia specifically. With the bombings that occurred during 9/11 and more recently in Paris, fear of the unknown is prevalent in our current society. It has, however, been consistent for thousands of years. Sociologists and psychiatrists have been studying this for a long time. Ultimately, they both agree that fear is a major part of their psychology. How do supremacists think?


Psychologist and political advisor Dr. Reneé Carr states that “When one race of persons unconsciously feels fear in response to a different race group—fears that their own level of security, importance, or control is being threatened—they will develop these defensive thoughts and behaviors. They will create exaggerated and negative beliefs about the other race to justify their actions in [an] attempt to secure their own safety and survival.” It seems appalling to those of us who do not feel fear towards another human being. There is also an us-versus-them mentality that many of us may possess. It’s a type of “group thinking” where, as the name suggests, individuals tend to think collectively. The human mind has a tendency to categorize people into social groups. Often, these social groups can cause us to mentally separate ourselves from those who may be different than us in some way, whether it’s race, gender, age, nationality, culture, religion, or socioeconomic status. It appears that thinking of ourselves in terms of groups automatically leads to a kind of irrational group favouritism, as studies show animosity in controlled tests between groups of people. In some of the studies done, participants are usually given an opportunity to give money (or “points”) to other participants, and tend to favour giving points to members of their own group versus members of another group. It was found that participants are more willing to see their group “win” rather than have outcomes where all people end up better overall!


It’s not hard to see how this mentality can be destructive to both ourselves and society as a whole. And it is scary to think just how susceptible we are to these biases, even under completely random circumstances! We may have evolved to think in certain ways, but it could still be our downfall. Carried out to extremes, we see this play out against groups that are seen as outsiders with deadly consequences.


What can we do to combat this thinking? Sadly, very little. We cannot sway another person easily as we are resistant to other ways of thinking (even if these ideas are morally sound and rational). It’s to the point where we will do anything to prove ourselves in the right, in spite of evidence proving otherwise. So trying to convince a neo-Nazi that Jewish people are not harmful is going to be next to impossible! You can, however, try to lower your own bias towards different cultures and beliefs. Racism is a learned behaviour, and hate is a group thought. You yourself can work to combat this! You will be surprised as to what doors are opened once you, to put it this way, “get over yourself.”

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