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Do We Need Enemies?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The field of Social Psychology deals with social groups and the interaction between groups as well as individuals in relationship to groups. As such, it is important to look to social psychology to explore a real threat in the world today that can affect each of us unless we are aware. That is why this article centers on the question of whether or not we need an enemy in the form of an outside group that we can hate.

Martin Landau, Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas and colleagues, argue that people have a basic need for coherence, or for things to make sense. Enemies provide people with this sense of coherence. If we can attribute many of the ills in our lives to our enemies, then we have a stable set of schemas and expectations. We know what to expect, even if something bad happens, and we know who to attribute it to.

For example, anyone who we perceive as having different political beliefs, or are a different religion, race or nationality are seen as enemies. They become conspirators who must be viewed with suspicion. One would think that, with an enemy such as, Al Queda, people would feel insecure. In actuality, studies show that many people feel safer knowing there is a clearly defined foe. The enemy brings order to what feels like a chaotic world.

Given that the present world is going through so much turmoil, economically and politically, it is no surprise that right wing and Neo Nazi groups are emerging in the United States and in other nations. While they remain a tiny minority of people, they do represent a threat in that groups like these use turmoil to unite people in a common cause against those they want to blame for the chaos. Hitler was well aware of how to useful it was for him to unite otherwise rational and highly educated Germans into the Third Reich that then went on to nearly destroy the world.

The concept that all of us need to grasp is that, at a time of high unemployment and other economic problems in this country and around the world, on one is at fault and there are no easy solutions. For anyone who lost their job in this economic downturn, it becomes tempting to blame other groups, ranging from other nations such as China, to Israel, India, Iran and North Korea, to groups of people such as Muslims, Jews, Afro-Americans or anyone “who is different from me.” It is all too easy to beocme paranoid during times like this. Don’t let it happen to you.

So, do we need enemies?

Your comments, questions and experiences are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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