Simon Parke

Us and them

Posted by Simon Parke, 26 February 2015, 5.47am

To borrow the language of the British Psychological Study, (BPS) our ‘ingroups and outgroups’ are significant.

They determine what we think of people and how we treat them … though it wasn’t always like this.

I was talking with Mark Godson over coffee in a large shopping mall on the south coast – and the ever-topical issue of a ‘Them/Us’ mentality arose.

Where does it come from in the human being? It’s a magnificent truth that we’re born without prejudice – with an entirely open mind towards the world.

It’s less magnificent – but perhaps necessary – that prejudice then takes root, as we try to make sense of, and survive in, a conflicted world.

When small, we’re too vulnerable and insecure to hold this mystery, and so guided by the adults around us, we dumb-down reality and develop demons and angels – or stereotypes, as they’re sometimes called.

‘This tendency evolved because it gave our ancestors an adaptive advantage,’ said Mark Godson. ‘ Being able to decide quickly which group a person belonged to may have had survival value, since this enabled people to distinguish between friends and enemies.’

The down side of this survival technique is that stereotypes breed prejudice: if you love the one you’re with, the one you’re with may encourage you to hate the one you’re not with.

In this system, your sense of identity depends on these groups, on who you’re with and who you’re against – so you need clear water between the two…between your ingroups and outgroups.

And if you’re wondering which is which, it’s quite simple: any group you belong to is your ingroup and any group you don’t belong to is your outgroup – and you will treat the two differently, this goes without saying.

You’ll not be surprised that the BPS observes people generally have a lower opinion of outgroup members and a higher opinion of members of their own group.

And their next finding will shock even less: people who identify strongly with a particular group are more likely to be prejudiced against people in competing outgroups.

The conversation has touched on dark and dangerous things, but strangely, I came away from our coffee feeling happier, better able to carry on.

As Mark reminded me, this systems analysis helps people understand why some humans project shit onto them; and also, just where the mad ‘them and us’ thing came from.

The poison, the dismissiveness, the denouncing, the violence – it’s just the insecure trying to survive, needing clear water between themselves who are good and other people, who are bad.

It’s not a qualitative assessment, it’s a tribal assessment and much practiced on the football terraces; in Parliament, in offices, staff rooms and in the church where your label/group is everything.

We were born otherwise; and once we are happy in our own skin, we can return there.
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