A: Our innate Superiority complex
It is strangely easy for us as human beings to see ourselves as separate from others … or in an ‘us’ while ‘the others’ consist of a ‘them’ — and, naturally, we regard ‘them’ as inferior to ‘us’ in every measure that matters.
In the same way that herd animals recognise their own and expel outsiders as intruders, we humans are tuned for the differences that define our ‘in’ group as apart from the ‘other’ group. And, we are ready for conflict. We expect it.
People have tried to explain the conflict between groups. Notably Tajfel’s experiments with ‘notional groups’ dismantled the until then widely-held idea that conflict between nations (scaled-up groups) resulted from competition for scarce resources creating a history of conflict that self-perpetuated.
Broadly, his work showed that very little is required for one group to regard itself as superior to another group — morally, intellectually, physically — you name it.
All that’s needed for Group A to think itself ‘better’ and more worthy and deserving than Group B is:
For Group A and Group B to ‘exist’
That’s all it takes. No history of conflict, no competition for scarce resources, no experience of the ‘other’ culture to assess and meaningfully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘other’ group. No knowledge. Not even a meeting…
All that’s needed: An IN group (‘us’) and and OUT group (‘them’). The rest is pure psycho-babble, or post-facto justification for decisions and evaluations already made on the basis of our bias.
Some of the more common ‘divisions’ that cause grief:
Occupation, profession or business
So, be aware that ALL it takes for us to think badly of someone else (or a group of ‘someone elses’) is for them to NOT BE US. This, sadly, is where I see religious prejudice whether Christian or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Wasp, Scientologist or Methodist.
And if there is any disagreement about anything, or any competitive behaviour or aggression, well, that just reinforces the position. We will favour our ‘In group’ and show prejudice against the ‘out group’, thinking less of them, valuing their happiness less, judging them as inferior, and therefore justifying our own negative or unfair behaviour towards them — all based on nothing.
Leaving aside inferiority complexes etc, it seems the ‘default setting’ for humans is (to borrow a neat phrase from Transactional Analysis):
I’m OK, you’re not OK
Tricky, huh? Any thoughts?
Henri Tajfel is perhaps best known for his minimal groups experiments. In these studies, test subjects were divided arbitrarily into two groups, based on a trivial and almost completely irrelevant basis.
Participants did not know other members of the group, did not even know who they were, and had no reason to expect that they would interact with them in the future. Still, members of both groups began to identify themselves with their group, preferring other members of their group and favouring them with rewards that maximized their own group’s outcomes.
Subsequently, Tajfel and his student John Turner developed the theory of social identity. They proposed that people have an inbuilt tendency to categorize themselves into one or more ingroups, building a part of their identity on the basis of membership of that group and enforcing boundaries with other groups.
Social identity theory suggests that people identify with groups in such a way as to maximize positive distinctiveness; groups offer both identity (they tell us who we are) and self-esteem (they make us feel good about ourselves).