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The Fault Lines of the Contemporary Ideological Divide – Part 1

Read Part 2 here: Fault Lines article, Part 2.

Part I.

It is not difficult to discern that within and outside of United States political and cultural conflict is on the rise. Disagreements and confrontations become more frequent and more pronounced and their intensity increases rapidly. One senses that the world is on the collision course again and the crisis is looming over our heads. Mutual disinterest in other people’s lives and disregard for individuals who look differently, think differently, and conduct themselves differently create an atmosphere of disrespect and distrust. Unwillingness to face each other and the avoidance of direct conversations and discourses about uncomfortable or difficult topics often precludes the possibility of any collaboration. Shouting takes a front stage and listening with the intent to understand others experiences and positions becomes the forgotten art. Fears and anxieties are accompanied by anger and frustrations people express about their lives and other people. Patience is in short supply. The visceral feelings of disgust, when it comes to people who represent distinct cultures (lifestyles), different ethnicities and subscribe to different systems of beliefs and values, can quickly move toward hatred and aggression. Winning by any means necessary (regardless how harmful and objectionable those means can be) is a sign of the strength of character and categorizing people as winners and losers reflect the need to judge others and measure one’s own success through the competitive eye.

In 1979 Christopher Lasch published the book CULTURE OF NARCISSSISM[1]. His book was a critical, cultural study of a tendency (especially in the Occident) toward individuation which started to manifest excessive signs of narcissistic personality characteristics on a greater societal scale. Lasch’s book is a description and diagnosis of the times (Zeitgeist) he was living in. The typical signs he presented pointed to individual’s self-preoccupation and self-absorption. Fending for oneself and looking for one’s self-interest becomes a prevalent norm. Setting priorities for oneself often excludes the possibility of common interests among people who are involved in interaction. Everything is measured by gain and loss. Self-sacrifice is becoming a bad word, while sacrificing others (for a cause or for the sake of self-interest) without being concerned about their hurt and the harm inflicted on them, can be easily justified as long as others are considered as not too important (they do not measure up) or as enemies. Individuals expect loyalty from others, yet they give themselves a permission to shift their loyalties when circumstances offer them certain advantages. Self-scrutiny and self-critique no longer is included in the enterprise of self-examination. Blaming and accusation become the standard weapons of self-defense. Taking responsibility for a failure and admitting shortcomings or wrongdoing becomes a losing proposition. A long-term process of individual maturation loses its appeal and the instant reactivity (with instant gratification as a motivational factor) becomes a prevalent mode of operation. Lasch’s observations are as pertinent as ever, yet they must be evaluated in conjunction with group identification and tribal tendencies we are witnessing today. Otherwise, the ideological divide between distinct ideological camps would not make too much sense.

This article split into two parts will offer the complementing perspectives by the practicing therapist and the practicing mediator who are concerned with the increasing level of conflict among distinct ideologies. It is based on the assumption that the culture of narcissism enhances the possibility of conflict within and outside of a society and that so-called narcissistic personality produces and invites a lot of conflictual and adversarial posturing and behavior. Part one will seek to establish a link between the narcissistic tendencies and conflict(s) of current ideologies from the psychotherapist’s perspective. It will present these conflicts in the form of interactive/communicative exchanges between warring ideological camps and it will show how these conflicts are represented by distinct negative judgments and anti-attitudes. Finally, the purpose of this article is to show that the ideological conflicts can lead to acrimony within the families and among friends, and on the global level it threatens co-existence between various groups, collectives, and nations.

Part two will consider the utility and the limits of mediation and psychotherapeutic techniques in bringing about substantive change to resolve internal and external conflicts, and to begin a process of healing the current ideological divide.

A Few Notes Related to the Concept of Ideology

The concept of ideology is with us for a long time. It originated with Antoine Destutt de Tracy during the reigning terror of the French revolution. The term went through many variations and brought about many schools of thought in the past and in the presence. It invited multi-disciplinary approach and offered a variety of categorizations.

In one way, ideology can be defined as a belief-system, a set of interconnected assumptions and propositions that purport to explain the world and guide us within it. Karl Jaspers, a psychiatrist turned philosopher, wrote a book in 1911 entitled The Psychology of Worldviews in which he addressed the subject of how it is that people tend to see things in so many different ways and have such divergent overall perspectives.[2] Jaspers pointed out that worldviews are inevitable ways that we take a shortcut to understand the totality of things by seeing them from a particular point of view. Some people are “rationalists” and like to see things through the lens of reason, others are “romanticists” who go with what their heart and intuition tell them, sometimes at the expense of reason. No one worldview is right or wrong; but Jaspers points out, they all function psychologically as frames or boxes or shells by which we simplify reality and give ourselves the illusion of security and certainty. Ideologies are thus clung to as intellectual security blankets if you will, and while helping us to cope with a complex reality, also can limit us and can function as barriers to truth rather than avenues to it.

Wilhelm Dilthey’s theory of worldviews was similar to Jaspers’ analysis. [3]We embrace worldviews, he pointed out, because they give us the illusion of certainty. They protect us against the terror of finitude, help us manage our terror at the inevitability of our death, and enable us to hide from the reality of flux and change and historical context by positing “metaphysical” truths or dogmas that are purportedly all explaining or even eternal.[4]

When it comes to the conflict of ideologies, Karl Mannheim’s sociological/psychological approach might be considered a useful one. He presented his ideas in his classic work IDEOLOGY and UTOPIA, originally published in 1929 in German (and later 1936 in English) after he left Nazi Germany and relocated to England. Mannheim’s work can find some commonalities in the more contemporary writing, offered by, for example, the Oxford researcher Jonathan Leader Maynard in his article IDEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS[5] . To be clear, we are not attempting to defend or criticize their work. Our purpose is to show that their approaches intersect and complement each other.

In the beginning of his book Mannheim makes a distinction between the particular and the total conception of ideology. Let’s use Mannheim’s own words to show the contrasts between two conceptions.

The particular conception of “ideology” makes its analysis of ideas on a purely psychological level. If it is claimed for instance that an adversary is lying, or that he is concealing or distorting a given factual situation (fake news)[6], it is still of validity-it is still assumed that it is possible to refute lies and eradicate sources of error by referring to accepted criteria of objective validity common to both parties. The suspicion that one’s opponent is the victim of an ideology does not go as far as to exclude him from discussion on the basis of a common theoretical frame of reference.[7] The case is different with the total conception of ideology. When we attribute to one historical epoch one intellectual world and to ourselves another one, or if we a certain historically determined social stratum thinks in categories other than our own, we refer not to the isolated case of thought –content, but to the fundamentally divergent thought -systems and to widely differing modes of experience and interpretation.

Both conceptions suggest a variety of adversarial and conflictual behavior and conduct. From strategic interactions offering many types of maneuvers and moves such as intimidation, discreditation, deceit, pretense and camouflage, fabrications, and manipulations of different sorts[8], to verbal aggression articulated by different (mostly negative) labels, based on unfavorable judgments about the opponents and hurled at them frequently during personal encounters (public protests) or through the variety of media outlets. Finally, to physical aggression or imposition of harm on the enemies (real and perceived), when the desired goal is to destroy the opponents, by damaging their reputation, taking away their careers, privileges or rights, their dignity and possibly taking away their freedoms and lives. Depending on the intensity of hostile attitudes, (accompanied by utter disgust and hatred for the adversary, and expressed as outrage), the consequences for individuals (and the groups they are affiliated with), who find themselves on the opposing sides of an ideological divide can be tragic. The ideological ‘abyss’ invites plenty of unwarranted and unverified speculations (conspiracy theories) and breeds skepticism at best and deep cynicism at worst. It is based on distrust and suspicion related to the opponent(s). The validity of the opponents claims are doubted, their mental fitness and moral character are questioned, their motives and intents become suspect. Mischief and deception are imputed to adversaries, as well as the intention to harm[9]. When it comes to the enemy, the line between ‘real’ and ‘hidden’ motives is blurred. To ‘unmask’ or ‘decipher’ the opponent’s ‘real’ motives is the task of the day. Next to motives and intentions, the mental (in) capacity is evaluated. Are the adversaries plain evil or are they lacking the capacity to think well (they are considered to be stupid)? Meaning, they commit the errors of judgment accompanied by the inability to reason adequately. The certain types of ‘immoral’ conduct criticized by the opposing sides, later becomes a justification and the license to engage in a similar, questionable conduct by those who criticize and those who are criticized. A double standard abounds.

Mannheim’s particular conception of ideology, as he claims, is psychological (we would prefer to say, social-psychological). Motives, conscious and subconscious, attitudes, behaviors, situated conduct, and personalities are the categories used to analyze and describe this type of conception. Moral and non-moral judgments and the consequences of these judgments also play a role in this conception.

Mannheim’s total conception is based on distinct world-views, systems of beliefs and values, and more or less coherent conglomeration of ideas, which are historically and culturally determined by conditions and practices pertaining to distinct social formations and categories, such as class, ethnicity, religious affiliations, and so forth. Strangeness, unfamiliarity with distinct cultural practices, systems of beliefs and value systems, lacking the point reference with regard to individual and collective experiences lead more often than not, to irreconcilable differences. (The problem of incommensurability, incongruity, and incomparability is familiar to mediators, conflict resolvers, and thinkers from a variety of fields.[10] ) To illuminate this point, let’s use the story of Tobias Schneebaum, the New York artist, who lived voluntarily among a stone-age tribe in the jungles of Peru. He wrote his account in the book, ‘Keep the River on Your Right’. His account was subsequently used by anthropologists Hugh Mehan and Houston Wood. [11]

Going back to Mannheim’s definition, there are a couple of takeaways from Mannheim’s words. First, being a ‘victim of ideology’ paints the concept of ideology in pejorative terms. Second, the concept of ideology reaches beyond a particular social-historical and cultural milieu and needs to be assessed within these broad categories in the form of inter-disciplinary studies. Third, Mannheim’s reference to distinct interpretations serves as a precursor to a hermeneutical (interpretative) approach regarding the inquiry, analysis and explanation of the concept and the phenomenon of ideology. This also leads to caution, which should be accepted by all researchers in the field of ideological studies. In analyzing ideological polarization, it is necessary to be cognizant of one’s own potential or actual biases which can easily influence the validity of the research. This is the message conveyed by Karl Mannheim when he addresses the methodological aspects of ‘sociology of knowledge’.[12]

All three considerations are reflected in contemporary studies of ideology represented by the Maynard article mentioned above. He, as many others, is critical is uncomfortable with the label ‘pejorative’ attached to any conception of ideology. The pejorative meaning is associated with two types of qualitative comparisons. First, ideologies are frequently compared to more sophisticated philosophical or scientific forms of thinking and reflect the lack of refinement of thought. The view smells a bit like an intellectual elitism, therefore all of us need to be aware of our own biases and be reminded again and again that even the most refined ‘minds’ are holders of preferred ideologies. [13]

The second type of comparison is gauged against so-called pragmatic attitude. In other words, if someone is considered to be too ‘ideological’, it is concluded that he or she is unable and unwilling to engage in any form of collaborative problem-solving, precluded by strongly (often dogmatically) held positions. If that person would be willing to negotiate in a collaborative fashion and accept a compromise as a result (based on collaborative problem-solving and the outcome of a pragmatic attitude), he or she would compromise and sacrifice her or his principles and core beliefs.[14]

It is also useful to mention, that being cautious with utilizations of the label ‘pejorative’ does not preclude anyone from applying a critical approach to different uses, abuses, and impact of ideologies. On the contrary, any thoughtful analysis of ideology should account for demagogical abuses of the political speech associated with rhetoric and spinning.

Judgments and anti-attitudes: their contribution to the ideological divide

The ideological divide we want to focus on is limited to the current political landscape in our own country. This divide – between red and blue, conservative and liberal, right and left, pro-Trump and anti-Trump – is represented by a multitude of colliding claims and by different ideological assessments as to what are the main problems and what their magnitude is. It is spelled out by offering distinct and mostly competing solutions (or the lack of them) by distinct groups, collectivities, and their spokespersons, and representatives. It is embodied in imputations of blame, responsibility and accountability for those problems, articulated by the opposing sides who contribute to the divide. And it is expressed in the form of predominately negative judgments about those who are perceived and labeled as opponents, adversaries, competitors, and enemies. These judgments are accompanied and solidified by strongly formed negative attitudes (or anti-attitudes) expressed in sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle manner by the distinct warrying, ideologically divided camps. The judgments are occasionally expressed privately and often publicly. They contribute to another contention with regard to a person’s right to speak her or his mind and bring about another layer of divide. Here the opposition to political correctness collides with the demand for civil public discourse. The opponents of political correctness feel constrained in their ‘right’ to say it ‘as it is’. They believe that the ‘protected’ groups (or classes) are beyond reproach and criticism and are oversensitive, when they claim different forms of discrimination, prejudice, and oppression. The individuals (and groups) who feel they are curtailed in their ‘free’ expression become offended when they are labeled as being prejudiced or racists. On a deeper level this problem addresses long-standing difficulties when it comes to the distinction between the matter of ‘fact’ and the matter of ‘value’. Often, judgments and valuations in the hyper-sensitive and divisive atmosphere, become blurred and almost indistinguishable. For example, being labeled as ‘stupid’ and being qualified as having diminished mental or intellectual capacity (based allegedly on serious research related to different forms of intelligence) might be considered both as insults of a different degree. It touches on a difficult issue of self-esteem and confidence. Being judged versus being evaluated by using some set of ‘objective’ criteria based on empirical evidence, becomes the matter of contention in itself. The facts themselves are disputed, their sources and validity questioned, their interpretations and valuations become suspect, and the methods of gathering are viewed through the prism of various interests and priorities.

The demand for civil discourse -on one hand acknowledging the ‘right’ to express publicly opinion, view or judgment, and on the other hand addressing the need and willingness to listen to each other-, is often considered as nothing but the ploy to silence those who feel they are disregarded and are prevented from speaking openly and expressing how they ‘really’ feel, fearing they might be misjudged and castigated. Also, civil discourse does not offer anything to those individuals and groups who benefit from the environment infused with discord and acrimony. Boundaries between justified, righteous, faked, and uncontrollable anger (rage) are difficult to distinguish because civility requires either suppression or the control of anger. Yet, the injustices are felt deeply and thinking about how to create the conception of justice for all as the problem-solving enterprise is becoming an unwelcomed task or is considered an exercise in futility. Consequentially, claims expressing mutual disrespect, disregard, or diminishment (the lack of recognition), oversensitivity (or the lack of sensitivity) become a commonplace. The only way how to get the point across is to become a winner using any means which are available.

Our current ideological divide is often simplified as the opposition and competition between the ‘left’ versus the ‘right’ leaning ideologies. The attitudes when it comes to individuals, groups, collectivities, and institutions also become simplified and are differentiated as positive, negative, and disinterested attitudes. Many of these attitudes can be organized into clusters and vary in degree of intensity. In the current atmosphere of distrust and suspicions coalescing with worries about our personal and national futures, the negative attitudes or anti-attitudes are more prevalent. (We are living in times of discontent on both sides of ideological division.)

Among the long list of grievances and complaints, expressed as certain negative judgements, which are currently on display, we have chosen three which we believe well illustrate the ideological divide occurring in the present time. We chose these three judgments to illustrate the ideological divide, based on the (hopefully correct) assumption that these three attitudes are most frequently utilized when the opposing sides evaluate and critique each other.

The first judgment one is the judgment of laziness versus productivity. The main charge coming mostly from the ideological ‘right’ is expressed and demonstrated by two groupings of people who represent the participation or the lack of it. Broadly, these two groupings are labeled as ‘makers’ and ‘takers’, those who mostly contribute and those who mostly are parasitic on the society. The contributors produce and add the value to the wealth and therefore well-being of the society, while the parasitic element runs the country to the ground. The nonproductive members are considered to be freeloaders who avoid work, are lazy and do not apply themselves when it comes to their potential. The most valuable ‘makers’, who contribute the most, are the entrepreneurial and moneyed classes, who call themselves job creators. Their success is measured by the ownership and their smarts are documented by the amount of money they make. The makers pride themselves in intense dedication to work. They set the bar high and those who do not measure up are valued less and less on the sliding scale of time and effort they dedicate to working. If that person is also a business owner or occupies a high position of responsibility (authority) and leadership, he or she becomes a measuring stick for the rest. The workaholic is a prototype of a productive contributor. The top brass then claims to have the prerogative to judge those who do not satisfy their high standard related to their effort and achievement. The concept of merit is defined along the similar lines by different degrees of contribution. Those who do not contribute accordingly or adequately do not deserve much and if they are parasitic on the society they do not deserve anything. The quality and the quantity of contributions is not distinguished in this fairly simplified version of merit, where the most reliable measure applied is again the ownership represented by the amount of money in the possession of a contributor. The quantitative assessment or valuation (time spent while working or idling) does not fully satisfy the accuracy of the judgment about laziness. Those who work long hours and labor hard but perform the types of work which do not translate to the high (monetary) compensation are distinguished from the most valuable contributors by the criterion of the ‘smart’ work rather than the ‘hard’ work. Working smart could mean two different things that is, working effectively and performing work which asks for a high level of knowledge and schooling. The judgement of laziness and productivity is further complicated by the division between creative and re-productive work. Those who work in academia, write books, or are involved in other creative activities will be measured by the utility of their contributions to the wellbeing of the society. Here the laziness might be completely sidetracked for the sake of usefulness, that is, the uselessness of the ‘product’. (For example, the cinematic product is only as good as the box office receipts generated around the world.)

Ideologically, the simplified version of the judgment of laziness and productivity works on multiple levels. It enables to determine, how the representatives of two distinct ideological camps view the role of government, its utility and futility (or its detriment). It demarcates the boundaries around two camps. It clearly delineates the fault lines of ideological conflict and sets the stage for competing versions of a political practice and power struggle. This simplified version also generates strong antagonistic attitudes (or anti-attitudes) on both sides of the dividing line. The ‘neutral zone’ quickly disappears and citizens are divided between friends and enemies. The purpose of simplification of this judgment (and other judgments involved) is to create divisiveness and division. On the emotional level, it creates animosity accompanied by anger, resentment, occasionally by envy, more than often by blaming the other side. On one hand, we hear the complaint that those who do not work hard have it easy, and the hard working people are justifiably resentful or envious of those who are slacking away, while the hard working folk has to toil day after day, while performing boring and uninspiring work. On the other hand, well documented resentment, often expressed by the despondent and the ‘disreputably poor’, [15] is represented by the class envy. Next the claim related to the judgment of laziness and productivity enters the realm of criminal and unethical behavior. The ‘makers’ (self-proclaimed productive segment of the population) feels that the less productive or parasitic segment of labor force is literary stealing the well-deserved fruits of their hard labor. The other side of the ideological spectrum is claiming that those fruits are gained by illegal means, based on privilege and advantage. The left proclaims itself as the champions of labor castigating the wealthy and members of the financial and economic elite as “takers” and exploiters, who take unfair advantage of the working class. The ‘lazy’ are shamed and castigated by the productive ones. Both sides are occasionally right and occasionally wrong, but neither side is willing to engage in the refinement of their judgments or to rectify their thinking, notwithstanding to say anything positive about the other side. Anti-attitudes are imbued with strong feelings and there is no time to waste with contemplation, subtlety or constructive discourse (with intent to solve problems collaboratively).

What the simplified version of judgment does not do is to bring into conversation many quandaries associated with the judgment of laziness and productivity, therefore not addressing the complexity of contributing factors. One of the most pressing issues while evaluating this judgment is to determine if laziness pertains exclusively to the body or also to the mind, or both. Is idleness equated with apathy, lethargy, sluggishness, passivity, impotence, melancholy (depression), lack of motivation, hopelessness, lifelessness of the spirit, weakness of will or the loss of meaning (meaninglessness of certain actions or activities)? Is busyness distinguishable from restlessness? How does the virtue of patience contribute to the judgment of laziness and productivity, that is, doing things hastily or doing nothing and waiting for the opportunity? And finally, is sloth a sin or is it a disease?[16] Yet, a reflective (including self- reflective) approach is the one which is most needed. If either side would be willing to say something positive about the other side, if each side would be willing to improve on their shortcomings and acknowledge wrong-doing among their own, the ideological divide could be mitigated through transformative process brought by effort to go beyond exclusive and disparate group interests.

Next on our short list is the judgment of stupidity and smartness. When we probed the issue of laziness, we did not specifically say much about intellectual laziness. This type of laziness is directly related to the judgment of stupidity and implicitly to the judgment of smartness. The academic institutions (the loose community of scholars, educators, and experts) and people who are directly involved in these institutions are in the eye of the storm. Not only they are responsible to educate the rest of the population, they also are supposed to critically evaluate and study the state of affairs, which impacts the well- being of the citizenry and the country as a whole. Specifically, the segment of educators which is involved with humanities, arts, social and behavioral sciences, law and journalism become the observers and at the same time participants in human affairs directly or indirectly effecting the rest of the society. Those who work in the field of hard sciences and technology also become the part of ideological landscape and are engaged in the public discourse. For a relative separation from the rest of the population and their independence, academics pay the price when they enter into ideologically charged public discourses. They become critics and they become the criticized. The criticism comes from different corners and from different segments of population. The typical claim is about the lack of understanding of the ‘real’ world others have to deal with and the lack of experience with the ‘real’ problems. Academe is considered by its critics, to be a protected place for those who often are involved in speculative, non-practical enterprise and either their work does not contribute too much to the value of society or worse, their enterprise is an exercise in futility. Those who are their critics, pride themselves in possessing the common sense, which can be easily gained just by the going through life and experiencing it. The other charge against and criticism of academics and the highly educated people is that they are arrogant and dismissive of those who become their critics. In other words, people who are critical of the highly educated and impose the judgment on them not being that smart (because they do not possess a common sense and they do not understand the people who possess it), in the eyes of the highly educated do not have the capacity, knowledge or expertise to criticize them. To be fair to the critics of so-called intellectual elites, the institutions of learning breed a lot of arrogance within, and arrogance not only applies to those who are outside of the intellectual circles, but it applies to the academic peers and other well educated people. Snobbishness, when it comes to the schools people attend, frequently translates to arrogance mentioned above.

The issue of experience and ability to learn from it creates difficulty on both sides of the divide. Learning from experience, going through life, practicality (practicing life) does not guarantee that someone learns anything valuable. Neither common sense nor intellectual arrogance are good candidates for wisdom, which is distinct from smartness or intelligence (the intellectual capacity). For example, it does not matter if someone uses common sense or a highly refined form of reasoning (or rationalization), the maxim many people apply to their dealings with others, ‘Don’t trust anyone, but yourself’, often means that distrust is a sign of social anxiety, social phobias (for example, fear of crowds), and inability to work with others. Sometimes it is simply the lack of opportunity to socialize. Sometimes it is the preponderance of hurtful and harmful experiences with others which are cumulative throughout the individual’s life. But it hardly can be considered as the sign of a profound wisdom or a great achievement of learning about life.

The judgment of stupidity has enormous power to demean people. The statements like ‘You are not that smart’ or ‘He is plain stupid’ have a corrosive effect on the public discourse itself. Sure, some people lack the intellectual capacity or willingness to apply it. But attacking them by using a simplified form of judgments makes things worse rather than better. Being capable of making a sound judgment about others is in itself a measure of self-confidence, self-assurance, and competency. Hasty, angry, and simplified judgments are often the results of resentment and frustration. In the divisive ideological atmosphere between simplified groupings of the ‘right’ and the ‘left’, division and divisiveness again is clear. Each side judges the other side eitheras stupid, not so smart, or not stupid. Not too often the judgment of smartness is granted to the adversary. That judgment is reserved for people who do the judging and the people like them, who are in the ‘same’ ideological camp. Consequentially, if the adversary is not that bright, the one who articulates and expresses the judgment of stupidity must be the smart one. Occasionally, there are some men or women who admit their own lack of sophistication, education, or capacity to think and reason. They are willing to acknowledge that the opponents are perhaps smarter than them or they are quite smart, but then they must be evil, using their capacity and their knowledge to impose harm and take advantage of others. Finally, making the judgment about the opponent as being smart might be have a strategic purpose. Stated flattery or pretended respect for the smarts of the opponent (which is not ‘really’ meant) serves as a maneuver to outsmart the adversary and to affirm the intellectual superiority for one self or the team one is a member of. [17] Anti-attitudes related to judgments of smartness and stupidity, are as strong as those related to previous type of judgments. People in general, do not like to be analyzed, diagnosed, and lectured. Unless they voluntarily subject themselves to such endeavors coming from the community of experts, by acknowledging their legitimate authority and asking for help or solutions, they feel diminished and often humiliated by their efforts. Attending the lecture and being lectured or patronized are two very different events, one voluntary, the other performed without consent or permission. Any arrogance, real or perceived, builds a strong resentment, therefore the members of the ‘expert’ community need to think about the importance of humility related to their endeavors. (It might not be a coincidence that words ‘humility’ and humiliation have the same root.) They also need to remind themselves that resentment exhibited by those men and women who are frequently diminished and humiliated can occasionally rise to the level of mob mentality and violence. The good example is the ‘book burning’ during the Nazi era in Germany. That lesson should never be forgotten by those who cherish the written word.

The third judgment is the judgment of otherness. That is, the judgment that people who are different from us are in some ways inferior to us and too incomprehensible to us. Therefore, they are strangers among us at best and enemies at worst. This of course, is not a new judgment, yet it is becoming much more magnified once the world became a global village, where people from different backgrounds have the opportunity to meet each other and interact, or are forced to emigrate due to political or economic upheaval. Co-existence is becoming a number one issue, at the time when tensions and socio-cultural and historical (thinking generationally and developmentally) divisions become more pronounced. The otherness is often translated to indifference or disregard or fear for and of others and at certain point it becomes manifested by a bunker and siege mentality. Different socio-cultural, be it ethnic-national, religious or life-style, groupings feel threatened by each other and they are looking for a cover, protection (security), and intermittently for a strong leader who is going to protect them from the enemy. The cycles of harm, hurt, suffering, and violence make the need for protection more prominent. The culture of narcissism, with the tendencies toward self-absorption and self-preoccupation, does not advance the possibility of co-existence in the more and more fragmented and diversified world either.

The judgment of otherness helps us to understand the issue of identity, which is often in the center of many disputes and conflicts. It illuminates how we move from the identity of an individual (being identified as, for example, liberal, fascist, or Christian) and the identity regarding group affiliation (being identified with, for example with Catholics or environmentalists). The judgments of otherness are emotionally embodied in the anti-attitudes occasionally becoming so intense and ferocious, that once they reach the ‘boiling’ point, it is almost impossible to qualm them and neutralize them. Contempt, disgust, hatred for others can be manifested by uncontrolled rage, or by calm, yet systemic elimination of the other through the means of genocide or warfare. We have been there before and we (humans) cannot repeat ourselves again, because this time there is no point of return.

[1] Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., (1979)

[2] Karl Jaspers, Psychologie der Weltanschauungen, (Springer, Berlin 1919)

[3] Jos de Mul, The Tragdy of Finitude: Dilthey’s Hermeneutics of Life, (Yale University Press, 2004)

[4] David Horowitz, a promoter of ultra rightist ideology today, for example, was a “red diaper baby” whose parents submerged everything into their fanatic devotion to Communism, so that he as he was growing up in New York in the 1950’s, was told that he was not allowed to root for the Yankees over the Dodgers, because the former were the “capitalist”. See his autobiography, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, (Simon & Shuster, New York, 1997

[6] Added by the authors

[7] Emphasized by the authors

[8] Analysis and descriptions of such maneuvers can be found in Erving Goffman’s books Strategic Interaction (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969) and also in Frame Analysis: An Essay on Organization of Experience (Harward University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974). Goffman’s work is offers the insight into game-playing and gamesmanship, with different degrees of severity of consequences for those participants, who are engaged in a variety of games, from different contests to war games. For mediators it is essential to understand at what point the interactive process between parties moves from adversarial to collaborative enterprise and how they can enable this switch.

[9] For example, ridiculing the child of the person who becomes despised and object of one’s animosity (be it Chelsea Clinton in the past or Baron Trump now).

[10] See, Thomas Nagel, “Fragmentation of Value,” In Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 1979. Also, Nien-he Hsieh, “Incommensurability of Values,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (7/23/2007),

[11] In their work, The Reality of Ethnomethodology (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1975), specifically in the portion called, Five Features of Reality, where Mehan and Wood present the problem of multiple social realities. Using Schneebaum’s account, the authors illustrate a transition from one form of experience to a very different one and qualifying this shift from one reality to another by introducing the ‘reality’ features of fragility and permeability. Based on Schneebaums’s account, Mehan and Wood make the observation. …. As he (Schneebaum) was more and more permeated by the stone-age reality, he became to feel that his “own world, whatever, wherever it is, no longer was in existence’.

Later they write.

Mass murder, destruction of an entire village, theft of valuable goods cannibalism, the ritual eating of the heart …. -these are some acts Schneebaum participated in.

Subsequently, the authors point to two incommensurable moral systems of belief and practices, by stating.

It would have been as immoral for him to refuse to join his brothers in the raid and its victory celebration (the raid on the remote village) as it would be immoral for him to commit these same acts within a Western community.

We can conclude that two moral conceptions, one based on the utter loyalty to the tribe and its members and on the complete submission to the needs of the whole tribe and the other based on moral principles, familiar to Westerners, collide and there is no point of reference which could reconcile them. They are irreconcilable and incommensurable in their core. The conflict of the system of beliefs and practices is in full display, as they are experienced by the one person. To maintain his sanity, (and prevent a severe disintegration of his persona), Schneebaum decides to leave the tribe, going back to New York. He shifts his reality back.

[12] Sociology of knowledge is the term coined by Max Scheler (German philosopher and social thinker) later utilized by Karl Mannheim. The sociology of knowledge examines the relationship between social structures/systems and knowledge which occurs within a specific social context.

[13] Kenneth Rasmussen, “Ideology and the Psychology of Political Extremism”, Cleo’s Psyche, December 2014

[14] In his book, SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics (University Press of Kansas, 1990), Martin Benjamin examines relation and tension between ‘standing for’ versus ‘compromising’ person’s principles on one hand, and using compromise as the necessary tool to achieve mutually beneficial outcome(s) during the collaborative negotiations between two or multiple parties on the other hand.

[15] In his work, THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS: The Society and Evil (Chapter I: Sloth), General Hall Inc., (p.36) Stanford M. Lyman writes, …Who are these creatures of slothful impulse? In fact they include more than those scrapped by an industrial civilization; most important in their number are those who ‘remain unemployed, or casually and irregularly employed, even during periods approaching full employment and prosperity. “And it is for that reason, and others,” asserts David Matza that “they live in disrepute.” (David Matza, ‘The Disreputable Poor,’ in Class, Status, and Power: Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective, 2nd edition, ed. R. Bendix and S. M. Lipset (New York: The Free Press, 1966, p.289)

[16] These issues are presented and pondered in the previously mentioned, excellent work by Sanford M. Lyman.

[17] In the recent article, the famous right wing firebrand, Ann Coulter, makes a following claim, ‘Democrats are evil but they are not stupid.’ Ms. Coulter warns her own readership not to underestimate the opponent, yet she cannot make herself to admit, that the adversary might be smart. That judgment is relegated to her and the people who think like her. (Source: “Even Trump can’t Make Goldman Sachs Popular”, , The Daily Caller, 6/28/2017,


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Kenneth Rasmussen

Kenneth Rasmussen, PsyD, PhD, PSY23810, is an historian and  psychoanalytical psychotherapist.  He has taught history at Santa Monica College, UCLA and the University of Southern California and has a private psychotherapy practice in Santa Monica. He has a Certificate in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy from the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles,… MORE >


Milan Slama

Milan Slama is a practicing mediator and arbitrator in the Los Angeles area. He is a co-founder and the Board member of VBMC (Valley Bar Mediation Center). Currently he is a contractor for Los Angeles County and he also mediates for Chilren's Court.He has been associated with the LA Superior… MORE >

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