Why do we demonize each other?
In 2012, we are able to recognize that demonizing others is a problem. However, our ancestors may not have had the same perspective.
Here are some of the reasons our forbears demonized:
- survival. This is the oldest reason. Our ancestors did not have all the mechanisms for survival that we have, so demonizing others justified the taking of scarce resources.
- to maintain the social glue. If certain behaviors were necessary for the survival of the group, then those behaviors were supported and others shunned. Demonizing certain behaviors created a group consensus that enforced the social code. Our brains give us error signal when we act contrary to the group, so demonizing behaviors is a very effective method of social control.
- to protect health. In the past humans had no protection against disease, no sanitation, no antibiotics, and very little medication. If an individual was a health threat, they could easily be demonized and cast out of the group, since people had little knowledge about the causes and cures of health problems in the past.
- to protect blood lines. Safety was an important consideration for our ancestors. You were safer with people you knew including in your family.
- to support an economic advantage. Demonizing someone or a group weakens their social status and claim to resources and support opening the door for exploitation.
- habit. Our ancestors had very little information about causes and effects. Often they explained their problems by pointing to forces outside of themselves. Many times they were right. Nonetheless, demonizing can become a bad habit. It is also very difficult to break if it is a way of life for a social group.
In spite of all of our knowledge and sophistication these days, are we really that much different from our ancestors? In some ways, I think we are, but often not so much.We are all concerned about our survival, health and well-being. Resources are becoming scarcer and our need for self-preservation is growing.
We have however become more interdependent, which prevents us from wholesale demonization of others and that is good. Diversity and education have helped us see that others are not really so different from us, and I hope we continue to extend our idea of the group to include all of us.
Photo Credit: Mental Notes