Thursday, 5 October 2017

Outsider - why are we like this?

I have been following the news carefully over the past few weeks. I have a fondness for Spain, speak the language fairly well and have worked and holidayed on the mainland as well as  the Canaries. The current political unrest in Catalonia is of particular interest because Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo in Barcelona, the Catalonian capital, are still on my to visit list.

  
 
 
The peaceful attempt by this distinct group in Spain to become independent has been met with a level of state brutality not experienced in Europe for decades. There are 1.6 million people living in the Catalonian municipality and they have always had a distinct culture and identity from their Spanish rulers. Spain has a very bloody past. During the Civil War, many British men (including poet WH Auden) went to fight against General Franco. The Catalan people experienced the terror of aerial bombardment by Franco's fascist allies - Hitler's Nazi regime.  
The massacre of the people of Guernica has been catalogued by in books, film and by Pablo Picasso, who was exiled from his beloved homeland. The painting 'Guernica' is a scene of horror. Unarmed innocents mown down by Luftwaffe attack. They, like the Jewish population in the rest of mainland Europe, were singled out because they were different.

This is a familiar tale. I was on honeymoon in Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia, only weeks before the divided Bosnians and Serbs began their bloody war. The news reports coined the phrase 'Ethnic Cleansing', a term merely serving to damp down the truth of the genocide that was unfolding. This was one group of human beings, systematically trying to eliminate another. They were different from each other and eventually the differences became a badge, a symbol that led to acts of extreme violence.

This type of violence and hatred towards outsiders is nothing new. History tells us that the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians. Every powerful group that emerged in the evolution of humanity, (a laughable word in this context) has either enslaved and subjugated, expelled or massacred those who it views as different or weak. In my own lifetime there has been ethnic expulsion of Asians from Kenya and Uganda and ethnic slaughter in many other African nations.

Human beings naturally group together because of their similarities. We like people who share our views. We bond with workmates; form associations with like-minded individuals; we identify with others at our schools or Universities. This tribal instinct extends to faith, gender, sexual orientation but why does this kind of behaviour lead to discrimination. Why do people learn to hate and sometimes try to completely obliterate an another group.

Psychologist Henri Tajfel researched and developed social identity theory. Social identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s). Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups (e.g. social class, family, football team etc.) which people belonged to were an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity: a sense of belonging to the social world. In order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong.  We can also increase our self-image by discriminating and holding prejudice views against the out group (the group we don’t belong to). We divide the world into “them” and “us” based through a process of social categorization (i.e. we put people into social groups).

This is known as in-group (us) and out-group (them).  Social identity theory states that the in-group will discriminate against the out-group to enhance their self-image. The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that group members of an in-group will seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image. Prejudiced views between cultures may result in racism; in its extreme forms, racism may result in genocide, such as occurred in Germany with the Jews, in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis: there are unfortunately many modern examples. 

Henri Tajfel proposed that stereotyping is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:  
1. the differences between groups
2. the similarities of things in the same group.

We categorize people in the same way. We see the group to which we belong (the in-group) as being different from the others (the out-group), and members of the same group as being more similar than they are. Social categorization is one explanation for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality) which leads to in-groups and out-groups. 

Tajfel and Turner (1979) proposed that there are three mental processes involved in evaluating others as “us” or “them” (i.e. “in-group” and “out-group”. These take place in a particular order.

The first is categorization. We categorize objects in order to understand them and identify them. In a very similar way we categorize people (including ourselves) in order to understand the social environment.  We use social categories like black, white, Christian, Muslim, student and bus driver because they are useful. If we can assign people to a category then that tells us things about those people. We couldn't function in a normal manner without using these categories; i.e. in the context of the bus. Similarly, we find out things about ourselves by knowing what categories we belong to.  We define appropriate behaviour by reference to the norms of groups we belong to. You can only do this if you can tell who belongs to your group. An individual can belong to many different groups.

In the second stage, social identification, we adopt the identity of the group we have categorized ourselves as belonging to.  If for example you have categorized yourself as a student, the chances are you will adopt the identity of a student and begin to act in the ways you believe students act (and conform to the norms of the group).  There will be an emotional significance to your identification with a group and your self-esteem will become bound up with group membership.

The final stage is social comparison.  Once we have categorized ourselves as part of a group and have identified with that group we then tend to compare that group with other groups. If our self-esteem is to be maintained our group needs to compare favourably with other groups. This is critical to understanding prejudice, because once two groups identify themselves as rivals, they are forced to compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem. Competition and hostility between groups is not only a matter of competing for resources like jobs but also the result of competing identities.

In Social identity theory the group membership is not something foreign or artificial which is attached onto the person, it is a real, true and vital part of the person. I don't believe that there is anything to be gained by trying to instil a different ideology or social identity on another group. In the end Moses asked of the Egyptian Pharaoh simply, "Let my people go." The bible story expounds the plagues that struck down the oppressor and the 'Passover' of their homes by the angel of death is one of the festivals central to their faith. 

But isn't that just a just a blame game? Don't we blame the 'out group' for all the problems that we may experience? Don't we blame them, exclude them and even try to expel them?  And doesn't that growing feeling of animosity lead some among us to commit hate crimes and acts of violence towards them? And them towards us? 

Hate is self-perpetuating but so is love. 





Me and Ma

They don't like us here,
We are not like them,
They killed my brother and my Pa.
We are leaving here - me and Ma.

Our home was built by my Great Grandpa,
We lived our lives,
We did no harm.
We are leaving here - me and Ma.

They burned our home,
Burned our village down,
All our crops destroyed.
We are leaving here  - me and Ma.

Through the hills we walk,
Through trails of mud,
As we walk - we cry.
We are leaving here - me and Ma.

This was our home,
Now we flee in fear.
We are not like them,
We are Rohingya.

We are not like them,
They don't want us here,
We are stateless now - me and Ma.
We are leaving here - leaving Myanmar.


Thank you for reading. Adele
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1 comments:

Steve Rowland said...

A most interesting blog, and a poem that packs a punch.

The tendency to categorise can be a dangerous one. I took this quote from Iris Murdoch's philosophical novel 'The Black Prince': "We defend ourselves by descriptions and tame the world by generalizing."

If our generalising becomes too crude and lazy, that is an enabler of unspeakably evil things being done, as per the graphic examples you give.

TOWIE - the only way is ethics :-)