A. Identity, Projection and Satanization
However, sometimes people choose to differentiate themselves from other groups, to which they attribute negative or ‘bad’ characteristics in order to contrast them with their own ‘goodness’ without needing to change. This gives way to two psychological dynamics called ‘projection’ and ‘satanization’. Through projection, we ascribe to others certain undesirable traits that we do not wish to recognize in ourselves as individuals or as a group. This enables us to attack those defects in an ‘other’ instead of confronting them in ourselves.
This is a double strategy which makes it possible to keep our ‘good’ self-image intact by exteriorizing our own failings while exaggerating the positive aspects of our own identity and magnifying the defects of the ‘other’. These tactics can be taken to the extreme of turning ‘others’ into enemies by ‘satanizing’ them. This enables us to attack or even kill that ‘other’ without feeling guilty and damaging our positive identity, which is further strengthened when we are victorious and can convince ourselves that ‘good’ has prevailed over ‘evil’.
Another strategy to enhance our self-image without having to change is ‘beatification’, ‘deification’, or the search for a hero. In this case we appoint a person, entity or even a fictitious character, preferably from within our own identity group, in whom we deposit all of the positive qualities that we feel are we lacking, and thereby acquire those virtues by association. In this way, we can identify with a saint or hero without having to make an effort to become like him or her. For example, we admire people like Gandhi and mother Teresa, but when faced with the opportunity to perform an unselfish act, we can always exclaim, “What do you want from me? I am not Mother Teresa!”
The fundamental need for a positive identity is common to all human beings, but the means to achieve it can vary. Instead of recurring to projection or satanization, which lead to a false self-image, we can enhance our self-awareness by developing unconditional acceptance of ourselves as we are, with our strengths and weaknesses, just as we love a child and accept its immature condition while cherishing hopes that it will grow and mature.
Having this attitude towards ourselves makes it easier to develop it towards others through “empathy” – the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others, feel what they feel, see the world through their eyes, and accept them just as they are, with all their defects and virtues, without needing to overstate the one or the other. In turn, we can consciously go about developing our capacities, which contributes to our own sense of self-realization. This does not only mean learning, but having the courage to attempt to put what we learn into practice, even if we fear we will not do it well. In fact, going forward in the face of fear is one of the secrets of self-realization. We can also discover the satisfaction that comes from selfless service, of forgetting ourselves in the process of helping others, or of devoting ourselves to attaining an ideal.
When we develop these genuine sources of a positive self-image, we will know that everyone is on the same road of learning, maturation and self-improvement, and that it is not necessary to debase some in order to glorify others, but rather to help each other in the path towards our common goals.
B. The Case of Racism
One area where projection and satanization are often seen is in racism, which was very common in the past and still lingers on in the present. The racist view of humankind maintains that people’s character, capacity and value are racially determined. It claims that racial differences are due to differential evolution, which has provided some races with greater intellectual and physical endowments than others, resulting in inherent superiority.
Therefore, when people believe that one group is racially superior or inferior to another, due to inalterable circumstances of birth, they are said to have a racist mental model. Often those who believe they are superior assume that members of the 'inferior’ race are there to serve them and relieve them of toilsome tasks. This makes it hard for them to develop an attitude of service towards members of that race. Since they think that the ‘inferiority’ is genetically determined, it is also hard for them to believe in the inherent potential of the members of that race. When they do help them to develop their capacities, it can often be with a certain degree of condescendence.
Moreover, when those of the ‘inferior race’ develop their own capabilities, racists can feel that they have forgotten ‘their place’ or ‘who they are’, and react with fear, resentment or hatred. It is easy for them to justify giving special privileges to those whom they see as superior while denying them to those they perceive as being inferior and undeserving. They may even deprive them of their fundamental human rights. In this way, racism erodes the basic values of justice, unity and solidarity.
Alternatively, when people interiorize self-concepts of inferiority, they may doubt their own capabilities and find it difficult to develop them. Since they probably associate service with servitude and humiliation, they may have a hard time acquiring a spirit of service motivated by love. They will often harbor feelings of mistrust, resentment and/or hatred towards the dominant group. No matter how justifiable these feelings may be, they interfere with the development of more positive, healthier attitudes, thereby hampering progress towards a society based on unity and justice.
Even more damaging than its impacts on individuals are the consequences of racism on society as a whole. It has been the primary cause of slavery, countless wars, and progroms of systematic genocide. Even when it has not reached those extremes, it has often been a cause of systematic structural discrimination.
In some countries, the racist model has been perpetuated in a more dissimulated fashion through the structuring of social classes. Although a society may not admit to having racist attitudes, racial proportions in each social class reveal that wealth distribution correlates strongly to color or caste. People having a racist mental model – albeit unconsciously – will tend to privilege the favored race and discriminate against the one that is deemed inferior.
This concept of human nature directly contradicts the “oneness of the human race”, a fundamental principle of the age in which we live, and a truth confirmed by all sciences. Anthropology, physiology and psychology all recognize a single human species, although infinitely diverse in the secondary aspects of life.
C. Uniformity vs. Diversity
One common objection to the principle of the oneness of humankind is that it is impossible due to the great diversity of the world’s peoples. This argument follows a mental model that confuses unity with uniformity and diversity with division.
In order to understand the origins of this conceptual error, it is useful to distinguish three stages in the evolution of a society. The first is unity in uniformity, in which social integrity is maintained by having only one way of thinking and acting. The second is division in diversity, when different factions struggle to change traditional patterns and promote their own sense of identity and individuality. The stage that humankind is now entering is that of unity in diversity, in which the rich variety of the human race is preserved and coordinated under unifying principles.
The first two models were historically predominant and resulted in situations of conflict. Under unity in uniformity, conformity is usually imposed, and it is only possible to belong to a society by fitting into its mold. Under division in diversity, differences result in the population separating into classes, parties, denominations, factions, etc., and continual struggle among them, until society is broken apart by divisionism. However, peace is an outcome of adapting our ways of thinking, acting and organizing society to the principle of the unity in diversity of ethnic groups and cultures, religions and ideologies, political and economic arrangements.
The world around us offers abundant examples of this principle in action. The human body is the most highly differentiated and specialized biological organism known, and yet all of its elements, organs and systems function in perfect harmony when the body is healthy. Beautiful music is achieved through the harmonious combination of various instruments, tone qualities, rhythms, notes, chords, and progressions. In an ecosystem, unity in diversity is essential in order to ensure the wellbeing of all species; and in the economic system it is vital to market stability. In politics, the federal system respects local autonomy while regulating relations among states and other entities.
In a united world, the unity that is sought does not require imposed uniformity; nor must our precious diversity need to result in divisionism. These two aspects, so common in a culture of conflict, must give way to a unity in diversity that preserves and cultivates the wealth inherent in plurality while integrating and coordinating the different elements of humanity as a whole.
D. The Fear of Losing Identity
The conceptual framework of the oneness of humanity goes far beyond merely believing that we are all brothers and sisters. It requires restructuring the entire social order as a single planetary commonwealth in which we all see ourselves as world citizens, while still belonging to our own towns and nations. A common objection against this prospect is that such a world commonwealth is impossible because it would lack identity, or that it is undesirable because the diverse peoples of the world would lose their identity. The political scientist Arash Abizadeh has written a critical analysis of the arguments used to support this objection, and what follows is a summary of his main points.1
According to this view, human beings acquire their sense of identity in contrast to an ‘other’ that is different from them, i.e., we realize who or what we are through opposition to who or what we are not. In the case of families, communities and nations, there is always another family, community or nation against which to differentiate ourselves. However, if a single world commonwealth were established, a unified humanity would supposedly no longer have an ‘other’ against which to contrast itself, and would therefore lack a sense of identity. There is also the fear that sociopolitical unification of the human race would merge all ‘others’ into a single mass, thereby resulting in a loss of identify for each member.
This argument contains some serious errors. Firstly, developmental psychologists such as Eric Ericsson have shown that our sense of identity depends more on what makes us similar to others than that which sets us apart from them. In other words, we identify more with groups that we are part of than against ‘others’ outside of our group. Children identify with their mothers until they realize that they are both members of a family, with which they identify until they find that the family is part of a larger community. This enriches their identity until they find that their community is part of their township, province, country, continent and, finally, the world. As the circle of our identity widens, we reach new heights of moral or social maturity and our sense of identity is enhanced. Refusing to broaden it to the next social level would mean to cut our development short.
Secondly, even if it were true that an individual’s identity is formed in opposition to an ‘other’, it is a logical fallacy to suppose that the same applies automatically to the identity of a human collectivity. Psychological theories used to explain individuals cannot necessarily be used to understand how a society works, since societies are more than the sum of their individual members. No research in the social sciences has ever shown that a people’s identity needs to be contrasted with or opposed to another dissimilar group, so this idea is based on mere conjecture and speculation.
Thirdly, even if this ‘particularistic’ theory were true, there is no reason why that ‘other’ should be physically present at the same time and place, nor that it ought to exist outside of the members’ imagination. A unified humanity could contrast its present identity with its divisive, conflictive past and say “that is no longer who we are”. Alternatively, it could compare itself with numerous communities of plants or animals, with which it would find many differences. Finally, artistic creativity could be a rich source of fictitious peoples with which to contrast ourselves, including the possibility of posing the existence of extraterrestrial races on other planets.
In conclusion, science has provided no legitimate evidence that a worldwide commonwealth could not achieve a new sense of identity as one human race inhabiting a common home whose borders are those of the planet. The important thing is to meet the fundamental human need for a positive self-image. Rejection, censure, mistreatment, exclusion, and strife are what harm our positive identity, not the inclusion and acceptance of mutualistic relations.
1. Arash Abizadeh. “Does Collective Identity Presuppose an Other? On the Alleged Incoherence of Global Solidarity.” American Political Science Review, 99 (1), 2005, pp. 45-60.