book abstracts  

Berman, A., M. Berger, et al. (2000). The Division into Us and Them as a Universal Social Structure
Mind and Human Interaction
11: 53-72.

People tend to view their social, political, and in-group affiliations as an articulation of their chosen values, stemming from ideological roots and expressing a carefully thought out rational world view. At the same time, they are inclined to shun other groups, which espouse contrary values and ideals. This avoidance too is perceived as freely chosen and value-based. Contrary to this common belief, but without underrating the influence of value-based choice and ideological affiliation, we claim that the division into opposing groups, cast as us and them, constitutes a basic structure of human social organization. It is, in a sense, a given of human nature, (one that people are often disposed to deny). Conceived in this manner, this division predates contents, opinions, and ideologies and is impulsive and unconscious in character. It is this division that defines "us" as a source of closeness and sharing, and "them" as different, antithetical, negative, and a potential enemy. Ideologies and group history are built on the foundation of this structural division. This article describes in detail observations and findings that demonstrate the division into "us" and "them," the process by which "them" is transformed into an enemy, the process of building an ideology on this basis, and the difficulties in maintaining a dialogue after all this has taken place. In the discussion that follows our description, we claim that it is possible to view the division into "us" and "them" as a kind of an inborn human instinct that is functional in consolidating the resources of the group and transforming it into a cohesive working team. In addition, we suggest that there might be a more psychological rationale for this division: it functions as a group defense mechanism that offers an identity and a sense of belonging instead of the anxiety-provoking chaos that man faces when he is an individual in a nameless crowd. The central idea of our thesis is that the division of people into opposing groups of "us" and "them" is a basic structure in the social organization of human beings; it is almost a given of human nature. According to this idea, and without in any way detracting from the importance of the free choice of values and adherence to an ideology, this division precedes content, ideas, and ideologies. It is impulsive, unavoidable, and unconscious.

Dr. Avi Berman, Clinical Psychologist, Organizational Consultant, POB 1017 Ramat Hsharon Israel,

Dr. Avia Berman is Israeli delegate of EFPP group psychotherapy section.


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