How To Overcome an “Us vs. Them” Mentality

We love ourselves a good enemy.

“These namby-pamby liberals!” “These dumb rednecks!” “These freeloading immigrants!” “These corrupt politicians!”

Why are we so set on an “us vs. them” mentality?

Learn about the evolutionary and psychological reasons and how you can overcome this tendency to pigeonhole.

What Is an “Us vs. Them” Mentality?

An “us vs. them” mentality is when you identify as a member of a certain group, which is at odds with another group. Your group is referred to as “us.” The opposing group is vilified as “them.”

For example, you might identify as a Democrat who looks down on all these Trump nutcases. Or you might be a Republican who despises all these bleeding-heart liberals.

There are plenty of these categories:

  • Political affiliation
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Age
  • Profession
  • Economic status
  • Educational background
  • Personal interests

On a group level, an “us vs. them” mentality creates cohesion. By putting down these “filthy gays” or these “narrow-minded straights,” we, as a group, close ranks. We now perceive ourselves as a powerful unit.

On an individual level, it provides a sense of identity. By submitting to a label, you no longer feel lost. You now know where you belong.

Also, it takes the guesswork out of life. You now know exactly how to act. All you need to do is to abide by group guidelines.

Reveling in the Difference vs. Disguising the Difference

There are two ways you can go about an “us vs. them” mentality:

  1. You can revel in the difference
  2. You can disguise the difference

Nazi Germany reveled in the difference. There was no attempt to conceal their hatred of the “others.” Hitler famously remarked, “If the Jews did not exist, we would have to invent them.”

The Bolsheviks went about it the opposite way. They claimed they were out to make the world a better place for everybody. Unfortunately, that involved putting millions away in the Gulags.

Strategically speaking, both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.

Reveling in the difference has a stronger unifying effect. In Nazi Germany, during a short time frame, people from very different socio-economic backgrounds melted together into the “Volk.”

The downside is that these arrangements tend to be less stable. Once your band of fanatics gets going, it doesn’t tend to go far. It’s bound to self-destruct. Nazi Germany lasted only 13 short years.

Disguising your “us vs. them” mentality is more sustainable. The Bolsheviks stayed in power for an impressive 69 years.

An even more successful example is Christianity. That movement has been around for over 2000 years. And just like the Bolsheviks, they pretend to include everyone.

But the crusades, the burning of “witches,” the pogroms against Jews, and most recently, the discrimination against gays speak a different language.

As stable as these veiled “us vs. them” ideologies tend to be, they also have their downsides. Their balancing act takes away from the simple appeal an undisguised “us vs. them” mentality has to offer.

For example, many Soviet citizens could not relate to the convoluted Marxist “Us.” Likewise, many Christians are currently turning away from churches beset by inner contradictions.

Muddle your message too much, and you lose followers.

The Fluid Nature of “Us vs. Them”

The irony about these strict “us vs. them” mentalities is that they are in fact highly fluid.

Let’s take the current culture wars. The right is hating on the left. The left is hating on the right. Conservative Christians condemn gays. Woke culture is canceling anyone not playing ball.

Now, as a thought experiment, imagine we were being attacked by an alien race, War of the Worlds style. Disgusting tripodal killers would roam the streets, looking for earthlings.

In an instant, all these ideological borderlines would dissipate. Trumpists and Antifa activists would be fighting side by side. “Us” humans vs. “them” aliens would be the new game in town.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter to most people what group they join — as long as they are part of something. Give them a new, better bogeyman, and whatever ideology they formerly subscribed to goes out the window.

What Fosters an “Us vs. Them” Mentality?

Certain conditions promote an “us vs. them” mentality.

1. The Family Unit

In our hunter-gatherer days, children were not so much raised by their parents as they were raised by the whole tribe; usually, it was not even clear who the biological father was.

There was no family unit in our modern sense.

With agriculture, that changed. You needed to know who your children were, so you could pass your wealth on to your genetic offspring, not the mailman’s child.

That created a sense of “us” — our family over here, everybody else over there.

2. Closed-off Systems

In the nuclear family, our parents must act as the sole caregivers; there are no other tribe members to share the burden. Most of the time, they fall short.

Children are traumatized by these failures. But they can’t keep blaming their parents forever. It’s not socially acceptable. Also, we shy away from the conflict.

So, once we grow up, we transfer our feelings of betrayal onto a scapegoat. A “them” is born. This enemy, too, is trying to deny us the pleasure we deserve, just like our parents did. They merit our hate.

3. Cognitive Load

An “us vs. them” mentality reduces cognitive load.

If you view the world around you in terms of black and white, in-group and out-group, you know exactly what to do.

You know what to say. You know how to dress. You know whom to vote for. You know whom to marry.

If you had to make these decisions individually, based on reason, you would soon feel exhausted. But by taking on a readymade worldview, you can operate on autopilot.

4. Self-Justification

Most of us start with high hopes for our lives. We dream of becoming athletes, artists, or movie stars.

But as life goes on, it doesn’t pan out. We are too scared or too lazy to go through with our dreams.

This we cannot admit to ourselves. So, we project our frustrations onto others.

  • “It’s the immigrants who are stealing our jobs.”
  • “It’s these mega-corporations that are exploiting us.”
  • “It’s these selfish women / toxic men who are playing us.”

We don’t want to take responsibility for ourselves. We want to pass it on. And the easiest way to do so is to blame our lack of success on outside forces – “Them.”

5. Fun

An “us vs. them” mentality is a lot of fun.

If you have ever been to a protest, watched a football game, or participated in a team sport, you know what I am talking about.

It’s the siren call of mass euphoria. We are here, our enemy is over there — “Let’s get them.”

An unchecked mass frenzy takes over. For a short while, there is no greater feeling than being swept along by it.

This is one of the most pleasurable experiences human existence has to offer. For a short while, we can leave behind our individuality — our doubts, our worries, our disappointment. It’s like a vacation from ourselves.

6. Superiority

There is a sense of accomplishment we get from an “us vs. them” mentality. By putting “them” down, we experience ourselves as superior.

You can observe that with professional sports or political elections.

People who never have played any sports will cry, “We won the Super Bowl.” People who never did any campaigning will jubilate, “We won the election.”

By identifying with the winners, we get to feel elated.

What Is the Alternative?

If you want to temper your “us vs. them” mentality, here is what you can do.

1. Don’t Be a Moralist

An “us vs. them” mentality is not something we should flat-out demonize. It is better to acknowledge that we have these tendencies than to deny them.

What you acknowledge, you can control. But what you demonize will come back to haunt you.

So, when you catch yourself resorting to an “us vs. them” mentality, take a mental note. Plan to do better next time. But don’t beat yourself up over it.

2. Don’t Be a Missionary

Don’t waste your time by trying to educate others about their “us vs. them” fallacy.

First, you can’t reeducate the masses. You can’t “make them” more tolerant.

The reality is — most people will naturally gravitate toward a mob mentality. They need to belong to some type of group. As such, they need their (imaginary) enemies.

Second, it’s a cop-out.

When you become a crusader for more tolerance, that’s just another type of “us vs. them” mentality. Now it’s us do-gooders vs. the blind rest.

3. Become an Eclectic

The only way to overcome an “us vs. them” mentality is on an individual level.

The smart individual refuses to put themselves in any kind of box, while at the same time drawing from all of them.

You must become an eclectic. You must consider everything, even the most extreme of positions.

Read Marx and Bakunin, but also read Spengler and Evola. Study the Bible, the Quran, and the Bhagavadgita. Then look at Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Russel.

Take from all of them. Find fault with all of them. But most importantly, make them your own.

2. “Us vs. Them” Play

A great antidote to groupthink is to occasionally engage in “us vs. them” play. By playing out these primitive urges in a jesting manner, you become more immune to them in real life.

For example, I have a Jewish ex-girlfriend and descendant of Holocaust survivors who has been teasing me about my late SS grandfather as long as I have known her. I, in turn, am happy to give the Aryan ubermensch around her.

I have another friend who grew up in the Texas Panhandle. I will often accuse him of being a truck-driving, football-watching, gun-slinging Christian. He is none of these things. But he plays along.

Engage in playful stereotyping with a few trusted friends and you won’t have any need to do so in the real world.

3. Mob Ecstasy

Another strategy to temper your “us vs. them” tendencies is to occasionally participate in mass events. Here, you can act out your “us vs. them” urges, but in a safe environment.

Concerts are great for this, especially when it comes to hard music like metal or gangsta rap. For a few hours, you can revel in the mass frenzy, yelling at imaginary enemies, without anyone actually getting hurt.

These cathartic experiences will help you stand your ground when you are at risk of getting sucked into groupthink.

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