How To Overcome an Us vs. Them Mentality

We love ourselves a good enemy.

“These namby-pampy 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 break away from it.

What is an Us vs. Them Mentality?

An us vs. them mentality is when you identify as part of a certain group, in opposition to another group. Your group is perceived as the “Us.” The opposing group is vilified as the “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 many more such lines we can draw:

  • Political affiliations
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Age
  • Economic status
  • Educational background
  • Interests

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.

Ultimately, an us vs. them mentality is about identity formation. I am no longer adrift. I am now a polyamorous, Asian-American hipster. Or I am a Southern, religious white supremacist.

By emphasizing these labels, I create a sense of security for myself. I belong somewhere. And I now know how to act — in accordance with our group guidelines. It takes the annoying guesswork out of life.

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 opposition. 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, they would first have to put millions of dissidents away in the Gulags.

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.

Reveling in the opposition has a stronger unifying effect. In Nazi Germany, people from very different economic backgrounds almost overnight 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.

In comparison, disguising your us vs. them mentality is more sustainable. The Bolsheviks stayed in power for an impressive 69 years.

An even better example is Christianity. That movement has been around for over 2000 years. And just like the Bolsheviks, they claim 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 are, they also have their downsides. Their balancing act takes away from the simple appeal an undisguised us vs. them mentality offers.

For example, many Soviet citizens could not relate to the convoluted, Marxist “Us” and retreated into their private lives. Likewise, many Christians are currently quitting churches beset by contradictions, especially in Western Europe and Northern America.

Pure hate carries more of an emotional punch. Muddle your message too much, and you lose followers.

The Fluid Nature of Us vs. Them

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

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 campaigning against anyone not respecting their pronouns.

Now, as a thought experiment, imagine we were being attacked by an alien race, War of the Worlds style. Tripoded, mean-spirited hunting machines would be roaming the streets, killing any earthling they could find.

In an instant, our ideological borderlines would be gone. You would see alt-righters fighting next to Antifa activists. “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 subscribed to yesterday goes out the window.

What Promotes an Us vs. Them Mentality?

There are a couple of reasons why we subscribe to an us vs. them mentality.

Density of Population

For the longest time in human history, we lived in a tribe of about a hundred people. Every day, we socialized with, hunted with, and had sex with the same few people.

This kind of setting breeds a closed-off mindset. The more intimate you are with a small group of people, the more suspicious you are going to be of outsiders.

And while Paleolithic tribes did occasionally trade with each other or swap sexual partners, for the most part, they stayed separate.

It was not until much later, with the advent of agriculture, that we overcame this us vs. them dynamic. By settling down in the same few places with fertile soil and water nearby, we formed larger settlements. These settlements eventually turned into cities.

In a metropolis, there is less room for an us vs. them mindset. Due to the high density of people, you have to become more tolerant of alternative ways of living, or there will be blood and thunder. That’s why megacities like NYC or LA have a liberal attitude while rural villages in the South do not.

I experienced the same dynamic growing up in a small, rural village in Germany, about an hour away from the next bigger town. Most people knew each other and were affectionate with each other.

But in the 90s, when lots of Turkish and Arab immigrants moved in, there was zero affection. Even though there was plenty of housing, these people, with their strange language and behaviors, were seen as dangerous outsiders.

When I later moved to Munich, a large city in the South of Germany, there was a noticeable change in attitude. Where before people from different cultural backgrounds stayed apart, here they mingled. They worked together, they went out together, and they hooked up with each other.

It all comes down to density. The fewer people you have in a given geographical area, the more you will form close bonds with a small in-group. Everything outside of that group becomes “Them.”

But the more population density increases, the more you are forced to cooperate. Holding on to an us vs. them mentality decreases your chances for economic or sexual success.

The Nuclear Family & Psychoanalysis

Ironically, while agriculture and the industrial revolution forced us to expand our us vs. them programming on a population level, they simultaneously reinforced it on a family level.

That’s because the family unit has become much smaller in size over time.

In our hunter-gatherer days, children were not so much raised by their parents as they were raised by the whole tribe; oftentimes, it was not even clear who the biological father was. There was no family unit in our modern sense.

With agriculture, that changed. You wanted to know who your children were so they could work in your fields. Also, you wanted to pass on your accumulated wealth to your genetic offspring, not the mailman’s child.

But even then, family units were rather larger. Usually, several generations would live under the same roof.

Industrialization did away with that. To be able to move where the work was, you needed a family unit as small as possible. The nuclear family was born. Two parents, a few children, done. Off to the factory you go.

But when you are stuck with the same 5 to 10 people (and nowadays even fewer), it does something to your psychological make-up. In a closed-off system, pressure increases.

In such settings, according to Freud, we are bound to develop an erotic fixation on our parents (what is called the Oedipus and the Electra complex in psychoanalysis, respectively).

If things go well, this fixation is eventually overcome by redirecting our libidinous energy towards a stand-in, a lover like our mother or father. But often, that project fails, and the result is lifelong frustration.

That is not our only source of anger, though. In the nuclear family, our parents must act as the sole caregivers. Torn between work and family duties, they often fail to give us the attention we need. Different neuroses ensue, from phobias to depression.

Once we become adults, a transference takes place. The feelings of betrayal we experienced as children get projected onto a scapegoat.

In an act of narcissistic self-aggrandizement, we flock together under a common cause (“Us”) while projecting our anger onto those different from us. “Them” are those who deny us the pleasure we deserve, just like our parents used to. They merit our hate.

Functional & Emotional Reasons

Lastly, there are functional reasons for adopting an us vs. them mentality.

For once, it reduces cognitive load.

If you view the world around you in terms of black and white, in-group and out-group, you know exactly where you stand.

You know whom to vote for. You know what to say to be accepted by your peers. You even know how to dress, what car to buy, or whom you should marry.

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

Next, an us vs. them mentality has a stabilizing effect.

Most of us start with high hopes for our lives. We dream of becoming athletes, artists, or movie stars. We want to date models or millionaires. We want to look lean, muscular, and desirable.

But as life goes on, most of us realize it’s not going to pan out. And that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

It is not so much admitting that we won’t get these things; it is admitting to ourselves that we could get these things — if we weren’t so scared and lazy.

This we cannot have. So, we project our frustrations onto others.

“It’s the immigrants who are stealing our jobs.”

“It’s these greedy corporations that are exploiting us.”

“It’s these materialistic women / toxic men who are playing us.”

Obviously, that is a cop-out. No one but yourself is responsible for your happiness.

But we don’t want that responsibility. We want to pass it on. And the easiest way to do so is to blame our lack of success on evil forces – “Them.”

Also, 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 sports event yourself, you know what I am talking about.

It’s the appeal of becoming one with a mass, a mass with a clear purpose. There is an enemy, and we are going to defeat them.

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

We become merged into this large unit of unbridled emotion. Actions that only a short while ago we would have despised as individuals — hate, violence, even killing — are now on the table. An unchecked mass frenzy has taken over, and for a short while, there is no greater feeling than being swept along by it.

It is utter, delicious mayhem.

Finally, 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 haven’t played any sports in decades will cry, “We won the National Championship.” People who never so much as handed out a flyer will jubilate, “We won the election.”

By identifying with the winners, we get to feel pride and even ecstasy.

What Is the Alternative?

Let’s get something straight. An us vs. them mentality is not something we should flat-out demonize. It is better to acknowledge that we have these leanings than to deny them.

This is where the woke zeitgeist has gone wrong. Just postulating we should ignore our destructive impulses is naive. You can’t just wish for these powerful urges to go away.

Also, there is no point in re-educating people, in trying to make them “open-minded.”

Most people have a mob mentality. They need to belong to some type of group. As such, they will always resort to an us vs. them dynamic.

It does not matter how much your subculture prides itself on its progressiveness — you still need your enemies. It’s the nature of herds.

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. You must be equally fascinated by Marx and Bakunin as you are by Spengler and Evola. You must study the Bible, the Quran, and the Bhagavadgita, as well as Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Russel.

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

On a more practical level, I recommend two exercises:

  1. Us vs. them play
  2. Mob ecstasy

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 comedic atmosphere, 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 for years. 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, born-again 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. While others resort to labels, you stay fluid.

Mob Ecstasy

Another strategy 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, unloading on imaginary enemies, without anyone actually getting hurt.

This cathartic relief will help you stand your ground when you encounter groupthink in the real world.

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