Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Differentiation

Originally posted on July 25, 2013

It is good to learn that you are different and it’s okay. We are all different in so many ways. This may seem obvious to some, but for many centuries being “different” was a terrible thing. People got burned alive for it!

It’s obvious at one level that we’re all different in many ways, but people sustained an illusion that in certain core ways we were not different, and, depending on the era, that involved one’s religion, tribal or national affiliation, family and extended family, etc. Whatever worked to give a sense of we, and maybe some contrast to “them.”

A great deal of social pathology and personal psychopathology comes from insisting on this commonality, this lack of differentiation. We all like this and believe in that and we’re good and by definition—or so it seems—these things are not clearly thought out by most people involved in the system—“they”—those who don’t believe in what we believe or like what we like—they are correspondingly bad. If we’re feeling benign, we hold back from calling them evil, but using names that otherwise discount their feelings such as childish, crazy, silly, fancy-pantsy, etc. The old epithet “no ‘count” (meaning “of no account”) meant that we don’t count them as people who are worth taking notice of. The postmodern term for this discounting is “marginalization.” It sort of depends on whether we feel “them” to be a significant threat or rather of little threat.

I’m suggesting that these unconscious dynamics are prevalent even if fairly “advanced” (technologically) societies! I fear that our current situation is as if someone gave loaded guns to kindergarteners. The tendency to treat others who don’t agree as “bad” leads to “polarization,” and for many people, this state seems okay rather than terribly childish and foolish. One way this state seems okay is because their belief that they are good and certain others are bad is supported by reasons—really, rationalizations.

Rationalization is the way the unconscious can come up with all kinds of persuasive arguments as to why you are right and they are wrong when it is in your interest to do so. That you can do this is dimly sensed, and that people sense intuitively that projecting this onto professional practice that believes that good reasons justifies marginal morality—i.e., law—makes people tell “lawyer” jokes.

Saying this another way: We have a logocentric culture, which overvalues words, pays people who are good and handling words exorbitantly, and runs its own corruption by largely staying just on the inside boundaries of technical legality. It’s so common that folks don’t see the fundamental immorality of being logocentric. The weak justification is that it’s better than having cultures with no laws at all. (Actually, some cultures that have judges who are themselves not corrupt often helped their tribes work out problems more fairly than our modern system of jurisprudence! The problem was that there was no guaranteed way to generate judges that weren’t corrupt.)

Anyway, back to the psycho-social dynamics that suppress differentiation: First, immature people identify some of their preferences with a group. It is no longer “I” who want this or believe that, but “we.” Therefore, the group is right, everyone (it seems) thinks this way—at least all right-thinking folks. To the extent that we find it comfortable to rest into the group mind, join with the consensus, and feel both belonging and self-righteous, it is natural to correspondingly be against those who differ with the consensus. Such people represent a deep threat to us! They are communists, pinko, degenerate, out of it, crazy, evil, whatever words characterize our current fashions for demonizing others.

Second, even in interpersonal relationships, immature people feel threatened when they recognize how different others are in many ways—gender, modes of thinking, goals, preferences. And other people who want something other than what I myself want (for us or for me) may divert energy from “we all” getting what I want. It’s not just that they want something different—it’s that it is inconceivable (because of my egocentricity and immaturity) to want something different. It threatens my getting what I want. What if they get what they want and I do not get what I want? You can sense the three-year-old willfulness and angry desperation here, the screaming of “Mine!” and clinging violently to whatever—stuffed toy, Mommy, whatever.

In power relationships, immature people who want others to go along with them can do two things. If they’re more powerful, they can use direct threats of violence or lesser threats of withholding help or sex or other manipulations to pressure others to go along. They can double the pressure by insisting that others not only go along, but truly believe they should go along, out of obedience, respect, gratitude, etc.

The less powerful have to resort to a wide range of sneaky and indirect ways of getting their kicks, and from this comes a wide range of perversions, compulsions, and neuroses. They give in on the big picture, conform, but privately they have their own little games they play.

We should not underestimate the degree to which the denial of the right to be different generates problems.

For example, perceptions of others having different goals or tastes is experienced as a personal or cultural affront, an insult, a slap in the face, something that must be redressed if one is to feel that one’s honor is restored. What’s the problem? It symbolizes to the immature:  (1) how they are thus reproached, mistaken, illusion-infested, wrong for wanting or preferring anything different; (2) how they may be isolated, terribly alone, unreachable, by anyone else, because of their perversity in insisting on having preferences other than what others prefer; (3) it’s baffling that others could prefer other than what is obviously preferable—inconceivable! This is ultimate egocentricity. But if it jibes with a cultural norm, this childish and often mistaken attitude can generate feuds, persecutions, wild feelings of persecution, deepen prejudices, and so forth.

While such modes of thinking may be forgiven in children, understood and accepted as products of limited thinking, it becomes more problematical when this egocentric attitude is not in the course of healthy maturation then replaced by a mellower capacity to appreciate and accept other people even if they have different preferences. Being made to feel ashamed or belittled for one’s preferences generates a secret clinging to them and a heightening of the sensitivity of this basic step to allowing for differences. First each person has to be validated and helped to feel comfortable with his or her own preferences.

Anyway, lacking this, those who cling to the need for their own preferences also tend to feel threatened by evidence that others have other preferences! They react by unconsciously constructing various inner maps of who other people are—distorted maps. Other people with different preferences:
  – are crazy, inexplicable, foolish, uneducated, low class, simply dismiss-able.
  – are mean, malignant, evil, just jealous, trying to make me feel bad (and much of this is projection—i.e., I hate them for making me feel bad)
– are of another “bad” subculture, religion, class, with other “bad” features. (If one can identify a few bad features in one’s own mind, then the entire group becomes tainted with this badness and the idea that they might have some good is ruled out. Evil is incompatible with good at this level of unconscious “polarization.”)

One feels less alienated if one can construct either a subculture with whom one identifies with similar features, or a delusional system that “they” are against and willing to go out of their way to “get” us—a secret fantasy that there is not only me, but a number of us who threaten them.

Alas, many seemingly adult people are unconscious immature at this level and to that degree, act to suppress the differentiation of others in their social orbit. The lack of the awareness of the actual differences in temperament, background (culture and era), ability, tastes,  preferences and other variables leads to a great deal of cultural backwardness. Consciousness evolution will by no means be an easy process. There are forces such as those mentioned above, and others, that inhibit progress.)

As an alternative, let us promote the idea, the realization, that people are inevitably deeply different. This is not willful rebellion, but an expression of many types of differences in temperament, ability, culture, background, generational era, interests, and other preferences. These differences then affect preferences in religion and lifestyle. It applies, for example, in marriage. Aside from areas of compatibility, when most couples go on vacation to a destination, each wants to do or experience different things. If we can really “get” this, it will make life easier.


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