Human beings like dichotomies. Like black and white. Day and night. Hot and cold. Us and them.
World history is a narrative of how human beings at different periods worked out who was ‘us’ and who was ‘them’ and tried to protect the ‘us’ from the ‘them’, or tried to grab some good things that the ‘them’ had, while taking care not to give away any of the good things that ‘us’ had.
Examples of Us-versus-Them in today’s world
The simplest examples of the us-vs-them dynamics is seen in sports and group activities, but in varying degrees of subtlety it is played out in almost all arenas of human activity. It is very clear when Donald Trump talks about the wall that will protest the American ‘us’ from the Mexican ‘them’. Or when Indians want to boycott Chinese products. It is seen when people of different religious faiths view each other with suspicion. In fact, it explains a lot of human behaviour.
The psychology behind the us-versus-them dynamics
The world is complex and fragmented. It is huge and unpredictable. This being the case, it is imperative to define our identity, and have a sense of who we are, and where we belong. It is part of the basic survival instinct of human beings to carve out a space for herself in the wider society. This is the Social Identity theory introduced in 1979 by British psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner. The theory suggests that human beings need to identify with a group in order to have a healthy self-esteem and sense of identity. This group could be the family, a football club or the nation one is born in. Once a person identifies himself with a group, she tries to find similarities among group members, and assert the superiority of the group compared to outsiders. These are innate psychological mechanisms of the human mind that is part of our evolutionary history, and these mechanisms have stayed with us because they are imperative for survival.
Us – vs – them in Covid 19 times
One would think that when there is a common enemy such as the Corona virus pitted against the whole of humanity, all human beings will unite as the ‘us’ and the Corona virus will be the ‘them’. Alas! It was not to be. Even in the face of a common, faceless enemy, we are not united. If anything, the disharmony is all the more pronounced, in the way countries blame each other and try to destroy each other’s peace.
2020 presents a dystopian world.