Lilliput and Blefuscu– Us versus Them


Lilliput and Blefuscu were two neighboring peoples in the book “Gulliver’s Travels.” The book was written by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). In the story, the two empires share much in common, including a common history, a common vernacular language, a common racial identity (at least in comparison to other peoples of the world), and a common religion. However, over time divisions increased until the time that Lemuel Gulliver visited. The biggest dividing issue was heresy. According to their shared religion, holy writ, and prophet, an egg should be opened at “the convenient end.” But what is the convenient end? There are three obvious choices:

  • Small end of the egg (legal constraint)
  • Large end of the egg (legal constraint)
  • Whatever end a person happens to find convenient (personal freedom)

The prophet of their faith was long dead so he could not be asked. As is typical, those wanting to show their faithful adherence to faith gravitated to the legal constraints rather than to freedom to show that they had more piety than others. This led to growing animosity and violence.

This does make me wonder. Why does animosity tie to disagreement. Why couldn’t the two empires live peacefully with disagreement. Or why did the beliefs lead to separation based on national lines of separation. This does not automatically happen… but it does commonly happen. The why I suppose I have to leave that to the experts. But, in general terms, we are social beings, and culture-forming beings. As such, we develop groups that are identified as US or THEM

We tend to polarize. We form attachments for a number of reasons. For example, we have family members– and with family members we accept sizable disagreements. You might say, for example, “Oh, you know Uncle Will. You know what a narrow-minded bigot he is. But… he is STILL family.” However, in complex societies there are a larger number of voluntary groups that we are part of. And some groups that were at one time considered not to be voluntary (one’s community, one’s nationality, or one’s religion) have become increasingly voluntary. With voluntary groups, there is a tendency to join with people we like or with people we agree with— and we tend to end up liking the people we agree with and agreeing with the people we like.  It is a process of polarization.

Polarization is “a sharp division, as of a population or group, into opposing factions.”

There are a lot of reasons for group polarization. For those interested, I would suggest reading “Social Psychology in Christian Perspective” by Angela M. Sabates.

But in much simpler terms. Consider the figure here. polarization-chart

The X-Axis shows degree of cognitive dissonance— ranging from disagreement to agreement. The Y-Axis is an affective scale from dislike to like. People want to simplify their lives into two groups: US (shown in green) and THEM (shown in red). For US, we like to like people we like and agree with. For THEM, we like to dislike people we disagree with.

We struggle in the yellow regions. We are uncomfortable liking people we disagree with, and we are uncomfortable with disliking people we agree with. We feel pressure to shift people into the green or red regions. Sometimes it gets quite silly. Look at social media and look at the horrible things that people will say about people or groups that they disagree with— people they really don’t even know. This is especially strong for groups— based on a principle called the “discontinuity effect” We can hate groups like we can no one person. It was noted in 1930s Germany, that many many Germans hated Jews. But when asked about Jews who lived in their neighborhood, it was more common to get a response like “Oh, they are okay I guess… for Jews.” The removal of a personal connection did not decrease animosity for the group, it actually increased it.

Consider Evangelism for a moment. In evangelism, the assumption is that the potential respondent disagrees with the evangelist. On the “polarization chart” shown in the figure, the two left quadrants apply. In the lower left, where there is animosity/dislike between the two, the two are already in a stable relationship (based on disagreement and dislike). It is unlikely that the evangelist can do much, at least in the short-term to change things. Of course, the Holy Spirit can do what we cannot… but animosity and disagreement is a difficult thing to change.

On the other hand, if there is a positive relationship/attachment between the two, the upper left, the situation is unstable. It can remain long-term, but there is pressure to move out of that quadrant. The respondent will feel a desire to change the relationship to either green (agreeing with the evangelist) or to red (changing the relationship to disaffection).

Consider Mentoring for a moment. In a mentoring relationship, the assumption is that the two, mentor and mentee, are in agreement generally. Therefore, on the polarization chart, the right quadrants apply. If the relationship is positive, with good attachment, this is a stable position, being in the green quadrant. However, if the relationship is more one of dislike, it is in the yellow quadrant– an unstable position. Resolution comes when the relationship is pushed either to green or to red.

Essentially, in ministry, it is important to develop healthy positive relationships both with Christians and non-Christians. Having a positive relationship does not automatically mean one will have a positive influence… but it certainly increases the likelihood of a positive influence on the other.

 

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