Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hostile Imaginations & Faces of the Enemy

What does it take for the citizens of one society to hate the citizens of another society to the degree that they want to segregate them, torment them, even to kill them? It requires a ‘hostile imagination,’ a psychological construction embedded deeply in their minds by propaganda that transforms those others into “The Enemy.” That image is a soldier’s most powerful motive, one that loads his rifle with ammunition of hate and fear. That image of a dreaded enemy threatening one’s personal well-being and the society’s national security emboldens mothers and fathers to send sons to war, and empowers governments to rearrange priorities to turn ploughshares into swords of destruction.

It is all done with words and images. To modify an old adage: Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can sometimes kill you. The process begins with stereotyped conceptions of the other, dehumanized (Blog host: or dechristianized) perceptions of the other, the other as worthless, the other as all-powerful, the other as demonic, the other as an abstract monster, the other as a fundamental threat to our cherished values and beliefs. With public fear notched up and enemy threat imminent, reasonable people act irrationally, independent people act in mindless conformity, and peaceful people act as warriors. Dramatic visual images of the enemy on posters, television, magazine covers, movies, and the internet imprint on the recesses of the limbic system, the primitive brain, with the powerful emotions of fear and hate.

Social philosopher, Sam Keen, brilliantly depicts how this hostile imagination is created by virtually every nation’s propaganda (Blog host: or church's propaganda?) on its path to war, and the transformative powers on the human psyche of these ‘images of the enemy.’ (Antinomians, nasty egalitarians and feminists?)

Justifications for the desire to destroy these threats are really afterthoughts, merely proposed explanations for the official record, but not for critical analysis of the damage to be done, or being done.

Read Faces of the enemy: Reflections on the Hostile Imagination by Sam Keen.

from "Dehumanization" at The Lucifer Effect website. (Read the Lucifer Effect, too.)
©2006-2007, Philip G. Zimbardo