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The risk of falling in love with ideas

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When debate is oversimplified, society is divided into "good guys" and "bad guys."

Leticia Soberón is a Mexican psychologist, who also has a doctorate in Social Sciences from the Pontifical Gregorian University and is a cofounder of the Center for Collaborative Intelligence. She has two decades of experience working in communications for the Holy See. In an article published on the Ambito Maria Corral website, she explains that our way of viewing the world allows us to deal with day-to-day life and behave coherently; however, in that day-to-day life, we often demonize other people, and give more importance to ideologies than to people.

“Human beings have many ways of constructing ideas regarding perfection, and of struggling to adapt themselves as much as possible to that mental construct. In fact, there is almost no one who doesn’t have an ideal of perfection to which he or she aspires, either as an individual or as part of a group,” she explains.

“The risk we always run is that of ‘falling in love’ with those ideas, turning them into the sole criterion to which everyone must aspire,” she says. “We can end up being so convinced that everything should be the way we think it should be, that we suffer from increasing dissatisfaction with ourselves and with others.”

This situation is unhealthy, but she says it is also “frequent,” and that it “puts those who suffer from it into interminable friction with reality,” creating a “profound discontent that doesn’t disappear until they are able to question—at least a little—their own ideas, and incorporate new ideas into their way of thinking.”

However, that is easier said than done. “Our worldview is what makes it possible for us to face day-to-day life and to behave consistently. Consequently, she explains, the more simplistic and ‘black and white’ our ideology and beliefs are, the easier it will be to adopt them and the harder it will be to be critical in their regard.”

“Beliefs and ideologies can become so radicalized in people’s head and heart, that they become fanaticism. It is a passionate, uncritical, and impulsive way of adhering to a series of assertions, which allows us to place ourselves in a position of judging as misguided all those who do not share our beliefs.”

“José Lázaro, in his book The Violence of Fanatics (La violencia de los fanáticos, published in 2014), says that there are no deadlier acts than those committed by people who hold fanatical beliefs, because they convert their own ideas into a paradigm that must be followed by the entire world.”

“In this way, they don’t kill just one or two people, such as may occur with a crime of passion; they seek to annihilate anyone who doesn’t think like they, the fanatics, do. There are countless dramatic historical examples of this in the 20th century, but they are also present throughout history, and warn us of how dangerous this phenomenon is.”

Soberón holds that “fanatical belief systems are a way of escaping one’s own limitations and those of one’s own ‘tribe,’ of whatever kind it may be. They also become a reference point for obligatory perfection: ‘Either you are like me and think like me, or you don’t deserve to live.’”

This kind of oversimplification of the world is what makes it become divided into “good guys” and “bad guys.”

In the words of psychiatrist Enrique Baca, “the enemy is systematically constructed.” This is how it usually works:

“- Political leaders or opinion makers in a social group with a shared identity insist on the great differences between their own group and that of their adversaries.
– They describe the adversary as a threat to their own group’s families, way of life, children, homeland, etc. This threat is personified by any member of that group; to make their case, they base themselves on prejudice, generalization, and labels.
– Their own group is portrayed as the victim of the threat.
– The other group is described in generalized terms, so that the adversary is increasingly dehumanized, and becomes the enemy; members of the enemy group are granted less and less recognition as persons and are increasingly caricatured, and labeled as stupid, wild beasts.”
– Once the “others” are seen as dehumanized and subhuman, “they are no longer perceived as capable or worthy of dialogue: they must be destroyed.”

“The nucleus of the process of creating the enemy, is dehumanization: those who are different are mentally reduced to anonymous, faceless beings, without individuality. They are nothing but a threat. Taken to the extreme, this is the logic of terrorists.”

“The logic of obligatory perfection for all ends up being, obviously, a source of suffering, violence, and social disintegration. Not all human beings are obliged to seek perfection in the same way, and it is cruel to impose just one paradigm, outside of which there is supposedly no such thing as life worthy of being called human.”

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