Aaron Beck in his book Prisoners of Hate outlines some of the thinking that leads to massacres and war:
For current and historical examples of this see the creating paranoia web page. If viewing opponents in such a bad light leads to war, then to avoid war should we try and view are opponents in the best possible light?
What about the case when our opponents really are bad? In that case rationalizing that they are good and pure will make one more vulnerable to the opponent.
There is another very different series of steps from the ones listed above that can also lead to war. Those steps are:
These latter steps are examples of the thinking associated with appeasement. Appeasement leads a country to become more vulnerable to attacks and so encourages the opponent to attack. Links to current and historical examples of this are on the appeasement web page.
So if we are not supposed to demonize the enemy and we are not supposed to angelicize the enemy in order to prevent war than what can we do?
In my opinion the best we can do is to seek a realistic view of our opponents and to try and give our opponent a realistic view of ourselves. I believe that the more realistic one's view of reality is the better that reality will become.
People may agree with this until it comes time for them to consider their own opinions. At that point they know they are right and they may well be. But someone has to be wrong. Almost everyone thinks of themselves as right. How can we know that we are right and don't just think that we are right?
We can take the time to do a research project about our beliefs. We can research the arguments of our opponents against us. We can check their sources as well as our own and find out where they agree and where they disagree.
I have a strong pro-Israel bias. One day I decided that it would be healthy to challenge my opinions and read books written by Arabs. The Arab authored book I read confirmed to me the hostile Arab intentions towards the Jews. A good web site which quotes Arabs about their intentions in the Middle East is called Shockers.
Reading the Arab material did not have the effect I had thought it would. I thought it would make me more sympathetic to their point of view when it actually had the opposite effect. Yet it did lead me to have a more realistic view of the situation.
I have to be careful not to homogenize though. Perhaps not all Arabs feel the way the author of the Arab book I read felt.
We can ask ourselves what we want to believe. Many of us have a strong motivation to hold on to our current beliefs. If we see the opponents as an evil enemy then we believe we have to be on our guard against them and that thinking of them as good will make us more vulnerable to them. The fact is if we are wrong about them we are more vulnerable if we demonize them since then we are more likely to start an unjust war with them.
If we feel threatened by an opponent and come across evidence that suggests that they have a valid case against our group that evidence is likely to be threatening and we have motivation to discount it.
Another motivation we may have to see our group in a positive light is that we identify with our group. The better we see our group the better we see ourselves. In that case we have the motivation not to believe any information that points out faults in our group.
Often in a country there are opposing opinions regarding the opponent. Some people may have the motivation to see the "enemy" in a positive light. They may believe that making concessions to "the enemy" will bring peace.
If we have a strong motivation to hold on to a specific view we are likely to filter information to support that view. One way of filtering is to only read publications from groups that we agree with. Conservatives are likely to read conservative publications and liberals are more likely to read liberal publications. If we want an objective view of a situation we have to expose ourselves to what both sides say. If we are used to reading a liberal newspaper like the New York Times, we should take an occasional look at what the more conservative New York Post has to say. If we always filter information, over the years this filtered evidence increases our conviction that we are in the right.
When we receive information it's important to ask ourselves if the source of the information is biased and if the source of information has a hidden agenda and who the source is targetting. Lets say we see Yassir Arafat on TV telling us in English that he wants peace but that Israel is not serious about peace. He is addressing a Western audience and has the agenda of convincing the western world that he is peace loving and the Israelis are not. To evaluate this information it may be helpful to read Yassir Arafat's speeches to a different target audience. That different target audience could be his own people. If one does that one will find a much less peaceful message.
One belief one should always reject is that another group is genetically evil. All people are capable of being good or evil. The Nazis spread propaganda that everyone who wasn't Aryan was genetically inferior. They went to great lengths to come up with scientific support for the genetically inferiority of other races. I once saw a movie in which a Jew pretended he was a Nazi in order to save himself. There is a scene in the movie where the Nazi professor measures his features in front of a class and proves to the class that the Jew is of the Aryan race.
One should always suspect extreme accusations. Although extreme crimes are committed and do happen more often these stories are creations of paranoia. If extreme crimes are committed they are often committed by people who are paranoid themselves and who are striking out at people they believe are evil. When the Hutus massacred the Tutsis I have no doubt that the Hutus believed the Tutsis to be evil and when Tutsis massacred Hutus I'm sure they had the same belief. The Massacres of one side of the other confirms to each side how evil the other side is.
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