The Enemy System

There has been some new research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about the way enemy creation serves to eliminate anxiety people feel toward their chaotic environments. This would be a good example of a “social science” article you could cut to support your more theory based security K’s, and is also a really  good answer to friend/enemy good aff turns. The article is entitled “An existential function of enemyship: Evidence that people attribute influence to personal and political enemies to compensate for threats to control.” I also really like the way they have turned enemy into a verb, as in “Roy enemizes manners and polite social conduct”.

Here is the abstract:

Perceiving oneself as having powerful enemies, although superficially disagreeable, may serve an important psychological function. On the basis of E. Becker’s (1969) existential theorizing, the authors argue that people attribute exaggerated influence to enemies as a means of compensating for perceptions of reduced control over their environment. In Study 1, individuals dispositionally low in perceived control responded to a reminder of external hazards by attributing more influence to a personal enemy. In Study 2, a situational threat to control over external hazard strengthened participants’ belief in the conspiratorial power of a political enemy. Examining moderators and outcomes of this process, Study 3 showed that participants were especially likely to attribute influence over life events to an enemy when the broader social system appeared disordered, and Study 4 showed that perceiving an ambiguously powerful enemy under conditions of control threat decreased perceptions of external risk and bolstered feelings of personal control.

If you like this article, I would highly recommend following it up with some of the writings by John Mack, one of the best pieces can be found here. It contains probably the best neg K card of all time for IR/security arguments:

Attempts to explore the psychological roots of enmity are frequently met with responses on the following lines: “I can accept psychological explanations of things, but my enemy is real. The Russians [or Germans, Arabs, Israelis, Americans] are armed, threaten us, and intend us harm. Furthermore, there are real differences between us and our national interests, such as competition over oil, land, or other scarce resources, and genuine conflicts of values between our two nations. It is essential that we be strong and maintain a balance or superiority of military and political power, lest the other side take advantage of our weakness”.

This argument does not address the distinction between the enemy threat and one’s own contribution to that threat-by distortions of perception, provocative words, and actions. In short, the enemy is real, but we have not learned to understand how we have created that enemy, or how the threatening image we hold of the enemy relates to its actual intentions. “We never see our enemy’s motives and we never labor to assess his will, with anything approaching objectivity”.[6]

Individuals may have little to do with the choice of national enemies. Most Americans, for example, know only what has been reported in the mass media about the Soviet Union. We are largely unaware of the forces that operate within our institutions, affecting the thinking of our leaders and ourselves, and which determine how the Soviet Union will be represented to us. Ill-will and a desire for revenge are transmitted from one generation to another, and we are not taught to think critically about how our assigned enemies are selected for us.

In the relations between potential adversarial nations there will have been, inevitably, real grievances that are grounds for enmity. But the attitude of one people towards another is usually determined by leaders who manipulate the minds of citizens for domestic political reasons which are generally unknown to the public. As Israeli sociologist Alouph Haveran has said, in times of conflict between nations historical accuracy is the first victim.[8]

The version of this article available online is abridged, however, the full and even better worded version can be found in The Psychodynamics of International Relationships, both volumes of which are worth a read, as are many of the articles published by Vamik Volkan one of the editors.

For the sake of being “fair and balanced” you can find some defenses of enmity here and here.